Gifts of Good Taste

Gift-giving is one of the special joys of the holiday season. No matter which holiday you celebrate, we all face the same challenges…

“What should I buy?” 
“Does she already have it?” 
“Will they like it?” 
“Does he need it?”

However, one thing is certain—everyone likes food! And even if they already have it, they will always need more. Plus, you don’t have to worry about getting the correct size or color.

This year, give the gift of health by making someone a special, healthy treat. Nothing warms the heart and delights the taste buds (of friends, relatives, and co-workers alike) more than a delicious, beautifully-wrapped gift of homemade food. Here are some of my favorite gift ideas to get you started:

Meal Time
  • Italian Basket
    Line a basket with a red and white checkered napkin. Arrange pasta (try special shapes or flavors), homemade or purchased pasta sauce, a wedge of Parmesan cheese, a cheese grater, an Italian cookbook, and bottle of wine.
  • Bean Jar
    Fill a large jar with the ingredients for “Nine Bean Soup” (recipe below). Include cooking directions and a set of soup bowls.
  • Salad Fixins
    Arrange jars of artichoke hearts, olives, herb or balsamic vinegar, olive oil, flavored croutons, fancy crackers, a wedge of Parmesan cheese, and decorative salad tongs.
Satisfying Snacks
  • Cheese Please!
    Nestle a crock or two of homemade cheese spread in a basket along with a crusty loaf of bread (from your oven or the local bakery), packages of fancy whole grain crackers and holiday cheese spreaders.
  • Pretzels and Sauce
    Make a batch of soft oven pretzels or bread sticks and include a spicy mustard sauce or pizza dipping sauce.
  • Trail Mix
    Fill a holiday tin with your favorite trail mix or party mix.
Wake Up Call
  • Bread ‘n Board
    Place a loaf of store-bought or homemade banana bread, pumpkin bread, or cranberry nut bread on a breadboard. Wrap with clear plastic, and tie with a big ribbon bow. Include a small tin of flavored teas.
  • Muffins Galore
    Line a basket with holiday napkins. Tuck in a batch of homemade muffins, or bagels. Add a couple flavored butters, and hot cocoa mix or flavored coffee.
Special Interest
  • Kitchen Makeover
    Provide an array of gear for the first-timers (or new homeowners) in the kitchen. Include measuring cups, spoons, a can opener, wooden spoons, potholders, kitchen towels, knives, a cutting board and more. To get the cooking started, include your favorite recipes and a few foods to sample.
  • Herbs and Spices
    Give friends who enjoy flavorful food a selection of herb seeds or small herb plants for a window box. Flavored vinegars can round out this holiday gift. Make your own by adding dried herbs to white, red, or wine vinegar. Always use clean, sterilized bottles. (See recipe for Raspberry Wine Vinegar below.)
  • Fitness Fanatic
    Personalize a water bottle with your friend’s name and recent personal fitness records. Give the bottle along with their favorite sports drinks and energy bars.

Packaging Food Gifts

With the array of packaging materials available, anyone can package a food gift beautifully. For ideas, check out the various gift wrap, party supply, and craft stores. Scout out unique treasures at your local flea market, yard sale, or dollar-store. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Holiday-themed bags, boxes, tins, baskets, glass or plastic jars, and containers
  • Seasonal platters, bowls, and crocks
  • Foil wrap, waxed paper, and plastic wrap (make sure they’re food-safe)
  • Ribbons, bows, holiday paper and fabric, and festive napkins or towels
  • Colorful cellophane wrap
If time permits, you can customize boxes by covering them with colorful holiday paper or fabric and affixing some sparkling sequins. Before arranging food inside, line your container of choice with brightly colored papers, tinsel, foil, festive napkins, or holiday towels for a “professional” appearance.


Nine Bean Soup Mix Mix together one pound each of dried black beans, red beans, pinto beans, navy beans, great Northern beans, lentils, split peas, black-eyed peas and barley pearls. Combine all beans. Divide into ten 2-cup packages for gift giving. Include the following recipe with your gifts:

2 cups Nine Bean Soup Mix

1 onion, chopped

6 cups water

16-oz. can tomatoes, chopped

1 pound lean ham, diced 4-oz. can green chilies, chopped
1 large carrot, peeled & chopped 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. salt, to taste 1/4 tsp. pepper, to taste

Sort and wash bean mix. Place in a 4-quart saucepan. Cover with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil 2 minutes, cover pan, remove from heat, and let soak for 1 hour. After soaking, drain off the water using a large strainer. Return beans to the large saucepan; add 6 cups water, ham, carrot, onion, tomatoes (with juice), chilies, garlic, salt and pepper. Cover and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 1-½ hours until beans are tender. Add more water if needed. Yield: 8 cups of soup.

Raspberry Wine Vinegar
Fill 3/4 of a clean, sterilized decorative bottle with red wine vinegar. Add frozen raspberries so the bottle is full. Place the cap on tightly. Store in the refrigerator.