Homemade Holiday Food Gifts
Trail Mix Chocolate Bark
A good old nut and raisin blend delivers sugar, salt, and crunch—AKA all things good. Healthier than store-bought alternatives, this snack is ideal for gift giving.
Brandied Preserved Figs
This recipe will work with any fresh figs you have, such as Brown Turkey, Calimyrna, or Black Mission. Enjoy them as a simple dessert on their own, served with ice cream or yogurt, or as a salad topper. Store in a cool, dry place for up to 1 year.
This brittle is sweet and mildly bitter all at once—owing to the caramel flavor of the cooked sugar. We added everything you’d find on the iconic bagel of the same name except garlic and onion flakes for a nutty-savory-sweet treat. Brittle is very susceptible to moisture, so wrap it up in parchment paper and pack into an airtight container. Store the container in a cool, dry place. This is a decidedly grown-up sweet treat, but you can make it kid-friendly by omitting the poppy seeds and black sesame seeds and stirring in a teaspoon of ground cinnamon.
Gluten-free crackers are not hard to find on the market, but they're often highly processed, rice- or cornstarch-based, not very nutritious, and expensive. These homemade crackers are teeming with nutrients. Made with high-protein quinoa flour, they are also full of zinc, omega-3s, vitamins, and minerals from pumpkin, flax, sunflower, and caraway seeds.
Spiced Apple Chips
These delicious apple chips really satisfy your sweet tooth at snack time. Stick to cinnamon, or enjoy them alone. Feeling more adventurous? Try our pumpkin and chai spice variations.
Chewy Oat and Fruit Granola Bars
Homemade Nut Butter
There's no comparison between homemade nut butter and store-bought for Mark Overbay, founder of the handcrafted nut butter company Big Spoon Roasters, as long as you follow his rules of the road. "Freshness is paramount to great nut butter," he says, "so you have to start with raw nuts and roast them yourself." Add in a bit of coconut butter for ultimate creaminess, and use a delicate hand with seasoning to keep the flavor all about the nuts. As for sweetness, stick to mild picks like honey or sorghum syrup, and avoid stronger ones such as molasses. Overbay's most important advice? Have fun and play around with nut combinations. "Just remember, nuts each have different oil content, so use a mix of oily nuts with drier ones. Roast each kind of nut separately, but it's fine to grind them together." In general, a food processor works better for making nut butter than a blender. For the smoothest, creamiest results, you must be sure your processor's blade is sharp and that the whole attachment is in good working order (otherwise, the blade won't spin properly).
Chai Tea Mix
Give an instant boost to a cup of hot black tea on a gray day with this easy mix. Make more for holiday gifts and package in Mason jars, or spoon some into a clear cello bag and stuff into an oversized mug.
You can use this recipe as a base to play around with spices to find other combinations you enjoy. If you have vanilla sugar on hand, substitute it for regular sugar. If you like heat, ground white pepper adds a slightly different kick than red. For an intense scent, try adding ground dried orange peel.
Honey will never expire. The acid content is so high that bacteria can't survive and multiply. The high acidity comes from the super-concentrated sugar solution, with only 1/5 of the original water content. But if you leave your honey unsealed, it will absorb water from the air and create a less acidic environment where bacteria can thrive. Bottom line: If you want to keep any honey good forever, keep a lid on it.
You'll love the intense flavor of this infused honey. Use it in salad dressings or marinades; drizzle over cheese, toast, or ice cream; or package in a cute jar, give as a gift, and make someone very happy.
Flavored Finishing Salts
Love the idea of whipping up flaky, buttery biscuits on a weekend morning? Speed up the process with this simple biscuit mix that you can prepare ahead and keep on hand. With only four ingredients, not only does it come together quickly, but its simplicity is a plus compared to pre-packaged mixes with unpronounceable ingredients.
Smoked and Spiced Pecans
If you look up a recipe for DIY smokehouse nuts, you'll find that a good chunk of them involve dousing nuts with liquid smoke and baking them in the oven. Our method gives you real woodsmoke flavor instead. Settle in: It takes about 45 minutes for smoky flavor to infuse the firm, dense nuts—but patience gives a bacon(ish)-flavored reward. Your outdoor grill or smoker takes care of the heavy lifting; all you have to do is prepare the wood as specified for your smoker (try hickory or mesquite) and position the nuts over an area with indirect heat. You can give them a stir once or twice, but it's not necessary. For the best flavor and texture, let them cool completely before eating.
Marshmallow Popcorn Treats with Dark Chocolate Drizzle
Reminiscent of classic popcorn balls, these salty-sweet treats make for awesome low-fat snacking. Make a batch to enjoy throughout the week.
Small-Batch Fig Jam
Fig preserves are among the easiest to make because the fruit mixture thickens beautifully on its own without added pectin. Consider this jam a "refrigerator preserve," but you can process it for canning, if you wish. Enjoy it spread on whole-grain bread or scones.
Who says desserts have to be heavy and sugar-laden? Meet your new granola, which has two-thirds less sugar than most store-bought varieties. Pecans, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and quinoa lend 4g of protein, while honey and ground cinnamon add a touch of sweetness. We like it with a little extra kick, but knock the red pepper back for less heat. Stir into yogurt or sprinkle over fresh fruit for an unexpected—and unexpectedly delicious—end to the big feast.
Spiced Mocha Mix
For those nights when a cup of something chocolaty is exactly what you need, here’s a healthier cocoa mix with hints of cinnamon and nutmeg to warm you.
Peanut Butter Caramel Corn
Here’s a snack for those times when you want salt, sugar, protein, and crunch all in one bite. There’s just enough butter to create a layer of caramel goodness. Peanut butter and sliced almonds provide richness. Make it for yourself or package for gifts.
Sesame Seed Crackers
Sesame seeds have a long and established history; they were once highly valued for their oil in ancient times. The famous phrase "open sesame" from The Arabian Nights refers to the unique feature of the sesame seed pod, which bursts open when it reaches maturity. Serve these crackers with hummus, peanut butter, or slices of cheese.
Brown Sugar-Spiced Nut Mix
This recipe comes from the kitchen of Cooking Light Senior Food Editor Cheryl Slocum who said a bowl of nuts in their shells was a coffee table staple for Thanksgiving snacks when she was young. "Operating the nutcracker was a real draw for us little kids," she says, "but our tastes have evolved to this sweet-hot crispy mix." Achieve a bronzelike patina on these candied nuts by keeping a close watch near the end of their roasting time. Too long and they'll overdarken and take on a bitter flavor.
Substitute pecans, walnuts, peanuts, or pine nuts for almonds, if you prefer.
Chocolate-Walnut-Graham Cracker Bars
These tasty treats are more like a candy bar than a cookie. Served with hot chocolate, they're a children's sticky-finger favorite!
All-Purpose Spice Rub
Use 1 tablespoon per pound of pork, chicken, or beef. Store extra in a sealed container at room temp.
Thai Cashew Brittle
Nutty brittle with a hit of spice? Oh yes! This addictively delicious Thai take on the classic nut brittle is beyond brilliant. It's got a hint of sambal oelek, a chile paste made of pounded fresh red cayenne chiles flavored with salt, a little sugar, and vinegar, creating a harmonious balance for this traditionally very sweet treat. Fresh ginger and lemongrass add a pop of brightness that'll keep you coming back for more. If you can't find fresh lemongrass, use a pinch of lemon zest instead. If you only have unsalted cashews on hand, we recommend adding a dash of kosher salt to help round out the spicy-sweet flavors of this satisfyingly crunchy snack.
Maple Chile Popcorn
Better than the colossal tins of sodium-heavy popcorn, this sweet and spicy treat from your kitchen is packed with the goodness of whole grains. Scoop this snack into individual airtight tins and top with a festive bow.
Cooking up a batch of this gorgeous, creamy curd will definitely bring some brightness into the life of anyone who receives it. It's thick and smooth like a cream, but tart and low in fat. It begs to be spooned over rustic whole-grain bread and is delectable swirled into Greek yogurt or oatmeal.
Chocolate-Cherry Heart Smart Cookies
Made with whole-wheat flour, whole-grain oats, antioxidant-rich dried cherries, and dark chocolate, the healthful ingredients in these cookies combine to make delicious treats for a lucky recipient. Place them in a see-through holiday gift bag and then secure with a ribbon to keep airtight. Attach a recipe card so your friends can make the cookies as a snack to start off a healthful new year.
Toasted Coconut Marshmallows
These are good as a snack or dropped into a mug of hot chocolate. The mixture for the marshmallows becomes quite thick and requires substantial beating time, so you’ll want to use a heavy-duty stand mixer instead of a handheld mixer. Using a stand mixer also makes it safer (and easier) to gradually add the hot gelatin mixture to the beaten egg whites. Use a dough scraper to cut the marshmallows into squares with a quick vertical motion (avoid dragging it as you cut the marshmallows). If the dough scraper sticks to the marshmallows, dust it with powdered sugar.
Cranberry-Sweet Potato Quick Bread
As the perfect accompaniment to afternoon tea, friends will savor this cranberry-studded quick bread. It’s made with antioxidant-rich sweet potatoes and contains less fat than most tea breads. When served with a glass of milk, a slice also makes for a healthy start to a busy day of holiday preparations. Wrap the loaf in holiday plastic wrap or brown paper; tie with raffia or a colorful ribbon when presenting as a gift.
Stirring fruit into jam is simple and, when packaged in pretty jars, is a welcome holiday gift. Place the ribbon-decorated jars in a basket and include a note that the jam should be refrigerated. Also include some healthy serving suggestions such as stirring into Greek yogurt, spreading on whole-wheat pancakes, or melt and pour over a fruit tart.
For a whimsical presentation, arrange these cookies in a lunch box lined with colorful packing paper. Use a variety of cookie cutter sizes to create “families.” If you don’t want to cut the dough into shapes, roll it into two logs, cover, chill, and slice into 18-inch rounds. Refrigerate the dough up to three days, or freeze up to one month.
Package these crunchy, 5-ingredient cookies in a gift box with a pound of your favorite coffee beans. Look for almond paste on your supermarket's baking aisle, and for best results, don't substitute marzipan, which is sweeter and more finely texture, in place of the paste.
Sun-Dried Tomato Jam
Spoon this sweet-savory jam into a pretty glass jar, and tie with a ribbon. You can also attach a rosemary sprig and a card with serving suggestions―as an appetizer spread on baguette slices with goat cheese; as a chutney over chicken, beef, or pork; or as the sauce for a pizza with shredded chicken, goat cheese, and chives.
Rich shortbread is easy to prepare and keeps for several days in an airtight container. Softened butter should be pliable but not easily spreadable. Because this mixture is already dark, it’s hard to tell when the shortbread browns. Check your oven temperature using an oven thermometer, and bake just until the shortbread is set.
Porcini Mushroom Risotto
To give as a gift, pour rice in a jar and top with dried mushrooms. Bundle the thyme and bay leaf in a cheese cloth sachet, and place in a jar. Along with a copy of this recipe, you could also give a bottle of red wine like Barbera or pinot noir or a wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Vanilla Buttermilk Pound Cakes
You can also prepare these cakes in two (8 x 4–inch) loaf pans. Bake at 350 for one hour or until done.
This Italian liqueur is good ice cold on its own, in a lemon drop martini, mixed with sparkling wine, or splashed over a bowl of fresh fruit. Since it takes two weeks to infuse the bracing citrusy flavor into the vodka, start this gift early and decant it into pretty sterilized glass bottles.
Restaurant bagels can weigh in at a hefty 350 to 400 calories; but these home-baked bagels, infused with the rich yeasty flavor of beer, are a welcome breakfast treat at just 211 calories. To achieve the signature chewy texture, the bagels are boiled and then baked in a simple process that will warm up your kitchen on a chilly afternoon. Package in a brown paper bag.
Indian-Spiced Roasted Nuts
The featured nuts in this recipe, almonds, cashews, and hazelnuts are packed with nutrients like protein, fiber, calcium, vitamin E, riboflavin, and niacin. Antioxidant-rich warming spices like cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves are sprinkled on the nuts along with just a touch of honey. Pack them in airtight jars decorated with ribbons.
Crispy and Spicy Snack Mix
When shopping for ingredients for this zippy snack mix, choose crunchy crackers and cereals made with whole grains. Make the mix especially festive by adding dried cranberries. Allow your kids to help mix up the snack for friends and teachers by scooping into holiday plastic bags and tying with string.
Spicy Pickled Vegetables
Amongst all the sweets and treats of the holidays, these spicy pickled green beans, pearl onions, jalapeño peppers, and carrots will be an appreciated refresher. The crunchy pickles are delicious with nachos, so place jars in a basket with baked tortilla chips and a jar of salsa (and a note that the pickles should be refrigerated).
Bean and Barley Soup
A pretty jar of colored beans (and barley) is the gift of time in a bottle. After all, what’s more welcome than helping your friends out with a healthy dinner in a hurry during the busy holiday time? Beans, such as kidney beans, pinto beans, navy beans, and black beans, are naturally low in fat, provide protein, calcium, iron, folic acid, potassium, and contain even more fiber than many whole-grain foods. Write the simple soup preparation instructions on card stock and attach with a ribbon; you could also include a few of the soup spices in zip-top plastic bags.
Mailing Food Gifts
• Cool off. Allow any baked goods to cool completely before packaging to prevent moisture from condensing inside the package.
• Wrap for freshness. Wrap quick breads or cakes in plastic wrap and then aluminum foil, and seal inside a zip-top plastic bag. Keep quick breads, brownies, or bar cookies in the pan they baked in, and wrap with plastic wrap and foil; if you can, seal the pan inside a zip-top plastic bag. Place cookies or spiced nuts directly into a zip-top plastic bag.
• Cushion the food. Place food into one container (a zip-top plastic bag or metal tin lined with tissue paper, for example), and place inside a larger box lined on all sides with crumpled tissue paper, bubble wrap, or other packaging material.