By Kate Mulinix
We've already covered a pretty good list of non-food mostly homemade gifts, but food items--and related gifts like compilations of recipes--are an entire category all their own. Food is one of the easiest and most diverse catagories for homemade.
As we said before, it's easy, however, for costs to spiral out of control if you need a lot of specialty items. The other drawback can be that many require special skills or special tools. If you don't have the tools, you'll have to buy them, and if you don't have the skills, you're out of luck if it's getting too close to Christmas. It's easy for a homemade gift to cost more than a bought gift from the store!
However, we've compiled a list of ideas for homemade food-related gifts that can be done both frugally and with few special skills. Most of these ideas would fit most people. Especially with food-related gifts, the packaging and wrapping matters more than other ideas becase it adds a level of dimension to the gift that makes it more meaningful and significant.
For any of these ideas, buy packaging they can reuse, like a quality plastic container (i.e. Tupperware or Rubbermaid), tins from the thrift store, or glass jars. Watch for sales, especially late in fall when canning jars go on sale at the end of the growing season. Put the word out among family and friends if you're looking for a specific item, like jars, and they might sell it to you discounted or give it to you outright.
It's easy to make a couple of batches of cookies, bars or other nibbles like truffles or caramels, then package them up and pass out one per family, party host, or co-worker to cover a large group of people easily. If everyone gets the same thing, you can create an assembly line for production, also saving overall on time. For something unusual, try cupcakes baked in a jar, preserved lemons, or your own popcorn-based concoction. Pop bulk popcorn yourself to get the most pop for your buck, and then you can add from there. Chocolate drizzled over the popcorn, with some peanuts mixed in, makes for a salty-sweet combination that many people like. And if you're not feeling creative enough to come up with a recipe on your own, there are tons of recipes on the internet.
Another food idea that saves your budget at Christmas is to give a monthly meal to a harried family. Let them know that you'll drop off a heat-and-eat meal once a month, say on the first Monday of each month. You can take advantage of sales and double a recipe you're already making, saving yourself some of the work if you were to make the meal just for one family. Or, consider giving a variation of this idea to an elderly family member who might appreciate the company. Instead of dropping off the meal, stay and enjoy it with them. The true gift is that of your time, with little extra out-of-pocket expense, and the promise of seeing you regularly will brighten their life as they look forward to your visits.
If you are aware that someone on your list has a food restriction, such as gluten-intolerance, read up on what the means (so you know exactly what to avoid--some people can have problems with even the tiniest bit of gluten that can leave them quite sick) and seek out something that you can make that fits their restrictions. They will feel very special that you took the time to do that for them.
Food ideas that require a little more than basic cooking skills but aren't too hard include frozen, partially baked loaves of homemade bread, and do-it-yourself vineagrettes and salad dressings. For the dressings, you likely can find a glass container at a thrift store to give it in, and make sure to add the recipe to the gift. If you like to can foods, consider something out of the ordinary (not that people don't appreciate homemade jams!), like BBQ sauce or salsa. Canning something unique could be something worth asking around in your family to find someone who knows how to can if you don't, and you can combine your skills and time--you bring the recipes, split the cost of the supplies, and work together, turning it into a frugal and productive social event.
If you'd like to give something less expendable along with your food item, consider a book that follows the theme, or make something that goes with the theme of a book. On Disney's Family Fun website, we saw a recipe for chocolate cherry mice, which is especially great when paired with a book like "The Night Before Christmas," "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!," or "The Nutcracker."
Related to food is recipes. Take your favorites, format them neatly on the computer (no special program needed, just a basic word-processing one), print them on letter-size paper, slip each into a page protector to protect it from splatters and dirty fingerprints, and slide it into a three-ring binder. This idea also allows you to add to it in the future, and include a number of empty page protectors so they can add some of their own. Add a related specialty kitching tool to the recipe binder--such as a good wisk, bundt pan, pizza stone or ramekins, which of course you found on sale, or even better on clearance--and your gift is complete.
If you'd like to go even further, compile family recipes and related pictures, or pictures of the contributor, and make a book to give to each family within your larger family. The recipe book becomes both a useful tool and family memory keeper. This idea could require a little more research to make it frugal as well, but you can find coupons for color copies if you don't have a cheaper printer, and it only costs a couple of dollars to have it bound at a place like Kinko's. Keep in mind that copy places vary in price compared to each other, and it also might be cheaper if you're willing to do a little chasing, having them printed once place and bound at another. Call ahead to get prices.
What food-related ideas do you have? We'd love to hear about them!
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