Budget Smart Cook

Homemade Food Gifts

When you need some help stretching your gift giving budget, homemade food gifts can come to the rescue. A few years ago I decided to make four different loaves of sweet bread and use them as gifts for people like the postman, garbage pick-up guys, and a few of the neighbors. I purchased holiday themed plates from the dollar store. I placed two slices of each type of bread on the plates and wrapped everything in the colored cling wrap you can buy during the holidays.

A few days after I handed them out, I went to the mailbox and saw an envelope sitting in there. I didn’t recognize the name of the sender but when I opened it, I realized it was from the man who delivered our Sunday newspaper. He said my gift had been more thoughtful than I’d probably realized because that year his wife had passed away and he hadn’t eaten anything homemade since then. He’d sat down with the bread and watched the football game and thought it was one of the nicest gifts he’d received. That always sticks in my mind and if you’re worried a homemade food gift isn’t a real gift, someone out, just like the paper delivery man, is going to appreciate it. Here are some ideas-

Hot Chocolate Mix
This makes about 2 cups of hot chocolate and you can even package it in a mug and tie a bag of mini marshmallows to the handle. And a cute addition is a homemade gift tag that you’ve cut in the shape of a pair of mittens.
1 cup of dry milk
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa powder

Just stir everything together and use about ¼ cup of mixture per mug, or if you’re going to use a container, use the whole amount. All the recipient needs to do is add water and the marshmallows.

Spice Mixes
If you shop the bulk bins at the supermarket or your local co-op, you can save even more money with spice mixes. My favorite picks are homemade taco seasoning, a mix for cider, or even just a combination of Italian herbs for soups and stews. If you’ve got leftover spice jars these are perfect, and sometimes you can pick up empty ones in the supermarket right by the bulk bins and most are under $1.

Ready Made Mixes
Everyone appreciates taking a break from cooking now and then, and especially during the holidays. If your budget won’t stretch to buying someone a gift card to a restaurant, give them a gift of pre-made mix like a baking mix for muffins, pancakes, oatmeal mix for cookies, or even fruit crisp toppings. I found this site that has a whole bunch of recipes to try- www.cdkitchen.com/recipes, check out the mixes and from scratch recipes.

A plate of cookies is always appreciated and one novel way to present them is in an old pizza box with a bow tied around it. And yes, make sure the pizza box is clean, no greasy stains or cheese still stuck on the lid. If your pizza box can’t be salvaged, then take a trip to the pizza shop. They’ll sometimes sell you the boxes for next to nothing. And yes, if you want to give the gift of some pizza crusts, some stores will sell you those too. Maybe box them up with some pizza sauce and a bag of spices.

Another container I like to use for cookies, truffles, and candy is the Chinese food takeaway box. Just stick some holiday themed stickers on it and tie the label around the handle and it looks great.

Gourmet Chocolate
Ever since dark chocolate moved from the naughty to the nice list, yes, it really is good for you; companies have been turning out gourmet dark chocolate at budget friendly prices. And during the holidays, you can pick up even more bargains. Just the other day, I found Lindt Excellence dark chocolate bars, 2 for $3. At that price you can tie two bars together with raffia, attach a tag and it looks like you’ve paid a whole lot more. And these make perfect stand by gifts for the times when someone unexpectedly gives you a gift. Yes, this happens to me every year.

Containers, baskets and more
And if you can’t find a suitable container for your food gifts at home, check out your local dollar store. You can’t beat their prices for gift bags and baskets.