Real Food Tips: 12 Homemade Holiday Gifts (that aren’t cookies!)

Admit it. When you think of “making” or “baking” some type of holiday gift you think of cookies. Or maybe candy. No matter what it is I guarantee it’s full of sugar, and collectively there’s just too much of that going around this time of year (in my opinion)! I personally think there are many other little holiday gift ideas that are more exciting – and more original – than cookies, and since I like to play by my own rules here’s some of what I will be giving out this year…

Want to Save this Recipe?

Enter your email below & we’ll send it straight to your inbox. Plus you’ll get great new recipes from us every week!

Save Recipe

1. Homemade Vanilla Extract

One of my favorite things about this gift (other than how cute the bottles are!) is that you can make them in advance. In fact – this is a gift that will actually get better with time, which is quite the opposite of a lot of other homemade goodies. Simply slit two vanilla beans down the middle, drop them into 375 ml of vodka (I used the red Smirnoff) and within a few weeks you will have infused pure vanilla extract that someone can use in all sorts of recipes like granola, pumpkin bread, French toast, and oatmeal. And save some money by ordering your vanilla beans online instead of buying them at the grocery store! Amazon is cheaper for large quantities, but reviews are mixed. We get ours from J. Crow’s Marketplace.

Three glass bottles with homemade vanilla extract in them with a decorated label.

2. Assorted Whole-Grain Muffins

I adore all those cute treat boxes this time of year, and the ones pictured below from Michael’s Craft Store (that I purchased with a 40% off coupon) are no exception. But just because they are “treat” boxes doesn’t mean you have to fill them with cookies, sweets, and cupcakes…try thinking “out of the box” instead! Okay, kidding. There’s nothing like a cheesy joke to lighten the day. :) Anyway, pictured is an assortment of whole-grain pumpkin, zucchini, corn bread, and blueberry muffins or you could also add some banana nut or cinnamon raisin muffins to the mix as well. As far as I am concerned you can’t go wrong! (Hint: Make your muffins in advance, and store them in the freezer until gift-giving time.)

Assorted muffins in decorative muffins tins sitting on a white cake stand and in holiday boxes.

3. Seasoning Mixes

Whether it’s a meat rub for chicken or pork or a spice mixture for homemade ranch dip (or all three!) this could be yet another unique holiday present. Craft stores like Michael’s and A.C. Moore sell cute little containers and jars – meant for wedding favors – and with one of their weekly 40% or 50% off coupons it could be a rather affordable gift idea as well. Attach a recipe card detailing how to use the spice mixes and you end up with another creative gift idea!

Three silver tins with labels for chicken rub, pork rub, and ranch seasoning, with a red and white bow.

4. Homemade Granola Cereal or Granola Bars

This is what we eat (and love) for breakfast almost every single day so I can’t think of a better reason to share it with others. You could give the granola cereal version in a jar or gift bag or make some granola bars with dried fruit and put them in little treat boxes (which is what I gave out last year). Don’t forget a little recipe card to go along with it because you know you’ll leave them wanting more!

A mason jar filled with homemade granola with a green ribbon tied around it and a hand written tag.

5. Homemade Bread

If you make your own bread either in the oven or in a bread maker you have an advantage because that’s just one more very thoughtful and tasty holiday gift you can offer. Whether you want to make the standard Honey Whole-Wheat Sandwich Bread or a Cinnamon Raisin Loaf I can’t imagine anyone being disappointed. I’ve actually given out loaves of bread as “thank you” gifts before, and they were very well received!

A fresh loaf of homemade sandwich bread on a counter.

6. Glazed/Candied Nuts and Popcorn Mixes

This Cinnamon Glazed Popcorn recipe is easy to make and a crowd pleaser. I also have a standard glazed pecan recipe that we love, but don’t be afraid to mix it up by adding extra pepper or even making something with a stronger flavor like Thai Curry Cashews. You could also add in extras like plain popcorn, pumpkin seeds, dried fruit, or unsweetened coconut to make more of a spiced trail mix. The possibilities are endless!

Plastic bag with homemade Cinnamon Spice Nut Mix tied with red and silver ribbon.

7. Homemade Whole-Grain Pasta

If you have a pasta machine (like me!) then don’t be shy because just about anybody would love to get some fresh, homemade whole-grain pasta as a gift. You could pair it with a jar of organic and/or local tomato sauce and block of good Parmigiano Reggiano cheese if you really want to get fancy. It would make a very nice – and memorable – holiday gift.

homemade pasta drying on a pasta rack

8. Home Canned Goods

I personally have never canned anything (it’s on my to-do list!), but if your pantry is stocked with homemade pickles, salsa or whatever else you were busy making this summer then wrap a red bow around it and call it a day!

Three mason jars with canned relish.

9. Frozen Meals/Soups

I do happen to have a lot of homemade soups in my freezer (in both small and large jars), and if you were giving a gift to someone that could refrigerate or freeze it again right away I think this so-called “meal in a jar” would be very much appreciated. Even a cold soup (or assortment of soups in small jars) that had not yet been frozen would be nice to offer as well. Think of those teachers that have to try to avoid the lunch line every single day!

Seven jars of homemade soups ready to go in the freezer.

10. Meals in a Jar

Rather than giving someone premade soups you could also create a jar full of pretty layered dried beans and spices along with a recipe card for making homemade soup. Also, I saw a picture on pinterest where someone made their meals at the beginning of the week in attractive layers in big clear glass jars (would love for someone to do that for me!). Once again if you are giving a gift to someone that could keep things cold this could be a very unique and useful idea.

Four mason jars filled with ingredients for a salad.

11. Dried Fruit or Beef Jerky

If you have a dehydrator or know how to make your own beef jerky or dried fruit (cinnamon spiced apple chips, anyone?) in your oven this could also be packaged up in cute little bags and given as a holiday gift. I might have to experiment with this idea myself for next year!

dehydrated apple chips in a bowl with fresh apples in the background.

12. Advent Calendars

This is a little off-topic since it isn’t a gift you give to others, but it actually is sort of a “gift” you give to your children as you count down to Christmas. I’m sure we’ve all seen those pre-filled advent calendars with a piece of candy or chocolate for each day, and two years ago I followed suit by filling my own little advent house with everything from skittles to M&Ms to gum, etc. Well, last year was our first holiday season since our switch to real food so I was racing all around town looking for little gadgets, figures, and toys that were small enough to fit in the little doors of our advent calendar. It ended up being a bunch of plastic junk that the girls quickly lost interest in…or actually just “lost” because they were all so small! So this year I’ve been inspired by an idea from This Lunch Rox to turn our advent house into a “giving house.” She created a gorgeous little “giving jar” with some amazing ideas, and since I don’t want to over commit our already busy family we are going to do a scaled down version of her brilliant idea! I am going to get a set of blank business cards from the office store and write little suggestions on them that my daughters can do each day on their own. Some examples might be writing a nice letter to their teacher, making holiday cards for children who are ill, writing a letter to a soldier overseas, or even giving extra hugs or compliments to others that day. I figure those little cards will fold up and fit in the doors of our new “giving house” nicely, and if I intertwine them with a few fun gadgets (similar to last year) it will hopefully be a smooth transition!

An advent calendar house for Christmas.

If you have any other “real food” homemade gift ideas please leave them in the comments below!

Posts may contain affiliate links. If you purchase a product through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but 100 Days of Real Food will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated and helps us spread our message!

About The Author

283 thoughts on “Real Food Tips: 12 Homemade Holiday Gifts (that aren’t cookies!)”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. I’m getting a bit nervous as I see most recipes call for much more than 2 beans per cup of vodka. Any thoughts? I’m not really wanting to order another batch of beans but Im wondering if my extract will be strong enough?

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi Kelly. It will be fine. If you used more beans, it would steep more quickly but Lisa does use the measurements above. If you feel that it is not quite strong enough by the time you “gift” them, just put a ready by date on the vanilla. :)

  2. Hi
    For the last several years I have been doing a “12Days” of Christmas project for my grandchildren.
    All year long I keep my eyes open for $1.00-$2.00 items on the discount tables all over town.
    With five grandchildren that totals 60 gifts.
    I then wrap each gift and put each child’s gifts in individual festive bags.
    12 days of Christmas is actually the 12 days after Christmas but I started the children opening a gift a day for the 12 days of Christmas before Christmas.
    It’s amazing what you can find on those discount tables, especially after the 1st of the year and then after each holiday.
    Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas

  3. So Excited to make some of these, thank you for your blog!! I’d love to make the Vanilla Extract, how long does it need to soak for? If I get started with it now, will it be ready to gift for Christmas? Thank you

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi Kristen. Yes, you can start now. Also, keep in mind that you do not need to remove the beans when you gift them. That way, the vanilla will continue to deepen in flavor as time goes on. ~Amy

  4. Usually i make dog biscuits for christmas for my friends and family but this year i’m making my seasoned salt, it was what i made for my wedding favor and it was a huge hit! Since everyone is now out of salt i decided to make it for the holidays. I buy the big boxes of coarse kosher salt and added fresh chopped garlic rosemary and sage (which i grew in my own garden), let it sit in a container with no lid stirring it daily until its dry, which can take up to a few months. You can use any of your favorite herbs and it will turn out amazing! Its great on eggs, steak and chicken, and plain rice with butter. The possabilities are endless!

  5. I ordered the vanilla beans, got twenty four, they were beautiful, made the vanilla, stored the rest of beans in freezer. Went back to site ordered more bottles and other stuff through these guys and had terrific results both times. Vanilla is resting now, waiting for ribbons and Christmas.

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi Julie. There is no need to buy top shelf or high proof. An inexpensive 40%-80 proof will work fine. :) ~Amy

  6. Where did you find your bottles for vanilla extract? I found a website that sells are different types go glass bottles but the 375ml bottles are round and look a little bigger than the bottles in your post. I prefer the square bottles like you have. On the same website I found a similar bottle but it’s only 250ml. Please let me know. Thanks!

  7. I was curious if for your vanilla extract you made the batch and then put it into these bottles to give away? I just started some tonight with the same bottles, but noticed they only held about 100 ml, which is quite different from the 375 suggested, just want to make sure its going to be a correct alcohol to vanilla ratio.

  8. Regarding…that link to Amazon for the Vanilla Beans…curious, there are many great reviews amongst reviews stating the beans were moldy, soggy, and smelled aweful. Is it just luck of the draw here? What worries me more, is those that tried to contact the company get no answer/no response.

    1. Don’t do it! I just bought a package from amazon for 18.00 (4oz) The beans came out rancid. I’m not even going to try and return them because according to the comments it is almost impossible. I would suggest to buy from J. Crowe’s Marketplace. Never had a problem with them.

    2. Highly recommend Olive Nation for beans. They are wonderful and customer service is excellent. Have found their prices competitive too. Beans are fantastic and good quality.

  9. Is there an alternative to using alcohol? I’m not educated on pure vanilla extract so please forgive me if this is a silly question!

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi Ashley. Alcohol really does the best job. There are alcohol free alternatives like using food grade glycerin. We’ve never tried. ~Amy

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi Rachel. Yes, it will always taste like vanilla flavored alcohol. The longer it steeps, the more the vanilla flavor develops. ~Amy

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Katie. You can do almost any size but that bottle is probably 8-10 oz. The least expensive way to buy them is likely online. Here is one resource: You can also find them at large craft stores or home decorating warehouses. ~Amy

  10. I love to make Biscotti as gifts, I make lots of cookies and breads each year, always give food gifts, I love your ideas! Will be buying an extra bottle of Smirnoff soon, just for gift giving. I no longer purchase gifts for anyone but my kids for Christmas, but I spend a whole lotta money on flour and sugar etc.

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hello Gail. You don’t have to but I think it is prettier with the bean. ;) Also, the longer it is in there, the more the flavor develops. ~Amy

  11. If I buy a large bag of the beans and don’t plan on using them all before they expire, should I freeze them?? Also, do the beans still expire if they are already soaked in the vodka? Is the vodka a natural preservative and so the beans won’t expire as long as they are soaked in the vodka? Thank you!

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Christy. You can freeze vanilla beans to extend their life. Once they are in the vodka, they do not have to be removed. ~Amy

    2. I don’t know if it’s too late or if you’ll even see this but I filled a quart jar with whole vanilla beans and poured enough vodka to cover. Put on the lid and ring and stored it in my pantry. This keeps them from drying out. You can either use them to make vanilla later or sometimes, if i want concentrated flavor like in frosting for example, I use scissors to clip off the end and squeeze all the vanilla seeds out of the end. It’s awesome!

  12. So, since I use a ton of Vanilla extract in recipes, i’m thinking I will just throw a total of 4 beans into a 750ml bottle of vodka(approx. 2 full beans for every 12 oz. of vodka), Decorate over the label and call it a day? Is there any drawback in doing a large amount at one time that you can think of? I would assume not.

  13. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

    Hi. It is a bit more than half a cup. You do not ever “have” to remove the beans. The flavor will continue to develop for many weeks and the beans look nice in the bottle. ~Amy

  14. Ok, I’ve got all the things I need to make the vanilla..I just want to double check about the 375ml amount of vodka that you add to the 2 vanilla beans…is that about 1 1/2 cups (one and a half) of vodka? How long do you need to leave the beans in before you toss them?

  15. Hi, questions regarding the Vanilla Extract.

    I highly doubt this ever becomes Non-alcoholic so,
    Is this safe for children
    And, if I decided to take shots of this , how likely will I get intoxicated? I mean, does the alcohol changed?

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Manuel. The tiny amounts of this you would need to use in recipes is not of concern. However, I would not recommend doing shots of it. It is mostly vodka and the alcohol extracts the vanilla flavor from the bean. It would be potent. :) ~Amy

  16. Great ideas. I love getting and giving homemade gifts. The holidays can be stressful when trying to find gifts for adults who “have” everything they “need,” or are in the position to simply purchase it if they need it, and often do. Last year I gave my parents a recyclable grocery bag full of food goodies from Trader Joes and some local markets (in Chicago) that they are unable to source where they live for a week long trip they take to a woodsy cabin in February. They loved it so much that requested it again this year. So this year we are gifting gift baskets made from the bounty of my Dad’s extensive garden, rounded out with a few locally made goodies including some craft beer. Here is what we made….

    Spicy Zucchini relish– have you seen how much zucchini a single plant gives? Try a whole plot of zucchini.

    Apple Butter- I make it in the crock pot an add 1/8 – 1/4 the amount of sugar called for and it is still quite sweet.

    Spicy Tomato Jam- you’ll never go back to ketchup

    Chestnut Cream- Simply chestnuts, cream, a little sugar and vanilla boiled and canned. A great alternative to nutella.

    And we also made some delicious caramel corn.

    Once you hop on the canning bandwagon it is hard to stop.

  17. Another idea for the Advent calendar house especially if you have girls is to buy 24 colorful, pretty beads for each child, and put them in the drawers. In the first drawer also put a piece of cord or elastic. Alternatively you can put small items which combine to make a craft item & instructions re: how to make them. Or pieces of a 24-piece Nativity or other Christmas-themed jigsaw puzzle.

  18. deborah kristensen

    I pick all the Herbs in my garden in late summer, dry them in the oven a few days, then blend together With some coarse salt and put it in decorative little jars, voila! herbal salt, Perfect little gifts!

  19. We’re making play-dough to give to our boys’ young friends. We collected baby food jars from other families (the play dough will be white, so they’ll look like little snowmen when stacked. We’ll paint faces on the top jar).

  20. Another reader who’d like to know where to buy the bottles with the cork tops! I’m late for this year, but already planning for next! What a terrific gift!

  21. Questions:
    Does the quality of vodka in vanilla matter?
    When buying the beans, does the 1oz = 9 actual long vanilla beans so I can do 9 jars of extract?

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi there. I wouldn’t go with a bottom shelf choice but something mid-range should be just fine. : ) ~Amy

  22. I saw this question posted but couldn’t find any response. Where did you get the bottles with corks for the vanilla? I make homemade liqueur as holiday gifts and lucked out last year with a box of vintage bottles at a thrift shop. No such luck this year and time’s running short. Help!

  23. Hi, I’m a bit late in the game making vanilla extract for the first time. I get how to infuse it but based on the picture you posted, do you put a eh ole vanilla bean in each of the bottles that you’re handing out as gifts?

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hello Wendy. Once it is infused, you do not have to keep a piece of the divided bean in there but it does look nice. Also, the flavor will further develop if you have a bean in the bottle. ~Amy