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…

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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!

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

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  1. Have you (or anyone who follows this) ever tried making the vanilla with bourbon? I love the smell of bourbon, and I’ve read other recipes that show it that way….here is my problem: I’ve tried it several times, and it always goes bad in a week or two: what am I doing wrong?

  2. We use an advent calendar as well that my son loves – but now that he’s 13 the gifts are much more than a piece of candy. This year I’m doing a scavenger hunt – there are clues that send him to somewhere in the house for his surprise! A new travel mug for when we look at lights, a new cookie cutter for when we bake for the fire dept., a $10 bill for a shopping trip to buy toys-for-tots gift. He’s loving it!

  3. I do love homemade (edible) gifts! For an advent calendar idea: I made a felt tree with buttons for lights that also hold the decorations the boys pull out each day. In the pocket I put a decoration that relates to the holiday thing we will do that day. It is a busy time of the year so I incorporated all the things we do anyways. Examples are go pick a tree, buy a gift for charity, hang up our wreath, decorate, wrap presents, watch a classic christmas movie, hang the stockings, etc. I thought about all the things we do anyways that my kids get excited about, spread them out instead of cramming them on the first weekend, and added in character building and fun things like a snowman and a christmas carol night.

  4. Since I frequent this blog, I came across this recipe first. However, I’ve been comparing vanilla recipes and this one uses far fewer vanilla beans per ml of vodka. Does the flavor of this recipe result in a strong enough vanilla flavor for baking? I’m planning on making these for gifts. I live overseas and it would definitely be a unique gift here. Thanks.

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi Leslie. I’ve used Lisa’s vanilla for the past year in recipes and it tastes like typical vanilla. :)

  5. So excited about my vanilla extract! I started it about 6 weeks ago, but it has little bits floating in it now. Is that a problem? Do I need to strain it before using it or giving it as a gift?

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi there. The longer you let it infuse, the better. Now would be a good time to get them started for the holidays.

    2. I am making vanilla extract for the first time this year. does it get as dark as the store bought? I made mine the first part of October and it is still pretty light in color.

  6. I have been making vanilla for family and friends for a few years now. I love those bottles – can you tell me where they came from?

  7. Chrissy Venditti

    Where did you get those adorable bottles for the vanilla extract? I’ve been looking on amazon and can’t seem to find anything quite as cute…!

  8. A couple years ago my cousin and his wife gave all of us ‘cookie mixes’. All the dry ingredients were in a jar, you just needed to add butter and eggs and bake. I’m sure they were not real food approved, but if you have folks that eat junk this could work or I’m sure it could be made real food friendly.
    For a wedding gift a friend of mine received 1/2 dozen wineglasses filled with homemade grape jelly from her maid of honor. By the time the MOH paid for a dress and plane ticket to the wedding she couldn’t afford a ‘real’ gift so she found inexpensive wine glasses and filled them with the jelly. It was one of the couples favorite gifts and they still have (and use) the wine glasses.

  9. I started the vanilla a few weeks ago, and it’s getting nice and brown. But, it still doesn’t smell like the store-bought vanilla I’m using up. Will it ever have that nice, sweet smell? I noticed that my store-bought (Trader Joe’s) has only 35% alcohol, maybe that makes a difference.

    Also, does anyone know how hot things have to get in order to burn off the alcohol? I regularly put a dash of vanilla in my oatmeal (sometimes before heating, sometimes after) but I’m not sure if I want to continue doing that for my 3 year old.

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi Sandi. If you just allow it to keep steeping, you will notice the vanilla scent more and more. All of the vanilla I have ever used has been alcohol based/extracted. I’ve never given a second thought to giving it to my kids in the tiny amounts that I do. It takes any alcohol you use in cooking a decent amount of time to be “cooked off”. I honestly do not think a bit of vanilla in oatmeal is a concern. :) You can, however, find vanillas that are extracted with other chemicals.

  10. In my fb group (a group of 500 of us focusing together on ONE of your challenges per week) a member posted about using glycerin instead of vodka to make homemade vanilla. I’ve searched your site and can’t seem to find information about that ingredient. I personally would use vodka, but perhaps she has a religious, moral or health reason to ask about glycerin. Thanks for letting me know about using that instead.

  11. So my vanilla has darkened and I’m ready to poor it into individual jars, do I put 1 of the vanilla beans in each jar? Or leave them out? So excited to give out these gifts this year!!!!!!!

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi Jennifer. If you want the flavor to develop further, add a bean. I think the bean makes for a pretty gift, too. :)

  12. Hey Lisa and team!

    Love your blog and your cook book!! I started some homemade vanilla extract for gifts about a month ago and the vanilla does not look dark enough… The lightest ones look almost a light Apple cider shade and the larger batch is darker. I’m getting a little worried since christmas is just over a week away that maybe I have done something wrong. Should I take out the vanilla beans that have been in and add a couple new ones for this next week?

    Thanks in advance for the help!

    ~ Annie

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi Annie. It won’t hurt to add another bean. You could also add a “ready date” to the label which would just suggest it needs more time to steep. :)

  13. Hi just curious if you know how many jars one batch of the granola would fill? I have the same size jars that are in the picture here. Thank you :)

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi Catherine. About 2 cups will fit in a pint size jar and 4 cups will fit in a quart size. The recipe makes about 7.5 cups. ;)

  14. I made the vanilla and a few weeks in my beans look like they have something like mold growing on them. Is this normal or did I get bad beans? They looked good and smelled good when I got them out of the package, and were fine for a few weeks. Thanks!