Homemade and Healthy Christmas Gift Ideas (Fun & Unique!)

Beautiful, fun, and unique homemade gifts (made with all natural ingredients!)

Our tree is up, our decorations are out, and the Christmas music is on! As a family, we look forward all year to Christmas for so many reasons. It’s a time of celebration for us, a time of thanksgiving for our blessings, and a time of giving.

And speaking of giving, I love making and giving away beautiful homemade gifts. But there is a wide variance of worth of homemade gifts. My criteria for homemade gifts:

  • Something the recipient would like
  • Something that isn’t completely contrary to my lifestyle decisions (that is, I’d feel sheepish giving away GMO-laden cheap candy after blogging about the evils of them)
  • And something that is tasty, useful, or adds value to the recipients life.

What homemade gifts fit the criteria depends entirely on who I am giving gifts to, but here are some delicious and useful ideas that meet this criterion for many! And look for even more upcoming ideas soon! (You can sign up for my RSS fed to make sure you don’t miss any).

All of these bundles of ideas can also be separated out into individual gifts as well. For example, a popular singular gift that we’ve given as a hostess gift is a jar of Candied Citrus Peel (they are really quite incredible!). Choose to give away just one jar of something or a basket brimming with treats! Both have been popular in my experience.

I’ve also included items that you can add to the basket that are store-bought, and, because we don’t always have time for homemade everything ,“cheater” options of organic/healthy store-bought options. I’ve included affiliate links below, when applicable. Thanks for supporting this blog! 

Homemade Hot Cocoa Mix, Marshmallows and More

Fun Homemade and healthy hot cocoa gift ideas
Homemade hot cocoa mix is a yummy and useable gift that is popular to give and receive, but most recipes use a lot of ingredients that are unfortunate. Plus, I try to use Fair Trade Chocolate because of the problems in the chocolate industry (including unfair wages, child labor, and even slavery). To make it extra special, give along with homemade marshmallows!

Hot Cocoa Basket Ideas

Add Ons:

Cheater Options:

Christmas Candy Plate (made with unrefined sweeteners and natural ingredients!)

Homemade candy perfect for gift giving! These are all made with all natural ingredients too.  I have had so much fun making candies using natural, unrefined ingredients and giving them to family and friends. There are so many beautiful candies you can make. Pick one, or pick 6!

 Recipes for DIY Healthier Candies:

To Give in:

Homemade Ice Cream Gift Basket

Give a fun gift of homemade ice cream toppings such as bittersweet chocolate syrup, caramel sauce, and candied nuts!

I know it’s winter, but who doesn’t like ice cream year round? It’s one of my most favorite treats, and I am certainly not alone in that. What about giving a basket full of scrumptious ice cream toppings? You can even include cartons of homemade ice cream (or organic store-bought) for a beautiful gift.

Topping Recipes:

Ice cream recipes:

Add Ons:

Cheater Options:

For the Kids: Playdough Gift Set

How to make homemade glitter playdough

My girls love homemade playdough! To make it especially winter appropriate, try out the glitter dough, keep it “white” or un-dyed, and then add silver glitter! So pretty. Above left, you see our “Elsa” inspired playdough from the movie Frozen (White, with light blue glitter). It is especially fun to make a couple different color combinations. If you do want to dye it, check out the suggestions in the below links for natural dye options.

Recipes:

Add Ons:

Spa Night or Beauty Basket

Vanilla lavender sugar scrub for soft skin!

Beauty products are popular to give as gifts. They are easy to make, easy to use, and smell wonderful too. I don’t have a lot of recipes on this site (yet) for beauty products, but one great resource for homemade beauty products using superior ingredients is Mommypotomus’s book: DIY Organic Beauty Recipes eBook

Recipe:

  • I am pretty much in love with this Vanilla Lavender Scrub. It makes your skin smooth, soft, and smells great too.

Add Ons:

You can give it along with the other items listed on the spa night post – Epsom salts, beeswax candles, lavender essential oil, and honey for a face mask.

Tea Lovers Gift Basket

DIY Beautiful tea blends to give as gifts!

I love tea, so I have given tea gifts a lot. One year I made up a bunch of chai concentrate steeping bags and gave them away with directions for use to a wide variety of my friends and acquaintances. So fun! But you can also give a basket with several different delicious options. Below are some beautiful, DIY tea blends that are super fast and easy to put together. If you have a local store that carries herbs and spices in bulk, this is a cinch to make. (Mountain Rose Herbs also carries all of these ingredients).

Recipes for DIY Tea Blends:

To give in:

Add ons:

Cheater Options:

Those are some of my ideas! I’d love to hear yours! 

7 Tips for Freezing Nourishing Foods

Freezer meals can be made with healthy and nourishing ingredients. Here are some quick tips to get you started. Home Page and Above Photo Credit: CelioSilva/Freeimages  (Disclaimer: Some links below are affiliate) 

I started out with a bang with freezer meals. I was making freezer meals for my family during my high school years and loved the convenience of it. When I got married, I was so committed to freezer meals that I actually made and froze most of our dinners for our honeymoon and brought them with me! Now that’s commitment. (For the record, yes, my husband and I were total penny-pinchers when we got married, thus the yummy freezer meals on the honeymoon. But we also really loved good food, and so instead of eating out every meal, we made a lot of our own food, and then spent some of the money we saved to go out to a really nice restaurant for a couple of dinners.)

But in the freezer meal department, things have gone really down hill lately. Okay, more like down hill for the last five years! I can directly correlate this downhill spiral to when I started trying not to use freezer bags anymore, and switched to using mason jars. Like many, I had way too many jars break or burst for no reason at all (even when following “best practices”). There is nothing like throwing away good food to cool your enthusiasm.

And the trouble is, plastic really is a problem! I have let it creep back into my kitchen and life lately, but re-reading some of the research on the troubling effects it can have made me remember yet again how important it is to avoid.

Thankfully, there are now better solutions to freezing without plastic that I am so eager to try! And the real reason I got back on this topic again, was because I was so inspired by two of the books in The Ultimate Healthy Living Bundle on the topic. I realized how much it would serve me, and my family, if I got back into the habit.

I’ll be honest. We really need freezer meals right now, and I am going to make this a priority.

So with that in mind, I am gathering my tips learned in the past and new ones just learned, and also sharing some of the research I’ve been doing on plastic-free freezing! I’m excited.

1. The short on time freezing method

The first thing that really intrigued and inspired me from the freezer meal eBooks in the bundle was using a different method from what I used to use (which was the achingly long, all-day cooking project that left your feet aching like crazy). Instead of that, there are other ways to build up a freezer full of meals!

One of the eBooks I read was Crystal’s (from Money Saving Mom) Guide to Freezer Cooking. In it she talks about how she also used to do full day freezer cooking, and how exhausting that was! Instead she recommends shorter times, more often. She gives a few other options, such as a 4-6 hour block (enough to get serious work done, but not be so tiring), and even doing (her current preference) one hour, and even 15-minute blocks of time! I may now find it hard to set aside a whole day for freezer meals, but I can definitely set aside an hour or two.

2. The Time Block Method

The other method that was totally new to me was the one outlined in Cara’s wonderful
Grain-Free Freezer Meal eBook. (You can get both of these books as part of the bundle for the next few days, which I highly recommend for the price and all that you get for it, but you can also buy Cara’s book anytime here).

She also doesn’t recommend the “whole day” freezer meal concept. Instead she recommends using “time blocks” working with certain categories. Her method probably makes even more sense for those on a whole food, nutrient dense diet. She says,

“The ‘cooking blocks’ are designed to be easier to fit into busy schedules. I have done freezer cooking in the past, but I would normally spend 8-10 hours straight cooking. Many of us have young families, special needs children, homeschool, work outside the home, or any combination of the above- and separating the cooking into 2-3 hour blocks is much more doable.
To stay the most efficient, these blocks should be planned to be together (i.e. you use meat cooked on meat days to put together Shepard’s pies after you cut/cook the veggies on veggie day), but they can span several days and still fill up your freezer with nourishing foods.”

Her blocks are set up with different categories, such as “meats” “vegetables” and “grain-free baking”. I feel this concept makes so much sense!

3. Start small

Regardless of what method you use, I think the idea of starting small, and taking on bite size jobs is a much more doable task that we can all do! It can be as simple as doubling up the muffin recipe you are making, and freezing half of it. If you are like me, sometimes having too high of standards for yourself and what you’d like to accomplish can actually derail your efforts and enthusiasm. This busy mommy needs doable goals!

4. Double up

With that in mind, use the double up method. Basically, any recipe that would freeze well and you already know you (and your family like), double-up on when you are making it next. It will most likely only take a few more minutes of your time, and you end up with double the food for your effort. I used to do this a lot, and I need to get back into it as it just makes sense to do.

5. Make a growing recipe list

The other thing that ended up derailing my freezer meal project was my changing dietary needs (we found out that one of my daughters and I have multiple food sensitivities). What this meant was that my list of freezer meals no longer worked well for us as I worked on learning new recipes. I now have plenty of meals worked out that would be easy to freeze, I just need to keep a running list of our favorite freezer friendly meals as a reference! Overtime, you can continue to add to your list, so that you have a wide range of meals that you can easily freeze.

6. Freeze components

But don’t feel that you need to freeze whole meals. Freeze components as well! Meats with marinades, homemade broths, sauces, unbaked doughs, chopped vegetables for starting soups, cooked beans, and more are some of the simple components you can freeze for an easier meal start-up in the future. Some methods aim for not having to cook a single dish in the near future. But it can be really simple to start a pot of rice, and reheat a frozen chicken curry. So don’t feel that you have to have every single component of the meal frozen. In fact, I’d encourage you to get out of that mindset as so many fresh vegetables don’t freeze well, and need a little prep work. This type of method can also help when working with small freezer spaces. Just freeze the things that take the most time to make (such as the chicken curry, instead of the rice).

7. Plastic-free freezing

I do have friends that use all sorts of jars to successfully freeze meals. They just make sure to leave plenty of headroom, and defrost slowly, and they have no trouble. I am not one of those lucky souls. However, I didn’t realize that there are specific mason jars that are made to especially withstand freezing. (I certainly was never using them when I attempted to freeze before). I first noticed this at a local store, when I noted that some of the mason jars were marked for freezing and some weren’t.

If you go to the Ball website, you find this chart of jars to select from. Notice that some of the jars are marked as freezer safe and some aren’t.

I am pretty excited to try freezing mason jars again. I have some Amazon credit to use from a gift card, so I was looking there for options. From what I’ve read, wide mouth is the way to go for freezing, so
these jars would be an example of what you could use.

Even with these, I’d make sure you left plenty of headroom, and defrosted in the refrigerator for less temperature shock. Just to make sure.

There are some other, much more expensive items too. If you wanted to still use baggies, you could use these silicone baggies, for example, and there are a wide range of stainless steel and glass containers that are also freezer safe.

Finally, certain items can be frozen with the wax paper and foil method. You can see how that works here with these homemade freezer burritos.

If you do decide to use plastic freezer bags for freezing food, just make sure that you thoroughly chill food before placing it in the plastic, as heat releases more of the chemicals from the plastic.

I’d love to hear your tips, and what recipes work for you. Plus, have you tried freezing in mason jars? I’d love to hear about your experience!

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6 tips for packing healthy meals for a trip

6 tips for healthy meals to bring on a vacation. Perfect for this time of year!
I was pretty quiet last week, but for good reason, it was our yearly family vacation to the beach! We had a wonderful time. Plus, we ate well for less because I had premade all of our dinners, and most of our lunches!

After a beautiful day on the beach, it was lovely to be able to reheat a homemade meal with little bother. We felt well nourished and fed, and it certainly saved us a lot of money too. We ate out for one lunch, and when I saw our bill, I was thankful again that I had made most of our meals!

And let’s face it, it can be really hard to find yummy food that is also allergy-friendly. As a family with gluten, dairy, and egg sensitivities, it can be a real chore to find food that we can eat.

I’m no expert on packing for trips, but I thought I’d share some of what I did as I know many of you have vacations planned as well. This plan works for those staying somewhere with a kitchen (or in my case; we borrowed the kitchen of my sister whose unit had one). I’d love to hear your ideas too!

(Some links may be affiliate. Thank you for supporting my blog!)

Stews and soups
Anyone who has read my blog for a while (or who has my cookbook, Ladled) knows that I’m a fan of soups. I brought a stew and a couple soups. I loved a couple things about specifically bringing them on a trip like this. First, they are super fast to reheat, so kitchen work is minimal. Secondly, soups tend to taste even better after a day or two of flavors melding together, which makes them the perfect food to pre-make for a trip. When much of the day is spent outdoors, I find that especially hearty stews and soups fill the bill.

My soups were from Ladled, but here are some similar soups:

Burritos 
We had “bean” burritos for several of our lunches. I made a big pot of Mexican lentils (one daughter can’t have many beans), and then brought along gluten-free tortillas and salsa for a simple lunch. They were hearty and filling and frugal too! You could also bring along freezer breakfast burritos!

Freeze meals in gallon bags if without a refrigerator
One thing that I wish I remembered to do was to freeze all of my premade meals. Once frozen and placed in a cooler, they act as their own ice packs. When I had gone on a camping trip with my family before I was married, my mom did this, and it was amazing how long the meals stayed frozen and chilled. In fact, the only thing you may need to do is to remember to defrost your frozen meal before meal time!

Cold cuts and produce
Meals don’t have to be fancy! Bring along some organic cold cuts and sausage to slice, or cheddar cheese, and serve with thick slabs of butter bread or crackers. Serve with sliced cucumber, carrots, and apples, or whatever produce you like! These types of meals are also great to bring along on picnic lunches – whether you are in a state park or at the beach.

Bring snacks
I don’t know what it is about vacations, but they just seem to make everyone hungry! We brought along plenty of snacks with us, and they saved us. Because I was already making so many meals ahead of time, we decided to bite the bullet and buy snacks during a good sale a local store had on gluten-free products. We were very thankful for that sale! But snacks are great to make as well. Here are some recipe ideas:

One nourishing spurge item we brought? These coconut oil sweet potato chips. SO good.

Slow cooker meals
Another great idea is to bring slow cooker meals. Last year, I brought several crockpot meals which meant just a little prep for me in the morning. You could make Slow Cooker Pot Roast (for three meals!), slow cooked whole chicken with vegetables, quinoa and chicken stew, or whatever else you fancy! Those eating a paleo diet will appreciate this Paleo Slow Cooking book too.

Finally, these are all ideas for those vacationing with a kitchen. But what about those camping? Katie from Kitchen Stewardship has a great eBook on nourishing camping food, The Family Camping Handbook. Check it out

15 Freezer Burrito Hacks for Nourishing Cooks + Goat Cheese-Green Chile Breakfast Burrito Recipe

15 Freezer Burrito Hacks for Nourishing Cooks: Wrap & Roll Tutorial (No Plastic!) + Hacks for Allergies, Budget, Speed, and MoreBy Alison Diven, Contributing Writer

Burritos just the way you like them whenever you like them, in minutes. No additives,no plastic, , no iffy oils—just nourishing goodness for no-brainer breakfasts or dinners. Can you tell I love homemade freezer burritos?!

Since I started experimenting with them, my husband has devoured a hot and hearty breakfast every morning with zero fuss, leaving him extra space for his 5 a.m. coffee ritual before work.  He just pops one into the toaster oven to heat while he dresses.

And I, queasy pregnant mama, have an easy lunch or snack for those days when nothing sound good, and I’ve already spent all my energy scrounging for food my toddler deigns to eat.

You know what I mean. Whether you’re tending to babies, stocking the freezer for postpartum life, carting teens around, or just plain busy, we all need convenience food sometimes. These knock the nutritional socks off Evol and Amy’s burritos, can meet your special dietary needs, and are far cheaper to boot.

Wanna know how I’m making it work? Here are 15 freezer burrito hacks to get you started—including ideas for allergy and budget needs—plus my favorite breakfast burrito recipe to inspire you: eggs, goat cheese, and green chiles. You’ve gotta try this killer combo!

Essential Success Hacks

1. Cool all fillings to room temperature or colder before filling burritos. Steam=soggy tortillas. (Thanks to TheKtchn for this tip!)

2. Warm tortillas to room temperature or until they’re pliable for less cracking and breaking, then roll like this:

Classic Burrito Rolling

3. Go easy on wet ingredients like salsa and sauces. Drain extra fluids off sautéed vegetables.

4. Wrap your burritos first in parchment paper, then in foil, then in gallon size freezer bags. They’ll last for months this way and are oven-safe, but you’ll never have questionable materials touching your food. Like so:

Wrapping Burritos for Freezer without Plastic Wrap.jpg

Time-Saving Hacks

5. Mix all filling ingredients together in a single bowl. Any sacrifice in presentation is worth the faster assembly. Plus, you won’t prematurely run out of an ingredient. (Hats off to Tammy’s Recipes for this awesome tip.)

6. Use store-bought tortillas, but check ingredient lists. In my current season of fatigue, this is my biggest shortcut. I’m fortunate to have locally-made organic wheat tortillas at my fingertips, and I’ve chosen Rudi’s Gluten Free Tortillas for my gluten, dairy, egg, and soy-free son.(Kimi notes: We are also a gluten-free family. Rudi’s probably has one of the nicest textures, but it does contain corn products in it for those sensitive. You could also use (affiliate links) these brown rice tortillas , or these these multi-grain gluten-free tortillas).

7. Bake your scrambled eggs in the oven if you’re making a giant batch of breakfast burritos. They can cook and then cool while you attend to other tasks. See this method.

8. Slow-cook chicken, beef roast, or pork roast the day before for hands-off shredded meat. I do it like this.

9. Make just one flavor variety per burrito prep day and keep it simple, only 2-4 components. You’ll dirty fewer dishes and streamline the whole process.

Allergy Hacks

10. Gluten-free or grain free? Don’t despair! GF people can choose non-GMO corn tortillas (blue corn or organic are sure bets), store-bought GF tortillas, or even better, homemade options like these nutrient-dense soaked buckwheat wraps or these egg-arrowroot paleo wraps. The last recipe is grain-free too, high protein, quick, and wraps beautifully with zero cracking.

11. Egg-free? Wheat tortillas, like Katie’s soaked ones, corn tortillas, or Rudi’s Gluten Free are good choices.

12. Dairy-free is a piece of cake. Almost any tortilla will meet this criterion, and then it’s up to you to leave dairy out of your fillings.

*NOTE: Many of these alternative tortillas are more prone to cracking (except the egg-arrowroot paleo wrap), so fold like this instead:

Folding Fragile Freezer Burritos.jpg

Frugal Hacks

13. Use thrifty ingredients like yard eggs, rice, home-cooked beans, or diced potatoes to stretch indulgent items like grass-fed beef, pastured pork sausage or bacon, and cheese.

14. Go pungent with your cheese—think sharp cheddar or goat cheese—so you can use less. Also, check out Costco.. We often get fabulous imported, grass-fed cheeses for much less there.

15. Make your own tortillas. Here’s a soaked whole wheat recipe, Natalia offers a gluten-free buckwheat wrap here, and I can heartily recommend this grain-free paleo wrap.

And now, on to my very favorite breakfast burrito, inspired by Albuquerque’s fabulous Grove Cafe & Market.

Goat Cheese-Green Chile Breakfast Burritos.jpg

Goat Cheese-Green Chile Breakfast Burritos
 
Author:
Recipe type: Breakfast
Cuisine: New Mexican
Serves: 6
 
These creamy dreamy Southwest burritos will spice up your mornings! Prepare them for a quick fresh treat or freeze a double batch for later (see blog post for details). Select tortillas according to your allergy or dietary needs (again, many ideas in the blog post). You can find New Mexico, or "Hatch," green chiles frozen in many grocery stores or fresh in late summer. Or, substitute sauteed poblano peppers. It'll still be spectacular! A little sausage wouldn't go amiss either.
Ingredients
  • 12 pasture-raised eggs
  • ¼ cup grass-fed butter (we love Kerrygold)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
  • 8 ounces soft goat cheese (chevre), separated into chunks
  • ¾ cup chopped roasted New Mexico green chiles, without seeds
  • 6-10 tortillas, depending on size
Instructions
  1. Heat butter in a large skillet on medium-low heat. Gently scramble eggs until soft set, sprinkling with salt and pepper.
  2. Gently warm tortillas.
  3. For a pretty presentation, layer scrambled eggs, goat cheese, and green chiles in tortillas and wrap.
  4. For speed, gently mix goat cheese and chiles in scrambled eggs and divide among tortillas.
  5. Enjoy!