11 December 2018Health-Conscious Holiday Gift Ideas

The holiday season may conjure visions of sugar plums, along with cookies, lavish buffets, eggnog, pie and hot chocolate with whipped cream. The health-conscious person may see the holidays as a minefield of unwelcome temptations. How does a person stay on track? One solution: pick gifts that reflect your healthy habits or that enhance the health goals of the person receiving the gift. If that describes you, here are some suggestions for gifts that promote a healthier lifestyle.

Food Calendars

I'm a big believer in visuals. Lectures and diet books might seem like effective ways to change behavior, but images of lovely healthful foods can have just as much impact and are a lot more enjoyable. My favorite idea: a wall calendar with photos, drawings or paintings of fruit, vegetables or dishes made with beautiful healthful ingredients. There are dozens of calendar choices online and in local stores that fit this description. If you're buying for someone who is trying to stick to healthy eating, I'd avoid calendars that celebrate sweets or chocolate or alcoholic beverages or pizza (yes I found a pizza calendar). Just as visuals can be inspiring, they can also trigger an interest in indulgence. Just ask any advertising executive about that.

Food

What are the holidays without homemade cookies or candies, speciality chocolate, toffee and fruitcake? But if health is your priority, gift food items that fit one or more of these criteria:

  • Promotes health or at least doesn't detract from health or encourage bad habits. A boutique olive oil would be nice for someone who is trying to follow a Mediterranean style diet. A package of sugary cookies and candy to someone with diabetes? Not a good choice.
  • Keeps well -- an issue for shipping or for certain people -- a large box of lovely red grapefruit sounds great, but maybe isn't so great for an older person who lives alone.
  • Isn't fussy to prepare or require too much cooking skill or equipment, unless the giftee is handy in the kitchen.
  • Tastes good! Otherwise what's the point?
  • The gift recipient will actually use it. Important!

Here are some ideas:

  • Boutique olive oils
  • Citrus fruit -- it's in season now and there are lots of companies that ship.
  • Speciality fruit -- there are several well-known companies that ship fruit, although this can be pricey. Also in the case of some perishable fruit (pears come to mind), they need to be consumed in a rather short time period. Another option: fruit of the month gifts Nuts
  • Smoked or preserved fish
  • Speciality coffee or tea
  • Other smoked or fresh meats: ham, turkey, steaks, etc.
  • Cheeses
  • Assorted dried fruits (I especially love dried pears, if you can find them)
  • Condiments: hot sauce or salsa, kimchi, Asian sauces, mustards, pickled vegetables. All help to spice up otherwise plain foods, making healthy eating more flavorful.

Books

Diet books: I would not give anyone a diet book unless they had specifically requested it. And even then, I personally would avoid giving books about diets I disagreed with, especially if they promote extremist unbalanced food plans. Keep in mind: giving someone a diet book as a way to encourage weight loss might not be the best choice. A better choice would be books that emphasize more healthful eating, not just weight loss.

Healthy eating books: Books about the DASH diet or Mediterranean diet or variations on the plant-based theme are generally good choices. Perfect for the health-conscious older woman: my book "Food Wisdom for Women".

Cookbooks

Cookbooks can be tricky. There are thousands of lovely cookbooks out there, with gorgeous photos and extremely complicated fussy recipes that no one ever makes. Or less glamorous cookbooks with recipes that are basically duplicates of similar recipes in other cookbooks. Honestly, how many variations on a basic cream sauce or chicken soup do you need? I've got a modest collection of cookbooks and rarely use any of them. At most, I use only one or two recipes from many of them.

I'm not completely against cookbooks. But unless the person actually wants to cook, I'd think twice. I'd suggest something like The New Joy of Cooking for new or aspiring cooks. It's loaded with classic recipes and lots of background information and references on cooking.

Encourage healthy eating with cookbooks that focus on the Mediterranean Diet and plant-based or vegetarian meals. Here are some ideas (NOTE: I am not endorsing any of these, just providing examples of the choices):

American Cancer Society New Healthy Eating
The Easy 5-Ingredient Healthy Cookbook
Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy: Harvard Medical School Guide
The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook
The DASH Diet Mediterranean Solution

Another option: cookbooks for people who want to know how to use their new Instant Pot® to cook healthy food, which brings up....

Kitchen gadgets

Instant Pot® or slow cookers are all the rage. Apparently they were flying off the proverbial shelves at the rate of 1/second on Cyber Monday at one retail website. Slow cookers can be very useful, but newbies might need some initial instruction, not to mention recipe ideas and tips on techniques. So cookbooks that add a healthy food angle would be a great gift to the new Instant Pot® owner.

Before buying any kitchen equipment, be sure the recipient will actually use it, meaning the person actually prepares food. No use spending money on fancy pots or utensils that just sit in the cabinets. Single-purpose machines -- such as a grilled sandwich maker or an electric egg cooker -- may just end up as countertop clutter. Here are some that a health-conscious cook might appreciate:

  • Digital kitchen food scale
  • Juicer
  • Salad spinner
  • A lovely salad bowl
  • A cookbook stand (to go with a cookbook)
  • Good knives

Memberships

Many weight loss companies, rec centers/gyms, professional trainers, exercise classes and diet tracking websites/apps require memberships. A gift membership might be a good idea for someone, but be cautious. You may like going to the gym, but the person in question may not be interested in gyms. You might think membership in a weight loss program like Weight Watchers® is just the ticket for a person trying to lose weight; that person may dislike meetings and diet programs. If someone has expressed interest in joining a particular gym, you might purchase a membership along with new exercise clothes or a water bottle.

As for online diet trackers such as MyNetDiary, a membership for someone who already uses it, or uses a different system, would be a nice gift.

Wearables

Finally, fitness wearables are a very hot trend and would make a nice gift for someone who doesn't have one, or might like an ungraded version. Wearables have moved beyond simple step counting into other measurements like heart rate and calories burned. The accuracy of these calculations has been questioned.

Wearables can be great motivators for exercise activities. Watches can alert you to stand up and move around periodically to avoid ill effects of excessive sitting. They count steps and mileage and provide reasonably accurate estimates of calorie burn, which can increase motivation to stay active. The one thing they can't do is make you lose weight or prevent you from buying doughnuts or cookies. Now that would be useful, and I'll bet dieters would love to get that wearable for a gift. Until then, we have to make do with self-control. If a wearable can enhance self-control with positive information about steps and calories, so much the better.

Donna P Feldman MS RDN is author of Feed Your Vegetarian Teen and Food Wisdom for Women: nutrition for aging with energy, vitality and health. Donna writes about food and nutrition at Radio Nutrition and is co-host of the Walk Talk Nutrition podcast.
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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.

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