Holiday food: fear of calories and gift ideas

checking his healthy food gift list

Holiday food is a pretty schizophrenic topic: either we love it or we’re terrified of it.  Or both.  First, let’s clear up the weight gain myth: Everyone gains 10 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Years.  Really?  Do the math: in order to gain 10 lbs of fat tissue, you have to eat 35,000 extra calories during the 5 weeks starting on Thanksgiving.  That’s roughly 1000 extra calories each and every day.  Think about it this way: it means eating 1 whole pint of Haagen Dass or Ben & Jerry’s ice cream each and ever day for 5 weeks, in addition to your regular food intake.  Other 1000 calorie choices:

  • almost 7 extra cans of soda pop
  • almost an entire half pound bag of potato chips
  • about 290 M & M’s, or about 1 whole cup

Eating 1000 extra calories/day is actually very hard to do for long, let alone 5 whole weeks.  Even in studies of weight gain, fit healthy subjects can have difficulty downing all the food they’re obliged to eat.  Surveys suggest the average holiday weight is closer to 1 pound on average, which is about 100 calories/day, a huge difference and not that hard to do.  An extra 500 at a party here, maybe another 700 at a party there, and the weight creeps on.  Solution: eat less for a day or two after indulging, and don’t slack off on your exercise schedule.

Food gifts are great for anyone on your list, from friends and family to casual acquaintances and co-workers.  But what to give?  Here are some ideas for creating your own gift basket of healthier food items.  Most of these can be purchased from your local grocery store:

  • dried fruit
  • nut butters
  • nuts with little-to-no added salt
  • whole grain pastas
  • can of steel cut or Irish oats
  • quality dark chocolate
  • small bottle of boutique olive oil
  • quality snack bars, like Kind brand, LaraBars or others based mostly on nuts and dried fruit
  • oranges or clementines
  • canned sardines (OK, it takes a special person to appreciate that)
  • packages of more exotic noodles or grains, such as soba noodles or quinoa
  • jar of sun dried tomatoes packed in oil
  • fruit-only preserves or jam
  • gourmet salsa or hot sauce
  • tamari or other unusual Asian style condiments
  • whole grain pancake/waffle or quick bread mixes
  • coffee beans
  • herb or black tea
  • for cooks: herbs, spices and seasoning blands that don’t have added salt or MSG
  • for gardeners: packets of heirloom vegetable seeds
  • a bottle of sparkling mineral water
  • if appropriate, a bottle of wine or micro-brew beer

If you’re going to mail your gift basket, leave out liquids.  That way you cut down on package weight (and shipping cost) and eliminate the danger of something breaking and spilling and making a mess of your gift.  And of course, use local food products in your gift basket, such as local honey, maple syrup or other speciality food products unique to your region.

Here’s another list: food items I’d only give someone I really don’t like at all.  So FYI:

  • “Energy” shots or drinks
  • artificially sweetened anything
  • snack bars coated with “yoghurt” or other sugary toppings, or full of candy chips
  • red “Delicious” apples
  • flavored hot chocolate mix, especially artificially sweetened ones
  • flavored sweetened coffee mixes or beans
  • nuts that are coated in excessive salty and sugary seasonings
This list could go on, but I’ll refrain.  If you’re putting together a healthy food basket for someone, be sure to throw in a few holiday treats, especially if you made them yourself, such as cookies or bars, quick breads, truffles.  And if you’ve been deluged with plates of cookies and treats, nothing prevents you from re-packaging some of those and adding them to gift baskets you give out.
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