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12 Healthy Homemade Gift Ideas

Mason Jar Monster Cookie Mix

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Beyond scoring points for convenience and presentation, once made, these treats are about as healthy as cookies can get! Less-nutritious ingredients have been replaced with alternatives such as coconut oil, oats, and flaxseed. Use any color M&Ms you prefer—red and green are the obvious choice for Christmas—and be sure to include a tag with additional ingredients and baking directions. Find free printable tags here.

Makes: 1 dozen mason jar mixes (1 jar yields about 1 dozen cookies)

Ingredients for the mix:
6 cups coconut sugar (1/2 cup each)
9 teaspoons baking soda (3/4 teaspoon each)
2 1/4 cups milled flax seed (3 tablespoons each)
18 cups coats (1 1/2 cups each)
24 ounces chocolate chips (2 ounces each) (Dre recommends Enjoy Life brand)
24 ounces colored M&Ms (2 ounces each)

Directions:
1. Fill mason jars with ingredients in order listed, starting with coconut sugar on the bottom. Press down each layer tightly as you go. (A pestle works well for this.) Screw on lids.
2. Attach tags with additional ingredients and baking directions, found here.

Recipe provided by Dre of DeliciousbyDre.com

Photo: DeliciousbyDre.com

Salsa Roja

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A spiced-up version of the standard party snack, this tasty dip is one of five specialty salsas served at La Cenita, a modern Mexican restaurant in NYC. Pair with a bag of a tortilla chips for a hostess gift that's guaranteed to please.

Ingredients:
1/2 pound tomatillos, peeled
1 pound roma tomatoes
1/2 pound onions, peeled and split in half
4 cloves garlic
3 ounces chiles de arbol (or other spicy peppers), seeded and stemmed
1 teaspoon olive oil

Directions:
1. Place tomatillos, tomatoes, onions, and garlic under a boiler and cook 5 to 7 minutes, until charred. Flip and broil for 3 to 4 minutes on other side. (Tip: The more you char them, the deeper the flavor.) Next, place all vegetables in a pot and cook over low heat for about 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, in a separate pan, add oil and chiles. Heat for about 4 minutes, stirring often, until they become aromatic and start to brown, losing the bright red color and turning maroon. Add to pot with vegetables. Puree all in a blender until desired consistency and season with salt, if desired.
3. Wait for mixture to cool, then store in sealed sanitary jars. Salsa will last for 5 days, refrigerated.

Recipe courtesy of Chef Akhtar Nawab of EMM Group's La Cenita

Photo: Thinkstock

Chocolate Almond "Puppy Chow"

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Puppy chow is a classic Southern treat, but it’s usually packed with butter, powdered sugar, and hydrogenated oil-laden peanut butter. This much healthier version from certified holistic and health supportive chef Laura Lea Bryant makes an insanely delicious vegan and gluten-free holiday treat!

Ingredients:
1 cup unsalted roasted almond butter
3/4 teaspoon almond extract
12 cups rice Chex cereal
1 cup coconut sugar (can substitute organic raw cane sugar)
1 1/2 cup dairy-free, grain-sweetened chocolate chips (Bryant suggests Sunspire brand)
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

Directions:
1. Add almond butter and vanilla extract to a large, heatproof bowl. Stir to combine and set aside.
2. Add coconut sugar to a high-speed blender or food processor and blend until it reaches a powdery consistency. Set aside.
3. Fill bottom half of a double boiler with water. Bring water to a simmer and place chocolate chips in the top half. Stir with a spatula until chips are almost completely melted. Remove from heat. (Or, place chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 30-second intervals, stirring briefly, until chips are almost melted.)
4. Add melted chocolate chips to almond butter/vanilla extract mixture and stir to incorporate. Add rice Chex and gently stir to ensure all pieces are covered. Sprinkle Chex with coconut sugar “powdered sugar” and toss to coat.*
5. Refrigerate mixture for 20 minutes, loosely covered with tin foil. Add coconut flakes and toss gently to coat. Spread onto baking sheets, cover with foil and refrigerate for at least 3 hours before serving.**

*You can’t see coconut sugar like you can see traditional powdered sugar, it adds a sweetness, flavor and protective layer so the chocolate isn’t sticky when eating.
**Bryant recommends keeping the mixture refrigerated. It will last approximately 1 week in the fridge and the coating will be more solid when enjoying it. If you leave it in a sealed container at room temperature, it will last approximately 2 to 3 days.

Recipe provided by Laura Lea Bryant of LLBalanced.com

Photo: Laura Lea Bryant

Spicy Dry Rub

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This quick and simple rub is a tasty and useful gift for any man in your life, or anyone who loves to cook. It's ideal for flavoring fish, pork, chicken, or beef or for seasoning grilled vegetables.

Ingredients:
1/4 cup smoked paprika
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
1 pinch cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 tablespoon ground black pepper

Directions:
Mix all spices and sugars together in a large bowl or measuring cup. Pour into an airtight jar or tin.

Recipe provided by Robyn Stone of AddaPinch.com

Photo: Robyn Stone

Raspberry Orange Chia Jam

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This delectable raspberry jam is made with super-nutritious chia seeds, which add heart-healthy omega-3s and fiber. Spread it on whole-grain toast, add a dollop to your oatmeal, or use it to top cream cheese for a festive party dip.

Ingredients:
3 cups raspberries, frozen or fresh
Juice of 1 orange
1/4 cup maple syrup or local honey
3 tablespoons whole chia seeds
2 tablespoons orange zest
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 dash cinnamon
1 pinch sea salt

Directions:
In a medium pot, bring raspberries, orange juice, and maple syrup to a boil. Add chia seeds. After a boil, turn down heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes or until thickened. Turn off heat and add vanilla and cinnamon. Store in an airtight container such as a mason jar. The jam will keep, refrigerated, for several weeks.

Recipe provided by McKel Hill, MS, RD, LDN, of NutritionStripped.com

Photo: McKel Hill

Honey-Maple Granola

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A ribbon-tied mason jar filled with this sweet and crunchy granola makes a gorgeous gift. Don’t forget to save some for yourself—sprinkle it on Greek yogurt for a crunchy pre-workout meal or afternoon snack.

Makes: 12 cups granola (3 quart-size jars)

Ingredients:
6 cups rolled oats
1 cup raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1 cup raw slivered almonds
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup flaxseed
1 cup hulled sunflower seeds
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup good maple syrup
3/4 cup honey
1 cup golden raisins or dried cranberries (optional)

Directions:
1. Combine dry ingredients (first 7 listed) in bowl. Whisk together wet ingredients. Pour on top of dry ingredients and combine until well mixed.
2. Line two large cookie sheets with parchment paper or nonstick foil. Spread mixture evenly on sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Stir, reverse sheet. Bake 15 additional minutes until slightly golden brown. Remove from oven and toss. Add in raisins or dried cranberries, if using.

Recipe courtesy of Ellen Hughes

Photo: Locke Hughes

Garlic & Herb Infused Olive Oil

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Show party hosts your appreciation with a flavor-packed, infused oil. It's great for drizzling over pasta, as salad dressing, or for dipping chunks of a crusty baguette.

Ingredients:
8 ounces olive oil
3 to 4 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
3 to 5 sprigs fresh thyme
Other ideas: red pepper flakes, rosemary sprigs, orange zest, or hot peppers

Find the full recipe at ABeautifulMess.com.

Photo: abeautifulmess.com

Friendship Soup Mix

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Creating your own soup mix gives you total control over the ingredients, so you cut down on sodium, fat, and calories. Gift it to friends and neighbors with multiple mouths to feed—soup makes a satisfying, healthy meal that brings everyone to the table in a flash.

Serves: 12

Ingredients for mix:
1/2 cup dry split peas
1/4 cup pearl barley
1/2 cup dry lentils
1/4 cup dry, minced onions
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1/2 cup long-grain white rice
1/2 cup macaroni noodles

Directions to make mix:
In a clean, quart-sized jar, layer all ingredients except macaroni. Place macaroni in a sandwich bag and place on top of other ingredients. Cover jar tightly with a lid, decorate it and attach a copy of the recipe card, below.

To include on recipe card:

Ingredients:
1 pound lean ground beef or turkey
6 cups low-sodium beef or chicken broth
6 cups water
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes

Directions to make soup:
Brown meat and drain. Place in a large pot and add broth, water, and tomatoes. Add soup mix except macaroni. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for one hour. Add macaroni and continue cooking for another 10 to 15 minutes, until done. (To avoid overcooked pasta in leftovers, add only enough macaroni for the portion being served.)

Recipe provided by Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D. Professor and Food and Nutrition Specialist, North Dakota State University

Photo: Kendra Otto

Spiced Nuts

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One of the signature scents of the holiday season, spiced pecans (you can also sub cashews or almonds) make a super-special gift in the spirit of the season. Sprinkle the nuts on top of salads, eat as a snack, or serve in a bowl as an appetizer. 

Ingredients:
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon ground allspice

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 cups pecan halves

1 tablespoon sugar

Directions:
Combine salt, pepper, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice in a small bowl. Melt butter in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-low heat; add spice mixture, followed by pecans. Toast, stirring often, until color deepens slightly, 6 to 8 minutes. (Be careful, they burn easily!) Transfer nuts to a bowl and toss with sugar. Spread coated nuts on a plate to cool. Store in an airtight container—no need to refrigerate.

Recipe provided by Kristen of TheFrugalGirl.com

Photo: thefrugalgirl.com

Peppermint Hot Cocoa Mix

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You can’t go wrong gifting an adorable canister of hot chocolate mix. Present it to any stressed-out colleaues in need of some TLC—what’s more indulgent than curling up with this decadent drink on a cold night?

Makes: One 12-serving batch of cocoa mix (about 1 quart)

Ingredients:
1 cup instant dry milk
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup crushed peppermint candies (such as starlight mints or candy canes)
5 large marshmallows (optional)

Find the full recipe—plus free printable labels!—at AlwaysOrderDessert.com.

Photo: Alejandra Ramos

Marinara Sauce

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A perfectly seasoned marinara sauce makes any bowl of pasta taste heavenly. This must-have pantry staple, inspired by the classic sauce served at Buca di Beppo restaurants, is the perfect gift for your most time-crunched friends—they'll be so grateful for the homemade addition to their next Italian dinner.

Ingredients:
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cup grated carrots
1 1/2 cup diced yellow onion
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 heaping tablespoon Italian spice blend
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 14.5-ounce cans whole tomatoes
6 ounces tomato paste
2 teaspoons granulated sugar

Directions:
1. Heat olive oil in a large pot and add carrots, onion, and garlic. Sauté, stirring frequently, until tender. Add Italian spice and black pepper. Cook an additional 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
2. Drain tomatoes and reserve liquid. Roughly chop tomatoes and add to pot with vegetables. Mix reserved tomato juice and tomato paste together and add to pot. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Continue a rolling boil for 3 to 4 minutes.
3. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 1 1/2 hours, stirring frequently to avoid scorching. Add sugar and mix well before serving.

Recipe provided by Buca di Beppo Italian Restaurants

Photo: Thinkstock

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Crunch Cups

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These mouthwatering peanut butter bites are perfect for spoiling your loved ones during the holiday season. Just be careful while cooking—you might be compelled to taste test more often than necessary.

Makes: 20 cups

Ingredients:
1 12-ounce bag semisweet or bittersweet dark chocolate chips
20 mini cupcake liners
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3/4 cup creamy natural peanut butter
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 cup crispy rice cereal

Directions:
1. Place chocolate in microwavable bowl and microwave in 10-second intervals, stirring between each, until chips are melted. Set aside to cool slightly then scrape into a large bowl. Using a small paint or pastry brush, coat bottoms and three-fourths of the way up sides of cupcake liners (coating should be fairly thick). Set aside rest of the chocolate for later. Place coated liners on a plate and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes or up to several hours.
2. While shells chill, make peanut butter filling. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in peanut butter using wooden spoon then add confectioners’ sugar and rice cereal. Mix until well combined and gooey-looking. Allow to cool slightly, about 10 to 15 minutes.
3. Remove shells from refrigerator. Use a teaspoon to fill each shell three-fourths full with peanut butter filling (you can use a wet finger or the back of a spoon to smooth out the top). If the remaining chocolate has hardened, re-melt it in the microwave in 5-second bursts. Spoon some chocolate over the peanut butter filling, spreading and turning the shell so the chocolate seals the cup. Return to the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes (or up to two weeks in an airtight plastic container) to harden.

Recipe adapted from Pretty Delicious by Candice Kumai, Rodale Books, 2011

Photo: Quentin Bacon