Holiday Snacking & Gifting
By Erica Zelfand

“Happy Holidays!” chimes the rep as she slides a sparkly-wrapped present across my desk, “here’s a little something for you.”

After she leaves, I excitedly cut the red shiny ribbon, pull away the green tissue paper, and find myself holding…. (drumroll please)… A box of peppermint bark.

I flip it over and look at the ingredients. Sugar. High fructose corn syrup. Red dye.

I heard my voice say out loud, to nobody in particular, “She knows I’m a doctor, right?”

The peppermint bark went directly into the trashcan.

Later that day, a box of cheap “chocolate” appeared on my desk. And then a bag of caramel corn.

On my way home, I stopped by the health food store and bumped into a display comprised of three tables, all covered with holiday-themed candy.

And that’s when I decided to take the Zelfand Holiday Challenge: to get through the rest of the holiday season without gifting anybody junk food.

Care to join me? You can do it. Here are some ideas to get you started.



These are all simple recipes that you can find online or in most cook books.

Spiced Nuts: Combine any combination of raw, unsalted nuts of your choosing, like almonds, walnuts, cashews, and pecans. Coat with a little bit of honey, and sprinkle with cinnamon or allspice. Bake at low/medium for 10-15 minutes. This is a delightful little treat with a satisfying crunch. It packs a great protein punch to boot.

Creative Corn: Think beyond the predictable kettle corn and caramel junk. Pop it yourself on the stovetop (you can do it in a covered pot, no fancy popper required), with real butter, ghee, or coconut oil. Melt a little butter or coconut oil separately to drizzle on top. For a savory, cheesy flavor, sprinkle with nutritional yeast and dill. For a little kick, sprinkle with curry powder. And for a sweeter crunch, sprinkle with cinnamon and cardamom. If gifting, place in a clear cellophane bag and tie off with a brightly-colored ribbon. (Wait until it’s cooled, so the hot kernels don’t melt the bag.) Remember, if the kernels you buy  aren’t organic or explicitly labeled as GMO-free, they’re probably genetically modified.

Home Made Dips and Sauces: Spice things up with home made salsa, pesto, tomato sauce, hummus, or other delightful dip. Pour your creation into a mason jar, slap on a decorative label, and prepare to impress.

Chocolate-Covered Fruit: For a decadent, eye-pleasing creation, choose brightly colored fruits like strawberries and pineapple. Melt dark chocolate in a double boiler, dip the fruit, and let it cool in the fridge on wax paper. I recommend using dark chocolate (80% cacao content or higher) to let the sweetness of the fruit balance out the bitter chocolate. Plus you’ll feel less guilty about reaching for a second piece. A real treat for kids and grownups alike.

Make Your Own Trail Mix: This ain’t no boring blend, so skip the raisins and peanuts, puh-lease. Throw in exciting treats like dried blueberries, goji berries, dried cherries, and shredded coconut. Be sure to balance out the sweet with some good fat and protein, like almonds, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, brazil nuts, and pepitas.


I empathize. But you’re still not off the hook for eating and gifting junk. Hit up the home goods section of your local Marshall’s, Ross, or TJ Maxx for creative gift ideas. You can also cruise the aisles of your local health food store for treats like these:

Fancy Tea in a Decorative Tin: Bonus points if it’s aromatic. If buying loose leaf, consider gifting a strainer or teapot.

Organic, Fairly Traded Coffee: The fastest way to any American’s heart. Throw in a funky mug or a milk frother to seal the deal.

Raw, Unpasteurized, Local Honey: Hit up your local health food store or farmer’s market for a dose of nature’s medicine. Raw, local honey can even help stave off the seasonal allergies that await you come spring! (Note: it is dangerous to give honey to babies and children under two years of age.)

Coarsely ground sea salt: If it’s grey, pink, or black, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be good. Stay away from the plain white table salt.

Fancy Nut or Trail Mix: If you transfer it into a cellophane bag, tie a ribbon around it, and say you made it yourself, I promise not to snitch.


Here’s to a healthy season, and to giving gifts that don’t end up in the trashcan!




Image courtesy of Witthaya Phonsawat /