I’ve been sending food gifts to my family and friends for years.
During my childhood, we saw my relatives at Thanksgiving and at Christmas. My mom, sister, and I always made chocolate chip cookies, and we would bake so many pecan pies and chocolate pies. One of my aunts made sausage balls and other recipes that she got from friends at work, like these cookie bars (which are my childhood favorites). After my parents moved, we lived too far to visit during the holidays and the few weeks I could spend home from college
The first few years I sent food gifts, I made the same kinds of sweets and cookies we always shared. But I finally acknowledge that some of those don’t keep or transport very well. I’m sharing some of my new favorite giftable food recipes below.
I’ve sent food packages for at least 10 or more years, since well before I started this website. I sent 10 food packages last year. I would consider myself a food gifting semi-pro.
Gifting Food in Person
Honestly, if you want to gift food and you can give it to them face-to-face, you can make just about anything. My favorite things to make to give to nearby friends and coworkers have been cookies, cakes or breads, and hot chocolate mix and marshmallows. Most cookie recipes on this website are great for gifting. I’ve shipped panettone (and panettone muffins) and stollen before, but I believe they’re best given fresher, within a day of making. I give homemade vanilla extract whenever possible.
Unfortunately, I’m not very good at presentation. You’ll find more inspiration for presentation from Pinterest than from me. I’d like things to be pretty, but I become impatient. So I use festive tins that hide the contents whenever possible. And lots of cellophane bags and curly ribbon. It’s hard to go wrong with lots of loopy, curly ribbon.
Gifting Food at a Distance
Sending food gifts to loved ones is more difficult when you must ship it. How fresh will it be when it gets there? For that reason, I don’t make many cookies nowadays. If you do want to ship cookies, check out this guide from Chowhound.
There’s lots of great treats to make that aren’t cookies, though! Fruitcake (the good, homemade kind – not the store-bought, butt-of-jokes kind) ships very well; fresh bread like panettone, or anything covered with powdered sugar, not so much. Spiced nuts and granola keep very well as gifts and ship well. Hot chocolate mix and marshmallows are still my favorites to send, so I make a version of them every year. Marshmallows in particular are light, nice since weight is a consideration when you have to mail your gifts.
My Favorite Giftable Recipes
Peanut Brittle: I’ve made old-fashioned peanut brittle on the stove a couple of times in the past, as my dad likes it. But nothing is easier than making this delicious Microwave Peanut Brittle. It’s also super-fast to make, and ships well. I put it in individual treat or cellophane bags.
Granola: Cherry, Almond, and Cinnamon Granola is one of my favorites. It’s delicious, quick, and easy-to-make, and one batch yields a lot of gifts. Olive Oil Granola with Dried Apricots and Pistachios is my other favorite. Olive oil adds a richness and depth of flavor to this granola. More distinctive, it’s my other favorite granola. When I’ve sent granola as gifts, I’ve wrapped them up in individual cellophane bags.
Bourbon Balls: These have made it onto my rotation in the past few years. They’re basically a bourbon-soaked brownie truffle. I make them with rum for friends who don’t like bourbon (and cross my fingers that I don’t get the packages mixed up). Bourbon balls are super simple to make and store very well, so you can make them up to a month in advance, before you get really busy. I also have made a version that’s soaked with regular apple cider, for kids or anyone who avoids alcohol, but I keep those in the fridge. I usually gift bourbon balls in rigid plastic containers, but I believe I’ve sent them in treat bags as well if I don’t have anything heavy to squish them.
Hot Cocoa/Chocolate Mix: If you want an instant, just-add-water gift, Alton Brown’s Hot Cocoa Mix is a classic. It’s a less sweet, more chocolatey mix, and has ruined any and all store-bought mix for me. It can also be made with artificial sweetener.
But, I love hot chocolate mix that you have to add milk to. If you use dairy-free chocolate (Shoprite brand is, as is Trader Joe’s brand), you can give it to anyone who needs to avoid dairy. I usually make Decadent Hot Chocolate Mix, which is richer than this sweeter Hot Chocolate Mix. Both are great. Friends tell me they sometimes stir their mix into their morning coffee.
When I gave hot chocolate mix in person, I used empty cocoa powder containers (Nestle’s are cute) and cellophane bags for individual or double servings. After chocolate bag disasters in my gift packages, now I send the mix in plastic containers. (Glad 14-oz snack size containers, which is what I currently use, hold one batch of the Decadent Hot Chocolate Mix.) When giving a half batch, I place a cellophane bag of marshmallows on top of the mix inside the container to keep the mix from shaking around too much.
Marshmallows: They’re so easy to make! At least, they are if you have a stand mixer. I highly recommend making them as they’re sooo much better than what you can buy. I always make a batch of Chocolate Marshmallows and regular vanilla Marshmallows (or chocolate chip ones, although the best ones I made were by accident), and give a few of both. I coat the marshmallows well with powdered sugar when I make them, then slip them into cellophane bags.
Curried Cashews: Most of what I make is sweets, and I find it hard to branch away from that. Spiced nuts make an easy and delicious gift. These curried cashews are very simple to make, and are definitely not sweet. Send in glass (if adventurous) or in cellophane treat bags.
Fruitcake: I’ve always made fruitcake for my relatives who enjoy it. Homemade fruitcake is worlds apart from ones you buy in the grocery store. It’s not the stuff of jokes. I bake it in small paper loaf pans (affiliate link) to send to people individually. It’s high in dried (but not candied) fruit, and brushed liberally with alcohol. I personally didn’t care much for the first few recipes I made, because they were too heavily spiced for my tastes. However, Alton Brown’s Fruitcake is good, as is this Golden Fruitcake recipe I got from King Arthur Flour. I’ve also made Fruitcake Drops cookies to send, a long time ago.
For packaging, with the mini loaf pans, I slide them into treat bags; they barely fit, so I use tape to seal the edges so that it’s roughly airtight. It’s been a long time since I’ve made large fruitcake loaves, so I don’t recall how I packaged them. I think I packaged the fruitcake drops in tins or in treat bags, but you do have to worry about them getting smashed in shipping if they’re not in containers.
Other recipe options: I’ve never sent flavored popcorn or caramel corn, but they would also be a delicious and lightweight gift. My aunt always made Chex Mix at the holidays, as did my father-in-law. The nice thing about it is that it’s usually not very heavy. You can make a traditional version of the snack mix, or one with curry powder like my father-in-law does, or try something sweeter, like peanut butter-chocolate Puppy Chow. Honestly, when I make snack mix (and I usually do for us for New Year’s), I use the recipe on the back of the box (even off of the store brand). You can use soy sauce instead of the Worchestershire sauce to make the Chex Mix vegetarian. I would store all of those in plastic bags, and they won’t be crushed much in shipping.
Some broad tips on packaging. Packaging for gifting locally is not the same as packaging for shipping. I am terrified that if I ship glass, it will break, so I usually stick with plastic bags or plastic containers. If it can be very messy, splurge for containers over bags of various kinds. One year I sent hot chocolate mix in bags that burst in transit. Everything else in the boxes was coated in chocolate dust.
Even using plastic containers, I have to be careful in how I arrange the contents of the package so that nothing jostles off the container lids.
Throughout the year I save the boxes and packaging that I get whenever I order something online. This makes my basement rather messy, but I’m thankful in December because then I usually have 10 boxes of the right size for my gifts, as well as some bubble wrap and air cushions to protect the food (and that don’t add to the weight).
I’ve shipped things using the USPS, and it is usually the least expensive shipping option if you can use the flat rate boxes. But, what they don’t emphasize is that these are not guaranteed shipping times. Most packages arrive on day 2 or 3 as promised. However, I’ve also had 2 packages arrive up to a full week after I’ve shipped them. That year, I had shipped things at the last minute, which meant the packages arrived on December 27. And they weren’t delivered despite my family members being home. So I always ship FedEx or UPS now. My food items are very shelf-stable (like hot chocolate mix) so they can sit around a while, but I never seem to ship with plenty of time to spare.
I’ll update this post next year as I find more favorites to make and send. I’d love to hear your ideas. What are your favorites foods to make and give as gifts? What kind of tips would you like to share about shipping and packaging?
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