Holiday

Grocery store gift ideas that they'll literally eat up!

Grab these seriously great bundles on the go or package them in the cutest way possible.

Grab these seriously great bundles on the go or package them in the cutest way possible

If you're looking for a thoughtful gift that won't sit in the receiver's closet collecting dust — and one you can grab last minute, without setting foot in a crowded mall — look no further than your local grocery store. There, you can curate a custom, sure-to-be coveted food basket for every occasion or personality. There's a sustainable slant to this gift that gets consumed, plus you don't have to worry about burdening people with more stuff that they're just going to have to KonMari out of their lives one day.

Before you begin, look around your house to see what empty boxes or baskets you already have to use for packing, and start saving the crinkle-cut brown paper filler from online orders for repurposing. I've put together a cheat sheet of some gift-need situations and giftee types you may be buying for this season, along with what to include, how to shop for and package your food gift, along with the approximate cost. Feel free to change any and all elements of course. 

For your office gift exchange: Herbal tea, cinnamon sticks, lemon, honey, biscuits, plus a pretty dish towel if your store has some

Give your coworkers permission to slow down over the holidays with a box that inspires getting cozy. Pack it with decaffeinated herbal teas, a pack of oaty biscuits, and the ingredients to take their cup to the next level: lemons, cinnamon sticks, and some honey. When you're choosing the herbal tea, opt for something with both a pretty box and soothing ingredients like fennel or chamomile. The biscuits could be something like delicious digestives or a gourmet graham cracker type. 

Packaging: Lay everything in a box or basket and wrap in, or accent it with the dish towel.

Cost: $20-$35

For your fitness enthusiast friend: Protein bars, nut mixes, beef or vegan jerky, a fancy green juice and possibly a fitness magazine

Gift that person in your life with a perpetual gym bag over their shoulder a selection of curated snacks to keep them energized. Look for protein bars with an ingredients list you understand, like the RXBar. And create your own nut mixes in the bulk section or look for a container of sodium-reduced nuts in the aisles. 

Packaging: Pick up a rectangular galvanized metal container from the hardware store or dollar store and stuff the bottom with wadded up newspaper so the products rise above the edges of the container. Fan out the assortment of energy bars (the amount determined by your budget), and nestle everything else in. Use a fitness magazine as a backdrop and stabilizing wall if you wish.

Cost: $40-50

For a cocktail party host gift: Clementines, fresh bread, olive oil

You'll want to select a good olive oil for this, one that'll leave a lasting impression on your host as they work their way through the bottle over the months to come. Look for an extra-virgin olive oil in a dark bottle (so light won't damage the oil), and preferably a single-origin oil labeled with the farm or collective it comes from. Oftentimes, grocery store brands aren't that specific, so just be sure to read the label to ensure the product you're buying is grown and bottled in the same country — you'll get a better product that way. Pair it with a load that's just as special. Head to the bakery section of the store and look for a crusty bread with a short ingredient list. Round loaves are more conducive to tearing and dipping in olive oil, so choose that shape over rectangular  if you have the option. Finally, choose seedless clementines with the stem and leaves still attached — they're the prettiest! — if you can. 

Packaging: Fill any basket you have on hand, or head to the dollar store to pick up a basket large enough to fit the bread. Fill the bottom of the basket with shredded brown crinkle paper filler, or cut up brown paper sandwich or shopping bags into thin strips, crinkle them, and use the strips to prop up your products. Nestle the bread and olive oil in first, and pile the clementines around. Pop in a few decorative pine cones to really complete the look.

Cost: $30-35

For the snackaholic in your life: Potato chips, pretzels, popcorn, cheesies — as "gourmet" as you can find. 

A basket of special snack items makes a great gift for the snackers in your life you know well, and also for acquaintances for whom you are just not sure what to get — particularly if they eat gluten-free; walk the snack aisle and seek out interesting flavours and local brands of potato chips, popcorn, and cheese puffs, making sure they are labeled gluten-free if that's your mission. When choosing potato chips, cover both ends of the flavour spectrum with a simple salted kettle chip and an adventurous flavour too. Include a bag of yogurt-covered pretzels for a sweet twist, they can usually be found in the bulk section.

Packaging: Cut out lots of snack advertisements from old magazines and glue them to the outside of a large cardboard box before fill it with your fun selection. 

Cost: $20-30 

For that food lover or serious cook: Hot sauce, aged balsamic vinegar, finishing salt, dried mushrooms

Help the food lover replenish their every depleting stock of their go-to items. Ingredients like dried mushrooms can be expensive, making them great to give and get as a gift. Look for interesting mushrooms like dried morels if you can find them, although porcini will do just fine. Look for a balsamic vinegar labeled with how many years it's been aged, the longer the better of course, but what you buy depends on your budget. Look for a Canadian-made hot sauce, fermented if you can find it, which may be in the refrigerated section of your store, depending on the brand. A finishing salt is sea salt flakes that are usually added to dishes at the end of cooking for crunch and flavour. Your grocery store will most likely carry the Maldon brand, but if you can't find it, any fancy salt will do. 

Packaging: Pack and tie everything up in a fun, foldable re-usable shopping bag, often sold near the checkout — your foodie will welcome another in a fresh pattern.

Cost: $40-50 

For your dinner party host: Soft cheese, crackers, honey, jam, and a bottle of wine if your grocery store sells it! 

Look for a triple-cream cheese like Saint Andre, which spreads easily and is outstanding drizzled with honey or jam. Choose a seedy cracker to go with this, reading the label carefully to make sure you know what all the ingredients are. The honey should be as local as possible, and jam looks best in those charming little squat jars if you can find them. 

Packaging: Assemble the ingredients inside a rectangular or circular box, sliding in a simple wooden cutting board as a backdrop if you can find one that fits your budget. 

Cost: $35-50


Jessica Brooks is a digital producer and pro-trained cook and baker. Follow her food stories on Instagram @brooks_cooks.

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