Let's be honest here — if you still haven't finished your Christmas shopping at this point, your chances of finding that perfect gift are dwindling.
But before you start racing through the aisles of the first store you see, grabbing anything with a price tag on it, turn the car around and head home. Because there are plenty of items you can make for family and friends that involve little more than a glass canning jar, a screw-on top and some fixin's from your pantry.
Soup mixes, baked goods and even mixes for hot cocoa are all easy to assemble, fun to package and won't break the gift budget. And at most, the gift will require a trip to the grocery store.
Then, it's on to the packaging.
Lucinda Scala Quinn, executive director of food and entertaining for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, suggested using colored parchment or plastic to wrap bite-size pieces of homemade fudge. Twist the ends to look like old-fashioned candy and package them up in a cellophane bag tied with a ribbon. Or use the candies individually as stocking stuffers.
Quinn said flavored nuts also make lovely holiday gifts, especially when portioned in decorative cupcake liners, placed inside cellophane bags and tied with colored twine or ribbon.
We assembled a few easy gifts using Mason jars and decorated the packaging with some ribbon.
But you can also assemble some cocktail mixers in flavors such as cranberry. To package, decant them into decorative bottles (found at many home good stores) and add a label with drink recipes and storage instructions.
If you want to avoid bottling, Quinn suggests making sachets of spices for mulling wine or cider. Just fill squares of cheesecloth with a 1/2-inch cinnamon stick, 1 star anise, 2 cardamom pods, 4 black peppercorns and 1/4 teaspoon of whole cloves. Tie each sachet with kitchen twine and package in a decorative tin tied with a bow and holly sprig.
The best food gifts often are the simplest, says Tanya Steel, editor in chief of Epicurious.com. Not only are they easy to appreciate, they also save you time.
Steel said she gravitates toward pretty jars with screw-on tops and airtight plastic containers — it's important that containers are airtight so that food gifts remain fresh and sturdy, especially for cookies, which crush easily. And if the containers will come into contact with the food, make sure they are labeled food-safe.
To be even thriftier, Steel suggests repurposing containers that may be sitting around your home. Jars and old tins are great, she says, but you also can package foods in an airtight cellophane bag set in a pretty bowl that you no longer use.
These gifts also are a good way to involve children in the gift process. It's a fun way to teach children, said Steel, that the holidays are as much about giving as they are about receiving. And that's a gift in and of itself.