Simplifying The Holidays: Mindful Gifts

BBQ-spice-rub.JPGI first connected with Michelle Stern of What's Cooking two years ago, when she approached me about contributing to Boston Mamas. Though Michelle is based on the West Coast, I adore her hands on approach to cooking with kids and we walk the same green path; the geographical disparity quickly became an afterthought. It was such a pleasure to finally meet Michelle this summer, when we happened to film our segments for The Juice back to back. Just as lovely in person as she is over e-mail, though Michelle is a regular contributor to this site, given that she is one of my favorite eco-foodies, I wanted to feature her in my Simplifying the Holidays guest blog series. Today, Michelle shares a few simple yet meaningful ideas for mindful holidays gifts.

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From Michelle:

It’s nearly impossible to avoid the madness that is the holiday season. Billboards, transit advertising, mailers, and festive to-go cups are all telling us that we need to spend, spend, spend during the holidays. I love a thoughtful gift as much as the next person. And my children are already about to burst with enthusiasm for Chanu-mas (Chanukkah + Christmas). But I can’t help but think that we need to try to carve out another message. How about a few alternatives to traditional store-bought gifts this year? Each of these ideas brings the season of giving to a new level – they help the planet, teach kindness, and help those who may need a little lift, all while spending quality time with your kids.

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Cook from the Heart:

Everyone associates the holiday season with tasty goodness. For some of us that means chocolate, for others it means hot cocoa with little marshmallows or perhaps a jar of homemade seasonal chutney. Excellent gifts can be made, not just purchased. How about making some fabulous gifts from the kitchen this year? Ask your kids what floats their boat. Leaf through the pages of your favorite cookbook together, go on a grocery shopping adventure, and then blast some holiday tunes as you all cook for your loved ones. It’s a win-win situation – you get to play with your kids and make your gifts at the same time! (Plus, you will probably save some money, too…but nobody needs to know!)

My daughter and I made these BBQ spice rubs (pictured above) for holiday gifts. Pick up the spices, small glass jars, ribbon, hang tags, and a spoon if you want to fancy it up. The mixture is simple (I offer ratios since amount will depend on your number of jars):

  • 1 part each: onion powder and cumin
  • 1.5 parts each: brown sugar, paprika, and chili powder
  • 0.5 parts each: coriander and garlic salt

    [Also, for more food inspired gifts, check out these ideas for cookie and soup gifts jars.]

    Go Green:

    I wonder if Mother Earth minds that she doesn’t get any gifts for the holidays. How about we all make a pact to keep her in mind when we do our shopping this year? Here are a few ideas: cool reusable containers for kids’ lunches, nifty reusable produce bags, or a subscription to your local CSA (for yummy produce that comes from your neck of the woods instead of around the world).


    People are often more sentimental during the holidays than during the rest of the year. It’s a good time to double your favorite soup recipe and drop some off at your local women’s shelter. Or you could help an entire community become sustainable by making a donation to Heifer International for a living gift in honor of your grandparents.

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    Michelle Stern owns What's Cooking, a certified green company that offers cooking classes for children in the San Francisco Bay Area. When she isn't in the kitchen, she's the head chauffeur for her two children, dog walker to her two mutts, and chicken feeder for her backyard flock. You can follow Michelle on Twitter at @whatscooking.

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    Image credit: Michelle Stern