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Prairie Fare: Last-minute Thoughtful Gifts Make the Recipient’s Day

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to give a thoughtful gift.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

Last year, my 11-year-old daughter gave me an envelope stuffed with neatly printed pieces of paper. These were my “gift coupons,” as she called them. I could claim backrubs, foot massages, hugs and even “dusting the furniture” (her least favorite task).

My heart melted at the sweetness and thoughtfulness of her gift. I had been wondering what my little “elf” had been doing in her room most of the day. She made gifts for each of us. Nothing cost money, but the sentiments were priceless.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to give a thoughtful gift, but be sure to budget for the holidays. If you don’t track your spending, those January credit card bills can be painful.

Some financial experts say to stick with 1 to 1.5 percent of your annual income for holiday spending. For example, if your family makes $25,000 per year, 1 percent would be $250 (.01 times 25,000).

After you have decided on your budget, figure out how much to spend on each person. As the holidays get closer, often the prices get lower. Take advantage of the sales and consider shopping online.

Be sure to track what you spend in whatever way works the best for you, whether it’s a notepad, computer spreadsheet, receipts in an envelope or an app on your phone. Write down the total you plan to spend per person at the top of the page and subtract as you buy items.

As my daughter somehow knew, not all gifts need to be purchased. Maybe one of your friends likes to bake, and you like to sew. How about sewing an apron from the fabric you have on hand? You could give a gift of your time with free baby-sitting, snow shoveling, window washing or cleaning.

Theme baskets, such as a movie night with a DVD, popcorn and beverage mix, are popular, too.

Maybe you have a special skill and also like to teach. Offer a free cooking or baking lesson for a family favorite, such as lefse or kuchen.

How about some gifts that promote health and wellness? Here are a few of my top picks that won’t bust your budget but might make the recipient a little healthier in the long run.

  • A food thermometer. You can buy a wide variety of thermometers ranging from digital to dial gauge. Food thermometers promote safe food, as well as high-quality food. When you avoid overcooking food, you can maintain the juiciness and tenderness of your favorite meats. Visit http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/food and click on “food safety” for free resources to include with the thermometer.
  • A pedometer. These step counters are good motivators to get your physical activity. Adults need at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week. About 10,000 steps is the equivalent of five miles of daily walking, and you can work up to this goal. Walking reduces stress and the risk of several chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
  • A color-coded green cutting board and some salad recipes. Most of us have some well-used cutting boards ready for disposal, so we could use a new one. Cutting boards with grooves from frequent chopping can be difficult to clean and sanitize. Some new color-coded cutting boards can help you avoid cross-contamination, too. Use a green cutting board for vegetables and fruits, a yellow one for poultry and a red one for meat.
  • A gift certificate for a pair of good-quality sunglasses and a container of SPF 30 sunscreen for outdoor activities. You can get a sunburn in the winter, so take care of your skin, even if only part of your face is showing in the cold weather. Getting out for an afternoon of skiing, sledding or skating is a fun way to burn some calories and prevent winter weight gain.

If you are looking for a quick and easy gift, fill pint-sized jars with a beverage mix. Add a piece of fabric over the lid, apply the screw band and a ribbon, and you have a festive gift. The NDSU Extension Service has a variety of beverage and bread mix recipes. Visit http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/food (click on “food preparation”).

My cocoa-loving young daughter is going to receive some hot beverage mixes and some coupons for mother-daughter time. Don’t tell her, though. It’s a secret.

Here’s one of the mixes from our “beverage mixes in a jar” publication.

French Vanilla Coffee Mix

1/2 c. instant coffee

1 c. instant skim milk powder

1/2 c. powdered nondairy coffee creamer

1/3 c. white sugar

1/4 c. French vanilla instant pudding mix

Add the ingredients to a food processor. Pulse until thoroughly mixed and you have a smooth powder. Store mixture in an airtight, pint-sized container. Decorate container as desired.

Makes 16 servings. Each serving has 50 calories, 1 gram (g) of fat, 2 g of protein, 10 g of carbohydrate, 0 g of fiber and 65 milligrams of sodium.

If you can make this as a drink mix, add a tag with this information:

Directions: For each serving, place 3/4 cup boiling water in a mug and stir in 2 heaping tsp. of mix.

Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication – Dec. 11, 2014

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187, julie.garden-robinson@ndsu.edu
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136, richard.mattern@ndsu.edu
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