Angel Food: Care Packages and Food Gifts for Healthy Living

November 15, 2009

Food is love.  Symbolically and literally, we often use food for many messages:

I love you.

I’m sorry.

You did good.

I want to help.

Thank you.

I hope it gets better.

It’s better!

Congratulations!

For decades, we humans have passed around warm plates of cookies, savory hot casseroles, and frosty beverages to pass along many messages.  While I’m not going to go so far as to argue that we shouldn’t use food as a symbol of our love (because didn’t I just bake my sister pumpkin cookies for her birthday and celebrate the end of internal medicine month with sirloin steak, WHY YES I DID)… what does one do when you know the recipient of your food gift is trying to lead a healthier lifestyle?

The inspiration for this post was three-fold.  First, it’s the holiday season.  Tis the season to make cookies, tie ‘em up with curly ribbons and leave them in the mailbox for your carrier who puts up with all your ebay packages.  Or at least, that’s what we do here in our household.  One of my clients asked me the other day to help her come up with non-food small gift items for the people in her life she had previously gifted with food.  She herself is on a weight loss journey, having lost 30 pounds over the last year, and I’m sure she is thinking “if I’ve struggled with gifted food before, is it fair to pass the same challenge along to others who might be trying to live healthier?”

I also struggled with this question a few weeks ago when I was put to the task of delivering a meal to a friend who was going back and forth to the hospital to take care of a sick relative.  The first thing that came to mind was “a casserole!” but i knew my friend was also trying to eat healthier, and I was pretty sure her irregular hospital schedule didn’t leave her a lot of time to prepare healthy meals on her own.  I started brainstorming healthy “care package” meals that i could make, and it was from that list this blog was born.

So, without further ado, below are ideas for gifts and care packages that will allow you to shower you recipient with your love without derailing their pursuit of healthier living.  And isn’t that even more loving of you?

Gift Ideas:

Tea or Coffee Drinkers: Buy a few boxes of specialty teas and mix them up.  Purchase tulle or another light fabric from a craft or fabric store to tie up your tea sampler satchel.  If you’d like, you can pair it with a reusable tumbler or a tea infuser.  If you’re local in Winston, visit Chad’s Chai and Tea shop for loose leaf teas to make your own collections.  (He’s also on Foodzie for those of you not here!)  Include with your gift a recipe of homemade Chai Lattes or Pumpkin Spice Lattes.

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Scrubs: When I was in high school, I discovered that I could make exfoliating scrubs for mere pennies… quite a wonderful surprise after I had been buying the $15 version at Bath & Body Works for a couple years.  This is so insanely easy you won’t believe it.  First, go to Michael’s (or some other craft store) and pick up some small glass jars.  Think baby food size – they are usually only a couple dollars each.  If you’re planning far enough ahead, you can BE green and SAVE green by beginning to rinse our glass jars from food items and sending them through your dishwasher a few times to get rid of any food debris/smell.  (Hint: black bean salsa jars don’t work so good for this… the smell never quite goes away, and there’s nothing very relaxing about smelling like a jalapeno in your bathtub.)  You’re going to fill your glass jars with three things: a moisturizing agent (oil), a scrub (sugar, salt or coffee) and a wee little drop of essential oils.  Oops, I should have mentioned – while you’re at Michaels, you’ll need to buy a small thing of essential oil.  This is usually in the candle section.  Hope you read this whole blurb before you went.

11 15 09 Blog Pics 004

It takes a little bit of mad scientist style chemistry to get the ratio of oil: scrub right, but just start by filling up your jar halfway with three-fourths of the scrubbing agent and then slowly adding the oil in.  Salt (especially big gritty kosher salt) and sugar works great (brown sugar is a little more gentle and has a yummy smell too), but coffee works as well and the caffeine temporarily works to tighten things up.  (I said temporarily folks… no miracle cures here.  But that’s what the rest of this blog is for!)  Add a few drops of the oil for a yummy smell, and voila!  Ready to gift!

11 15 09 Blog Pics 010 This is what the texture should look like: more grit than oil.

Homemade Dog Biscuits: If your favorite people might be watching what they eat and might find your homemade cookies an easy distraction from their goals, doesn’t mean that Fido won’t appreciate your hard work in the kitchen!  There are many recipes for homemade dog biscuits on the web, I like this one for it’s simplicity and it’s use of everyday ingredients.  (Someone mentioned garlic is bad for dogs; I can’t find anything that supports this but if you’re concerned just omit it.  I’m sure Fido won’t mind.)  Make sure your gift recipient knows who the benefactor of this treat is!

Flavored Oils & Vinegars: I love this idea that was in the latest issue of Prevention (December 2009): flavored oils and vinegars.  I can’t say I have tried it, but it looks fairly straightforward and would be such a fun gift to share.  You could reuse glass bottles or if you have a World Market in your city, I know they sell olive oil decanters for very expensive.  (I got one to put my dish soap in for $2.)

Post-Cards or Note cards: This one works best for people you know, because you cater the design to their likes.  (Your mail carrier may not jump up and down about a pack of postcards with your darling 18 month on the front, but your “don’t buy me any more stuff” grandmother might.)  There’s a couple places you can make these, my favorite are Snapfish and Moo.  On Moo, you can make a 20 pack of post-cards for $17.99.  You can easily split this into 4 mini-packs of cards for 5 people.  I like to bundle these up with scraps of ribbons I’ve saved throughout the year from gifts.  Try scenes of your city for people you work with, a place you’ve vacationed to for family members, old photos of good times with friends – the possibilities are endless.  Go the extra step to include a roll of stamp for bonus points.    If you’re super crafty, I love these photo notepads that you can make at home.  This would be a great way to use up the paper sitting in your work recycling bin too.  I’ve never tried making these, but they just might be on my to do list this year.  (Let me know if you try them!)

Angel Food Care Packages:  If you’re delivering a meal to someone, here’s a few ideas of angel food care packages that will let you deliver your nourishment with love, minus the heaping dose of cream of chicken condensed soup.

One note: when bringing food to someone, be sure to use Tupperware or disposable dishes you don’t need back.  This will make it easier on the recipient.  (If you want to be a little bit more green, go to Goodwill and load up on dishes or receptacles you can pass along. Be sure to mention in a note to the recipient that they don’t have to return the dish; let them know they can keep it or pass it on.  I found a bunch of plates for $1 each on my last trip to goodwill and with a tight saran wrap seal, they’ve worked well for many pass-alongs.)

Grilled Chicken Salad: Grill chicken and cut into strips.  Put into tupperware or ziploc bag.  In a separate tupperware or bag include pre-chopped up salad greens.  (Don’t include more than 1-2 servings per person – otherwise this becomes a science experiment in the fridge.)  Include separately chopped up bags or tupperwares of fixings such as carrots, onions, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes.  Keep them separate – they’ll get mushy if mixed in.  Include a small bottle of dressing.  If you want a really special touch, make a homemade dressing.  This is a really nice way of letting the recipient feel really special about receiving a meal from you.  There’s ton of recipes online; I like a number of them listed here.  I save glass bottles from a number of different foods for this purpose, a quick run through the dishwasher will make them ready to go.  (Peel the label off first, and if there’s any residue left if usually comes off in the DW.)  A salad dressing in a jar with a lid can be shook up before pouring if it settles while traveling.  Be sure to note if it needs to be put in the fridge or not.  If you’d like, include a crusty wheat bread to go along with the salad.

Baked Potatoes and Turkey Chili:  This is a favorite of mine for winter months.  Purchase the baked potatoes that come wrapped in plastic that take 7 minutes in the microwave.  Include small Tupperware or baggies of toppings including sour cream, pre-chopped chives, salsa, crumbled cheese.  Turkey chili is a great, healthy swap and best of all, will keep in the freezer if the recipient chooses not to eat it right away.  My favorite recipe is by Ellie Krieger, but you can find a number of other ones online.  If you want, you can pour the recipe into Ziploc baggies and lay them flat to freeze – essentially making one-two serving recipes that the recipient can thaw as needed.  (Bonus: make yourself a batch to freeze too.)  This works well for many soup recipes too.

Stir-Fry: Grill or stir-fry a chicken or pork with a little bit of olive oil or sesame oil, cut into strips.  Toss in a Ziploc bag or Tupperware.  Include a bag of frozen stir-fry vegetables that can be microwaved (SteamFresh is my favorite brand) and a bag of Uncle Ben’s Ready Rice. *This is the one that can be microwaved in 90 seconds.* (While typically I don’t use this rice because it is slightly higher in sodium, in the case of providing someone a “quick and easy” meal it’s a nice option.  Best pick is the plain brown rice, although they have flavored ones such as Teriyaki or Jasmine that would go well with a Stir-Fry dish.)  Include a small bottle of low sodium soy sauce as a nice complement.  If you want, include a small baggie of chopped peanuts or cashews as a garnish.

Egg Frittata: This is a really simple, delicious way to get a bunch of veggies and protein!  Sautee any type of vegetables in 1-2 tsp of olive oil.  Spray a pie tin (disposable or one you’re willing to give away) with a few bursts of olive oil cooking spray.   In a mixing bowl, stir together 3 eggs and 3 egg whites with 3/4 cup skim milk.  Add feta cheese or goat cheese throughout and a little bit of salt and pepper.  Put in a 350 degree oven for 40 minutes.  Slices can be reheated individually in the microwave later.

11 15 09 Blog Pics 009 Refill Your Glass Jars with Soups, Salad Dressings & Sauces

11 15 09 Blog Pics 011 Soups also freeze well flat in plastic bags.

You can get creative and spin off any of these basics: new toppings for the salads, different soups to sub for the chili and variations on the stir-fry.  Many meals that you might be making for your family could easily become “care package” meals – just pay attention to any meals you prepare that are easy to cook (i.e microwave or oven reheat) or non-cook and that have meal components that don’t require a lot of assembly before eating.

Food is part of our culture, and there’s nothing wrong with gifting something you’ve created or sharing a meal with someone in need.  Finding a way to do it that supports healthier choices is even better.  You’ll feel good about what you’ve shared, and the recipient will feel good about what they’re eating.  It’s a win for everyone.  I welcome you to share in the comment sections other “care package” or gift ideas that you’ve used!

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