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This Year, the Perfect Gift Is Practical — Here Are 40 Joy-Sparking, Special Picks

By Geraldine Campbell
December 3, 2020

holiday gift guide

Design: Zoe Burnett

‘Tis the season for our Clean Plates gift guide. But, like so many things this year, gift-giving feels a little different.

As I was making my personal wish list (a necessity when you have a gazillion family members to buy for and who are trying to buy for you), I realized the things I really want aren’t things at all: I want to hug my mom and my dad. I want to watch my nephews tear open their presents, feeling giddy and overwhelmed and slightly sick from too many gummy bears. (It’s a Campbell family Christmas tradition: Haribo gummy bears are the best!). I want to have a thick slice of my brother-in-law’s famous chocolate cake. And I’m lucky: Many families this year are surviving the loss of a loved one and navigating a holiday season that feels anything but festive.

So, when I started thinking about this year’s gift guide, I knew that I didn’t want to include anything lavish or over-the-top. Instead, I wanted to focus on small, affordable presents that would spark a little bit of joy. Like food subscriptions to help your loved ones stock their pantry/fridge/freezer. Or food gifts to pick up while doing your holiday shop at Costco — easy, budget-friendly, but nonetheless special. Who wouldn’t love to get a jug of bourbon-barrel aged maple syrup to drizzle over your low-carb pancakes?

Since we’ve all been spending more time in the kitchen, our gift guide also includes a few kitchen upgrades to make cooking feel a little brighter: a new, colorful cutting board, a wooden spoon that can go in the dishwasher, and a Christmas-tree green sheet pan to encourage holiday cheer and cookie-baking. And because now, more than ever, we all need to treat ourselves with kindness, we’ve rounded up a handful of our favorite clean beauty finds. They’re all $30 or less, making them the perfect gift to yourself this season.

Without further ado, here is our list of 40 practical gifts for everyone on your list, including yourself.


Food Gifts for $10 or Less

1. Endangered Species Chocolate Bars, from $4

If you have someone on your list who considers chocolate a food group (as we do), look no further than Endangered Species Chocolate. With organic, high-quality chocolate bars in flavors like Caramel Sea Salt and Oat Milk Rice Crisp—plus holiday specials like Peppermint Crunch and Caramel Spiced Apple—there’s something for every taste. All the bars are gluten free, made without additives or fillers, and include carefully sourced ingredients like pink Himalayan salt, U.S.-grown peanuts and fruit, and fair trade cinnamon and vanilla. Ten percent of the company’s annual profits go toward conservation organizations around the world; so far they’ve given more than $2.6 million, which has gone to planting trees, protecting and restoring animal habitats, and more.

2. Love with Food Snack Box, from $8

Help your favorite nosher discover fun, healthy snacks, and feed families in need at the same time. For as little as $8, Love with Food will send one box (or you can spring for a monthly subscription) with anywhere from 7 to 15+ curated snacks to your friend or loved one. Everything in the box is free of high fructose corn syrup, trans fats, artificial flavorings and colorings, and hydrogenated oils. There’s even a box containing all gluten-free snacks. For every box you buy, Love with Food donates the cash equivalent of a meal to food banks all over the U.S.; so far the company has donated more an a million meals. 

3. King Arthur Baking Co. Classic Fresh Sourdough Starter, $9

This is a gift that keeps on giving (as long as it’s fed and cared for). Get this for anyone who was feeling left out during The Great Sourdough Surge of 2020. (It’s bound to strike again in 2021.) The hard part has already been done for them and, if there’s anyone we trust to make a great starter, it’s the folks at King Arthur Baking Co.

4. Kirkland Signature Raspberry Crumble Cookies, $9

More mini tart than cookie, these 3-inch-wide, ½-inch-deep treats are rich and buttery, soft and crumbly, a little bit chewy, and filled with thick, tart raspberry jam. Think linzer cookies, but bigger and better. Costco debuted this new bakery item last spring and it immediately gained a massive cult following. According to a Costco bakery worker posting on Reddit, the cookies were supposed to be seasonal, which makes sense: They have that Easter brunch kind of vibe. But the response has been so overwhelming, the bakery is still cranking them out today — if you can find them. They have a tendency to sell out fast.

5. Seed and Mill Organic Tahini, $10

Determined to show Americans just how great tahini and halva could be, the three co-founders of Seed + Mill (Rachel Simons, Lisa Mendelson, and Monica Molenaar) started off with a small kiosk in New York City’s Chelsea Market. Fast forward four years and their tahini has quite the fan base and gets shipped all over the country. What sets their tahini apart from other store-bought tahini? It’s so creamy, it doesn’t even really need to be stirred before it’s used. Get this for anyone on your list who loves a smoothie, salad, grain bowl, or roasted veggie.

P.S. We also love Seed and Mill’s Halva Trio. Gift all three to one lucky person or spread the love.

spicewalla 3 pack

Food Gifts for $20 or Less

1. Kirkland Signature Marcona Almonds, $18

If you’re not already familiar with the delights of Spanish Marcona almonds, they’re crispier, crunchier and more oily than regular almonds. They’re also a lot more expensive, making them ideal for a tiny luxury to gift someone else, or to fancy up your afternoon snack. A little pile alongside a peeled clementine and a few slices of nutty cheese and a cheese plate suddenly feels like a cheeseboard.

2. Bushwick Kitchen’s Bee’s Knees Salted Honey, $15

Treat your favorite early riser to the best breakfasts she’s had all year. This honey is a blend of liquid gold from the United States and a salt brine! We love it on buttered toast or a bowl of warm oatmeal. Beyond breakfast, it also works on goat cheese, a fruit cobbler, or even a mound of vanilla ice cream. (The theme here is that everyone deserves more ice cream at the end of the year.)

3. Grounds & Hounds Coffee, from $17

For the coffee lover in your life: They get to enjoy great coffee and save a pup — what could be better? For every purchase of small-batch coffee, 20 percent of the profits go to animal rescue organizations all over the United States. So far, profits from Grounds & Hounds have provided more than 2 million shelter meals, 8,500 toys, 2,000 microchips and more in partnership with 375 rescue organizations. 

4. Spicewalla’s Choose Your Own Essentials Collection, $16

Spices from Spicewalla are always fresh, small batch, and sourced directly from quality suppliers. This gift pack feels extra special because you can pick out three spices based on whomever you’re shopping for. For example, a kit for a baker could have cinnamon, whole cloves, and ginger. Or a kit for someone in charge of weeknight dinners could have chili powder, oregano, and paprika.  

5. Gaugry Epoisses Cheese, $16

Famously pungent and barnyardy when ripe, the flavor of this beloved Burgundian cheese is actually quite luscious and mild. Really, it’s just pure, creamy luxury. This is one of France’s most famous cheeses and rightly so, the kind of cheese that can make an ordinary day seem special. Pair it with a crisp white Burgundy if you want to make this gift even more special.

6. Crown Maple Organic Bourbon-Barrel Syrup, $15

Aged in a bourbon barrel, this syrup goes from one-note sweetness to something far richer and almost buttery, with fragrant hints of vanilla and oak. It’s incredible on yeasted waffles, but also makes pancakes from a mix seem special. But don’t stop at breakfast. It goes well with yogurt, ice cream, roasted squash. In fact, you’d be wise to pick up two bottles — and keep one all to yourself.

7. Iberico De Bellota Sliced Dry Cured Ham, $18

Yes, this is a tiny amount of meat for the price, but Iberico de Bellota ham is hands-down some of the best in the world. If you know someone who loves prosciutto, they’ll really love this. Made from a special breed of Spanish hogs that feast on acorns, the cured meat is naturally sweet, rich, and full-flavored. Bundle it up with some manchego cheese and olives for a virtual trip to Spain.

Food subscriptions

Food Gifts for $60 or Less

1. Southeast Asian Omsom Sampler, $29

When these kits first came out earlier this year, they sold out three different times and had a 2,000-person waiting list. What exactly are they? Gorgeously packaged seasoning packets to help busy cooks take smart shortcuts and make flavorful international foods at home. This kit comes with packs (two of each) to make Vietnamese Lemongrass BBQ, Thai Larb, and Filipino Sisig. Honestly, they’re all ridiculously good but the Larb is sure to hit the spot for anyone on your shopping list.

2. Misfits Market Madness Box, $35

If there’s one thing that cautious shoppers seem to have to run out for, it’s produce. Fruits and veggies are hard to stock up on because they can go bad before you have the chance to use them all up. Misfits Market can help with that: The company sends wonkily-shaped (but still delicious!) produce right to customers’ doorsteps every week. The Madness Box is the larger of the two options — a week’s worth of produce for three to five people — and it typically comes with 14 different types of fruits and veggies. Not only does Misfits Market help reduce food waste, it also might introduce your loved one to some new vegetables. Win!

3. Atlas Coffee Club Starter Pack, from $50

The perfect gift for anyone on your list who loves coffee and is missing out on travel these days, Atlas Coffee Club features some of the world’s best single-origin coffee and every cup feels like a little trip. You can choose between whole beans or grounds, the roast type (dark or light or both), and how many bags you want to send.

4. Freshly 4-Meal Gift Box, $52

Shopping for someone who is more of an eater than a cook? Freshly meals require no extra work: just heat and eat. (And yes, they arrive fresh and not frozen!) Each dish is made with smart swaps and lots of veggies to make sure every bite is as nutritious as it is delicious.

5. Thrive Market 1-Year Membership, $60

This is the annual membership that everyone should have. Sign a loved one up for a year and they’ll be able to shop pantry staples, meat and seafood, cleaning supplies, and more. They can even sort groceries based on dietary preferences. The best part, though, is that everything listed on Thrive Market has been carefully vetted to create a better market with better-for-everyone items.

Food Gifts for More than $60

1. Home Chef Gift Card, $65

There are lots of meal kits out there, but few are as customizable as Home Chef. This service has all sorts of options based on your individual dietary preferences. It also allows shoppers to upgrade, swap, or double up on protein with select recipes. Give the gift of Home Chef’s most popular box, which includes three meals for two people.

2. Brightland’s The Mini Essentials, $70

Brightland’s founder, Aishwarya Iyer, set out to make flavorful olive oils that are never rancid or over-processed. The oils quickly gained a cult following and the company just launched vinegars, including a blackberry-forward raw balsamic and a citrusy champagne vinegar, a few months ago. Now, just in time for the holidays, two of Brightland’s best-selling oils (AWAKE and ALIVE) and the new vinegars are available in this gift set of four 3.4-ounce bottles. We especially like all four elixirs on ice cream or a bowl of fruit (separately, though!), making them great for a friend with a sweet tooth.

P.S. If the price tag is a tad too steep, we also love the limited edition Slow Factory x Brightland: Awake Olive Oil. 100 percent of the profits from each $40 bottle go to the Slow Factory Foundation, a non-profit working at the intersection of climate and culture.

3. Hungryroot Gift Card, from $75

Hungryroot is sort of like a cross between a meal kit and a grocery delivery service: Customers fill out a survey (picking which sorts of meals look good to them, explaining what sorts of meals they need, etc!) and then Hungryroot sends groceries, which can be used in specific meal ideas or on their own. The focus? Whole, nutrient-dense ingredients and meals that are easy to make. Tell whoever you send this to that the Black Bean Brownie Batter is a must-try!

4. Daily Harvest Custom Gift Box, $75

For the person on your list who wants to eat healthier but has little to no time to cook, Daily Harvest specializes in ready-to-blend smoothies, heat-and-eat soups and grain bowls, energy bites, and more. Send this Custom Gift Box and let the recipient pick out nine treats that speak to her the most. But maybe heavily suggest the Chocolate + Blueberry Smoothie. Just saying.

5. ButcherBox, from $149

Yes, this is the splurgiest option on our list (maybe get someone else to go in on it with you?), but it’s a beefy gift. Pun intended! The Custom Classic Box lets the recipient choose six different cuts from a long list of 100 percent grass-fed beef, free-range organic chicken, heritage-breed pork, and wild-caught seafood. The whole thing ends up being about 9 to 14 pounds of protein. See? Beefy! 

kitchen essentials

Design: Zoe Burnett

Gifts for the Kitchen

1. Epicurean Kitchen Series Medium Spoon, $14

When we say this is the last wooden spoon your loved one will ever need, we mean it. Although it’s technically not wood. See, it’s made of a wood composite that is extremely durable and non-porous. (The company got its start making eco-friendly skate parks using the same material!) That means it won’t crack or stain like traditional wooden spoons. And it can go in the dishwasher day in and day out without damage.

2. Material The (mini) reBoard, $25

We fell (very) hard for the reBoard when it came out last summer. Made with only recycled plastic and renewable sugarcane, we’ve found that it’s not only gorgeous, it’s also incredibly resistant to stains and discolorations. Now, just in time for the holiday season, there’s the (mini) reBoard. It’s 25 percent smaller than its big sister and ideal for those little tasks like slicing up some cheese, wedging a lemon, and mincing garlic. It’s also 25% off through December 1st, with the option to to donate part of that discount to Heart of Dinner or Drive Change.

3. Great Jones Holy Sheet, $35

Every home cook needs a good, quality baking sheet — not just for cookies but also for sheet pan dinners, roasting veggies, homemade pizzas, and more. Ideally, that means a baking sheet that’s neither warped or discolored. Enter: the Holy Sheet, a standard half-size aluminized steel sheet pan that’s reinforced with steel rods and finished with a special nonstick ceramic coating. It launched about a year ago in a striking deep blue and saw a level of fame that no other baking sheet has ever seen before. As of November 10, the Holy Sheet is now available in a festive “Broccoli” green that definitely feels Christmas-y.

4. Dash Compact Air Fryer, $49

Step aside, Instant Pot—the It Girl of kitchen gadgets right now is the air fryer. All over our Insta feeds, we’re seeing tons of creative cooks air-fry everything from meat and fish to vegetables, potatoes, even cookies and muffins. This compact version is perfect if you’re looking to try this trend out. Plus, it comes in cute colors like red and aqua.

5. Instant Pot Duo Mini 7-in-1, $60

What would we do without our Instant Pot? It makes it possible — easy even! — to cook healthy, home-cooked meals in less than 30 minutes. You can also make homemade yogurt and bone broth, two foods that can be very expensive to buy from the store. We love this mini version, which is also super-affordable.

6. Hamilton Beach Countertop Toaster Oven, $65

Ever have those evenings when you’re so hungry you just can’t wait for your oven to preheat? That’s where this toaster oven comes in. It preheats in minutes and is perfect for baking a sweet potato, roasting a piece of fish, or warming up some chicken quesadillas. In other words, it will help you avoid eating cereal for dinner or turning to that stack of takeout menus in your junk drawer.

7. SodaStream Fizzi, $50

If you’re addicted to Pellegrino and Spindrift, a SodaSteam is your new best friend. It makes delicious, refreshing sparkling water in about 5 seconds. And you can make your own sparkling water drinks. For example, try adding a few drops of ginger extract for a sugar-free homemade ginger ale. Opting for sparkling water is a great way to reduce your intake of soda, which is one of the biggest causes of weight gain and type 2 diabetes.

8. Illy Espresso & Coffee Machine, $100

This is definitely the splurgiest item on the list, but espresso machines have gotten a lot more affordable—and a lot smaller, too. This one from Illy would fit in even the smallest of kitchens (or an office!) and will churn out delicious espresso drinks for way less than that $5 latte. Plus, it’s $40 off right now.

Farmacy Green Makeup Removing Cleansing BalmGifts for You

1. Tower 28 Tinted Balm for Cheeks/Lips, $20

One of the best things about clean beauty products is their versatility. This clean, tinted balm is the perfect example. You can apply it on your cheeks, lips, and even your eyes. Plus, it’s a cream, so it’s great for the winter months when your skin can feel dryer.

2. Youtheory Collagen Powder, $24

There are plenty of magic ingredients out there claiming to give you more youthful skin, stronger hair and nails, improved gut health, and more — and then there’s the one that actually delivers: collagen. Our favorite way to get our daily dose? Youtheory Collagen Powder dissolves in liquid and stands up to heat or cold, so you can blend it into your morning coffee or smoothie, add it to baked goods, even sprinkle it on oatmeal. (Bonus: it has a tasty vanilla flavor).

3. Farmacy Green Makeup Removing Cleansing Balm, $22

Micellar water is great for the morning, but what about the evening? For removing makeup and sunscreen, opt for this cleansing balm from Farmacy. It smells amazing and will literally melt off even the most stubborn makeup and excess oil from the day. Go ahead: Wave goodbye to leftover concealer or mascara ending up on your pillow.

4. Kosas Wet Lip Oil Trio, $25

This lip oil trio from Kosas is not only cute as can be, it’s also super hydrating, thanks to hyaluronic acid. It also has a color for every occasion: a light beige-pink for everyday and two bolder colors that can work for day or night wear. The best part? The formula is non-sticky, which means a lot of glossy goodness without your hair getting caught in the crossfire.

5. 100% Pure Coffee Bean Caffeine Eye Cream, $29

It’s hard to find a clean eye cream that really gets the job done. Luckily, this natural eye cream has a secret ingredient: caffeine. Caffeine has been shown to temporarily reduce the appearance of puffiness and dark circles. You will actually see this eye cream work as you apply it.

6. Drunk Elephant Milki Micellar Water, $28

Looking for a cleanser that leaves your skin feeling squeaky clean but not tight and dehydrated? Enter: Micellar water. It’s the best way to cleanse your skin in the morning without stripping it of its natural oils and bacteria. We love this Drunk Elephant formula because it contains ceramides to reinforce the skin’s barrier.

Pro tip: If you live in a warm climate or like an extra-refreshing morning skincare moment, try this trick. Keep your micellar water in the fridge.

7. Ilia Beauty Limitless Lash Mascara, $28

If you’ve been on a years-long hunt for a clean mascara that actually works, call off your search now! This stuff is the best in the business. It doesn’t clump, adds a ton of length to your lashes, and gives you that bright-eyed look we’re all aiming for.

8. Tula Cooling & Brightening Eye Balm, $28

After the stressful year we’ve all had, this is the perfect clean beauty gift to end 2020 on a high note. This cult fave brings moisture and luminosity to the undereye area. It can be worn on its own, under makeup, or even over makeup. It will immediately make you feel like you’re ready to party like it’s 2019.

9. Olaplex No.3 Hair Perfector, $28

It’s no exaggeration to say that after just one treatment, you will see a noticeable improvement in frayed ends, color damage, and dry, dull hair. Apply to damp hair for at least 5 hours and then wash and style like normal.

10. Hey Dewy Portable Facial Humidifier, $39

In these new work-from-home times, you might find yourself in need of a humidifier. Let us suggest Hey Dewy, a portable humidifier that uses ultrasonic wave technology to produce a quiet, efficient mist. It’s incredibly easy to fill up, will run continuously for 10 hours, and it’s so small and unobtrusive, it can fit pretty much anywhere. Put Hey Dewy by your bed at night and next to your computer during the day at work. It even fits in most car cup holders.

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