The quickest, easiest food gifts you can make this season

Our favorite homemade food gifts for when you're short on time and money

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published December 21, 2023 1:00PM (EST)

Accessories for packing Christmas presents. (Getty Images/MANICO)
Accessories for packing Christmas presents. (Getty Images/MANICO)

This is the time of year when even the most antisocial among us find ourselves going to parties and dinners, coughing up treats for family events at school, and shipping off goodies to far away loved ones. It’s also the time when both bank accounts and time management skills seem to be equally depleted. 

For the past few years, I have in my food columns here been testing the limits of just how far the bar can actually be lowered, and it’s a commitment I extend even to my gifting practices. I aspire to be magnanimous; I also have my limits. And in that spirit of exhausted generosity, I've gathered together are a few of the crowd pleasers I’ve knocked out over the years with the least effort, cheapest ingredients and most positive feedback. They work as well for entertaining as for gifting. Many are vegan. All are pretty heavenly. So take it easy on yourself while being good to ones you love this season. And it’s okay to save a little for yourself. 

Maple bacon bark

It may not look pretty, but this one’s definitely the life of the party. Made with Saltines, brown sugar, maple syrup and a cardiologist-provoking amount of bacon, this is the thing you show up with that no one else will have brought, and everyone will inhale. It also pairs unexpectedly well with a nicely chilled white wine. 

Everything bagel spice mix

Crunchy, salty and seedy everything bagel mix is just the thing for the homesick or aspiring New Yorkers in your life, as well as the friend who hasn’t give up on avocado toast. I include caraway seeds in mine for authenticity, but you can go as off the grid as you like here. Just double or quadruple the amounts according to your gift list; it still comes together in as much time as it takes to pour some ingredients in a bowl and combine.


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Candy granola

Listen, if you’ve still got some Halloween loot rattling around, I won’t judge if you want to repurpose now. Even if your supply has run out, you can still throw together a few of your favorite checkout line indulgences and make a heck of a special granola for your friend who orders Diet Coke with their cheeseburgers. Raisinettes are especially welcome here.

Espresso muddy buddies

For your friends who are absolute fools for anything that evokes a peanut butter cup experience, a tin of this sophisticated take on puppy chow would hit all the high notes. It’s also a perfect snack for a nut-friendly movie night in with pals.

Homemade sriracha

For the hot sauce lovers in your life, this spicy-sweet interpretation of America's Test Kitchen’s version is a standout. It’s also super easy to customize exactly to your giftee’s pain threshold, which is always thoughtful.

Salted butter caramel

A taste of exactly what the French do best, buttery caramel can be warmed up and drizzled over ice cream or oatmeal, or spread as is on crusty bread. You just need 4 ingredients and about 15 minutes of time to make a gift that’s ideal for the hosts you hope will put this out on the breakfast table for you.

One-ingredient apple cider syrup

If you prefer to give a syrup that’s both more unexpected and requires even fewer ingredients, get on the apple cider train before it pulls away for the season. It works as a topping, a glaze, a cocktail mixer — in short, a jar of this stuff makes an all purpose superstar your recipients will appreciate all through the long, cold days ahead.

Accidentally vegan cookie butter

For the vegans, vegan-curious, or just sweet toothed on your list, you can’t do better than Lauren Toyota’s cookie butter. Lots of your favorite supermarket cookies — including Oreos, Trader Joe's Speculoos Cookies, Nutter Butters, Vienna Fingers, Girl Scout Thin Mints and Barnum Animal Crackers — just happen to be vegan. Little jars of a spreadable version of them blend up in a minute and make an adorable stocking stuffer. 

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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