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The skinny on holiday food gifts

By Jennifer LaRue Huget
Tuesday, November 30, 2010; 1:07 PM

It's fun to give food-related gifts at holiday time, but too often the delicious treats we give and receive end up padding people's hips and thighs. Here are some jolly ideas for food fans. They'll never know you had their health in mind when you shopped.

Fisher's Popcorn

Since I wrote about Ocean City Boardwalk food in August, Fisher's Popcorn has added nutrition facts to its Web site. Treat a friend to a half-gallon tin of traditional caramel popcorn (110 calories, 20 from fat, per three-quarters-cup serving). I love eating Fisher's in the winter, as it reminds me that bathing-suit weather is just a few short months away. $13 at www.fisherspopcorn.com .

Sodium-free seasonings

Many of your loved ones may be looking for ways to cut back on salt in the coming year, especially as nutrition experts call for Americans to dramatically reduce their sodium intake. Make it easier for them with the Spice House's sodium-free seasonings, inspired by the cuisines of Paris, Singapore and other locales. Four-jar gift box, $22 at www.thespicehouse.com .

Marble mortar and pestle

Cooking with fresh herbs and spices allows you to build big flavor without adding calories, fat, sugar or sodium. You don't absolutely need a mortar and pestle to crush herbs and spices, but it always helps to have the right tools. This one from Williams-Sonoma, made of heavy Carrara marble, is a beaut. $100 at www.williams-sonoma.com .

Bento box

Using these subdivided lunchboxes is a terrific way to exercise portion control and create attractive, well-balanced meals for yourself or your kid. They lend themselves well to vegetables and dips, plus they're fun! The Laptop Lunch varieties from Nubius Organics are free of phthalates, BPA, lead and PVC, and the inner containers are microwave safe. $26 at www.nubiusorganics.com .

Resistance bands

These contributed to my weight loss during my Me Minus 10 campaign this year by helping me build fat-burning muscle. The bands from Spri Xertube are easy to use and so portable; I throw a set in my suitcase whenever I travel. Their different colors indicate the level of resistance: Toss a green Original Xertube (light resistance) and a red one (medium resistance) into someone's stocking. $10 each at www.spri.com.

"Two-Bite Cupcakes" cookbook

Here's another spin on cupcakes. Maintaining a healthful diet doesn't mean depriving yourself of foods you love, so long as you exercise portion control. This teensy-cupcake cookbook by Viola Goren (Imagine, 2010) is a great way to enjoy the culinary craze in moderation. $19. You could also toss in a Baker's Secret mini-cupcake pan for $10 at www.amazon.com.

Giuseppe Arcimboldo calendar

I'm always looking for ways to get a food fix without actually eating. This 12-month calendar features works of art by the Italian Renaissance painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo, whose work is on view at the National Gallery of Art through Jan. 9. Arcimboldo is famous for creating images of human heads that are composed of plants, animals and delectable-looking fruit. As I wrote this summer after visiting Italy, I believe surrounding ourselves with beauty might help us eat more healthfully. $14 (with poster) at shop.nga.gov .

"What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets"

This coffee-table book by Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio offers detailed, gorgeous photographs of the daily diets of 80 people from all over the globe. The entries are organized according to calorie count, starting with a Masai herder who on the day he's pictured consumes just 800 calories and ending with a British mom who on the binge day depicted consumes 12,300. The book (Ten Speed Press/Random House, 2010) is also packed with nutrition information and essays about eating, all of them enriching, even riveting. $40. (Note: Random House publishes my books for children.)

"Figgy pudding" bath fizzer

When I need a little reward or pick-me-up, instead of heading for the chocolate, I turn to soaps and other fun cosmetics from Lush, many of which are made to look and smell like fun foods. Take, for instance, the Li'l Lush Pud, a fizzy bath bomb shaped and scented like a figgy pudding. It's made with some of the ingredients you'd find in the real-food version, such as cloves and lemon peel. $4 at www.lushusa.com .

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