Candy canes, chocolate Santas, peppermint spirals . . . stockings frequently become the junk food receptacles of Christmas. But they needn't be that way. The 1980s have thus far been the decade of a national awareness about nutrition; why not teach the kids and set the tone for '85?
Toothbrushes, popcorn kernels, a box of raisins -- these are healthier stocking stuffers that children needn't groan over. The following alternative stuffers aren't all meant for children, however. Several are for those who are older but who still delight in dumping their stash on the living room floor.
Whoever you are, though, this year, instead of tossing that orange at the bottom of the stocking back in the refrigerator, eat it.
"One doughnut: 100 calories, 120 mg. sodium, 5 grams fat, 13 grams carbohydrates and H (high) in cholesterol." Data from the Washington Hospital Center and Capitol Hill Hospitals' Nutrition Guide, a sort of nutrition slide rule with a cardboard sheet that moves up and down a list of about 60 foods, identifying their nutritional components. The two hospitals, affiliates of the Washington Healthcare Corp., have put out a nifty gift catalogue called a Care-logue, full of healthy offerings such as stop-smoking classes and fitness evaluations.
There is an exercise version of the Nutrition Guide called "Exercise Away Your Calories," which identifies how many minutes of various activities it will take to burn off the calories provided by certain foods (e.g. hot dog on a roll: 291 calories, 77 minutes walking, 46 minutes bicycling, 44 minutes aerobic dancing, 36 minutes swimming, 22 minutes running).
The Care-logue also offers a collection of eight non-alcoholic beverage recipes, including a mock pink champagne and a mock pina colada. Both the nutrition and exercise guides and the recipes are free. Call the Washington Healthcare Corp. at 541-7616. Your guides will be mailed that day.
For those who like to eat nutritious dinners but have neither the time nor the inclination to do so, give a gift certficiate from The Food Lady. Linda Treadway, the local caterer with that pseudonym, will cook and deliver dinner to your home. With dishes such as grilled chicken with tomato cilantro and grilled halibut with curry sauce or vegetarian entrees such as lentil loaf or black bean chili, Treadway sticks to low-fat, no-added-salt recipes. The Food Lady also delivers freshly cut salad greens and sliced vegetables ready to steam, along with a dinner that just needs reheating. Dinner to serve two people, including delivery, is $20; three meals for two, $55; five meals for two, $80. To arrange for a gift certificate, call Treadway at 387-2400.
Make this the year to take a break from the salt shaker and consider giving your friends or relatives a salt substitute to help them make the switch, too. The American Heart Association sells one called Heart Healthy Spices, a three-ounce mixture of mostly basil, thyme, parsley, sage and garlic, which coincidentally comes in a festive red-and-white container. It's available for $3 at the Montgomery County AHA offices located at 7300 Whittier Blvd., Bethesda. 229-8100. Open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Also, Spice Hunter, a brand available at local specialty food shops, makes an interesting line of no-salt alternatives packaged in little plastic bags complete with recipe suggestions. (Artichoke Spice, for instance, is little cheesecloth balls filled with lemon rind, garlic, celery, lemon oil and bay leaves, which can be added to boiling water when steaming vegetables to give added flavor.)
Holiday good-for-you goodies come from the Women's Community Bakery, which sells its not-too-sweet treats at the bakery's 736 7th St. SE location, and (at higher costs) at many local health food stores and co-ops. The bakery is selling small brandied fruitcakes made with organic whole-wheat pastry flour and without all the candied fruit (unsulphured, unsweetened dried fruit such as apples, apricots and pineapple instead), which should fit into a good-sized stocking. And you can buy cranberry muffins, four to a package, made from whole-wheat pastry flour. The Women's Community Bakery also bakes a variety of cookies that are packaged three to the plastic bag. The maple nuggets win out over the oatmeal raisin and peanut carob chip.
For an extravagant, good-for-you gift, stuff a half pound or more of real wild rice in a stocking. Wild rice is actually more nutritious than brown rice, containing 9 percent of the U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance of folic acid and riboflavin, and 6 percent of the U.S. RDA for iron and protein; brown rice contains 1 to 4 percent of the U.S. RDA of these nutrients.
Decaffeinated coffees or teas are obvious stocking stuffers. Local coffee specialty shops these days are filled with all types of decaffeinated coffees. Epresso, mocha java and even lots of the gimmicky flavors such as seville orange or chocolate mint are available without the caffeine. At the American Cafe Market, you can get decaffeinated colombian or french roast, either ground or in beans, in pretty jars with ribbons and the market's label. A pint costs $2.35 (coffee included), a quart jar with all the trimmings is $4.70.
Local author Patricia Hausman has written a stocking stuffer-size paperback book called "At-A-Glance Nutrition Counter," which is just what it claims to be. Hausman uses an innovative rating system that identifies foods quickly as to whether they are "good," "okay" or "poor" in various nutrients. Available at local book stores.
Jams and jellies are filled with sugar -- they can contain up to 55 percent sweetener, according to government regulations. But there are good-tasting, unsweetened alternatives. Sorrel Ridge makes a line of unsweetened jellies in familiar flavors such as raspberry or grape, which get their sweetening from fruit juices instead of sugar. Available in attractive three-ounce jars, they are perfect for filling in a stocking space. Tree of Life also makes unsweetened spreads in such flavors as peach or boysenberry, which are pure fruit -- no added sweeteners. Both products are available at local health food stores and specialty food shops.
Fend off chocolate-covered cherries and go with a stuffer of unsalted nuts or dried fruit. The Frontier Fruit and Nut Co. chain, located in a slew of shopping malls (The Pavillon, Georgetown Park, Crystal City, Tysons Corner, to name a few) will package any combination of unsalted nuts or dried fruit in glass Christmas tree cannisters. The cannisters, which come in one-third or half-pound sizes, are free with the cost of the food.
The newly owned and newly renovated Low Sodium Pantry at 4901 Auburn Ave., in Bethesda, is carrying a no-salt snack mix in mason jars wrapped with ribbons. An 8-ounce jar costs $4.50.
Or alternatively, you can fill an attractive jar yourself with nuts, fruit or bulk granola.
The consumer organization Center for Science in the Public Interest regularly publishes a batch of nutrition education materials, several of which are suitable for stocking fillers. Consider the $1 "Midget Encyclopedia of Food & Nutrition," an envelope full of five pamphlets ("The Un-greasy Spoon," "The Food Biz" are two), or the "Smart Eating Guide: A Factbook of Practical Suggestions on Nutrition and Food" ($3), a brochure packed with information ranging from fiber to eating tips for the holidays that could be rolled and stashed in a stocking. CSPI is located at 1501 16th St. NW. 332-9110.