Wishes for a healthy, happy holiday often come with gifts of butter cookies, chocolate Santas and rum-soaked fruitcakes. Washed down with eggnog, they end up being rich and fattening tidings. Prudent gifts needn't be bah hambug, however. There are plenty of food-related presents that can be luxurious and nutritionally inspiring at the same time.
Here then, are some gift ideas for encouraging a truly healthy Hanukah, Christmas and New Year's:
Beverages. A number of sparkling ciders and juices come in champagne-like bottles and make for festive non-alcoholic house gifts. For example, Knudsen's, a health food company, makes a sparkling cranberry juice.
Boxes of tea are obvious stocking stuffers, or you can make your own sampler in a decorative tin. Celestial Seasonings has a new tea that addresses practically every environmental and food safety concern. Organically grown, the orange pekoe-cut black tea is packed in tea-bag paper bleached with oxygen rather than chlorine, which can add toxic dioxin to the water supply, according to the company. The tea comes in pillow-style bags to reduce unnecessary strings, tags and staples; the box is made from recycled paper.
Condiments and spices. Every recipient of boutique jellies, jams and mustards knows they soon line refrigerator shelves like wall flowers at a holiday dance. Instead, consider a trio of hot sauces with names like Texas Champagne Hot Pepper Sauce, Cajun Sunshine and Tiger Sauce.
Complete a gift of a pepper mill with a combination of white, black, green and pink peppercorns.
Oils and vinegars. With their long necks, classical-looking labels or basket-covered bottoms, bottles of oil and vinegar make elegant gifts. Most specialty food shops carry a wide variety, and there are an expanding number of flavors for the cook who has everything. Robert Rothschild's raspberry vinegar comes with whole raspberries at the bottom of the bottle. Don't forget hazelnut or walnut oils and extra-virgin olive oil.
Kitchen gadgets. Kitchenware stores are loaded with offbeat items for small Hanukah gifts or Christmas stockings. Grapefruit spoons, an apple corer, cherry stoner or a juicer encourage fruit consumption. Consider a barbecue rack for cooking potatoes, an artichoke cooker or spaghetti measurer, an inexpensive plastic device that helps gauge pasta servings. Gravy skimmers cost less than $5. For bigger and costlier items, a fish poacher is a great gift, as is a good-quality nonstick pan. Another possibility is Joyce Chen's Peking Pan Plus, a nonstick skillet shaped for stir-frying.
Slide guides. Pocketbook-size slide charts are perfect for stocking stuffers. The "Guide to Beverages," "Nutritional Value of Cheeses" and "Food Plans That Lower Cancer Risk" are free by writing to the American Institute for Cancer Research, Washington, D.C. 20069. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has four slide guides on fat, fiber, additives and fast food. They're $3.95 each or three for $9.95, plus $1 postage and handling. Write: CSPI, 1875 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 300, Washington, D.C. 20009.
Magazines and books. A few of this year's highlights include Eating Well, a well-written and serious magazine of food and health. Annual subscriptions are $12; call 1-800-344-3350. Among book offerings are "The Good Health Microwave Cookbook" by Carl Jerome (Bantam, $22.95), "The Art of Low-Calorie Cooking" by Sally Schneider (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $35) and "Jim Fobel's Diet Feasts" by Jim Fobel (Doubleday, $24.95). The B'nai Brith Klutznick Museum Shop is selling "Life After Schmaltz: Heart Healthy Jewish Holiday Cooking" by Rosalind Trieber, Ann Sussman and Janet Brigham (Trieber Associates, $12.95).
Gift baskets. Any of the above items can be assembled by the giver or by a store. Sutton Place Gourmet is selling a "Healthy Living" gift basket for $58 that includes fresh fruit, maple nut muesli and sugarless jams. Hugo's Natural Foods Market in Northwest Washington will also prepare gift baskets with any combination of organic fruits, cheeses and coffee, plus herb teas, crackers and sparkling juices.
Eating Right appears on alternate Tuesdays.