Four Holiday Gift Ideas That Promote Health And/or Safety


Photo courtesy of Alice Henneman, University of Nebraska – Lincoln

I ventured out with other “Black Friday” shoppers at midnight after Thanksgiving. I certainly didn’t pitch a tent in the parking lot as some bargain hunters did. I found myself elbow to elbow with holiday shoppers as I looked at the displays of tasty but calorie-dense gourmet treats that make eating in moderation a challenge.

As I shopped, I thought of several possibilities for health and safety-promoting gifts that won’t break your budget. Most of these ideas are from $10 to $20.

  1. Food thermometer: These devices for measuring internal temperature are easy to use and don’t take up a lot of drawer space. Only 5 percent of cooks regularly use a thermometer, although many people use their thermometer during holiday dinners. However, food safety experts encourage the everyday use of thermometers because color is not an accurate indicator of doneness.

Research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture has shown that one in four burgers turns brown before reaching the safe internal temperature of 160 degrees. For safety, cook meat, fish, poultry and eggs to the recommended internal temperature. Along with a food thermometer, tuck in a “Fight BAC” food safety brochure available at

2. Pedometer: These step-counting devices are powerful motivators as people set goals to increase their physical activity. According to a recent Stanford University study, participants who set a goal walked 2,000 steps (one mile) more than before they set a goal.

If you want to enhance your gift to someone with an MP3 player, buy your friend or family member a gift card for “tunes” to download and listen to while he or she walks.

3. Healthy meal/snack kit or a “meal I.O.U”: Try creating your own healthful snack/meal baskets. For example, tuck a jar of chunky salsa, baked chips, bottled 100 percent juice and some disposable cups and napkins in a reusable plastic bowl or basket. How about a soup, bread and fruit basket?

As another option, treat your friends to the promise of a home-cooked, healthful meal on a mutually agreeable date. For recipe/menu ideas and a free cookbook to download, visit (click on For Parents/Caregivers). Also, consider printing the cookbook and putting it in a binder for a quick gift. Or make some food gift mixes in a jar with this publication:

4. Storm survival kit: Winter weather sometimes is unpredictable and can result in emergency situations. Assemble an emergency kit for travelers. If your friend or family member already has one, discreetly check his or her supplies and assemble a kit with items the person needs.

Be sure that winter survival kits include a windshield scraper; battery-powered radio; batteries; flashlight; snack foods, such as nuts, dried fruit, jerky and trail mix; water-proof matches; and a can to melt snow for water. For a complete list of supplies and a guide to preparing for winter disasters, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at

All the holiday preparations may leave you short on time for cooking. Here’s a quick recipe to enjoy with hearty, whole-grain bread and fresh fruit.

Tomato Basil Soup

1 medium chopped onion
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 crushed garlic cloves (or 1/4 tsp. garlic powder)
1 15.5-ounce can of drained and chopped tomatoes
1 pinch ground red pepper
1 tsp. dried basil
2 c. nonfat milk
Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium sauce pan, cook onion in oil over medium heat, stirring until golden brown, about four minutes. Add garlic and cook one minute longer. Add chopped tomatoes. Cook uncovered over medium heat for 10 minutes. Spoon three-fourths of the mixture into a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Return blended mixture to saucepan with remaining soup mixture. Add red pepper, basil and milk. Heat until hot, but do not boil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Makes four servings. Each serving has 120 calories, 4 grams (g) of fat, 18 g of carbohydrate, 3 g of fiber, 20 percent of the daily recommendation for vitamins A and C and 20 percent of the daily recommendation for calcium.