7 Great Hosting Gifts That Aren't Wine Or A Candle

Everyone's flooded with food gifts this time of year. Here's what your recipient can use.

Holiday gifting occasions are fast approaching. It's a season in which many of us like to indulge, and also a time when lots of us receive food gifts we don't end up eating. No one is rude enough to refuse these host and hostess gifts, of course, but how many festive tins of hot chocolate mix or shrink-wrapped wedges of cheese can one person consume? Likewise, even the most generous bottle of wine can go to waste if the recipient doesn't drink. Such gifts are often regifted again and again, simply because they're the overdone default.

Instead of wine, cocoa mix, or candles, here are some suggestions for edible and otherwise consumable gifts that your loved ones will be pleased to receive and more likely to put to use.

Tote bags for groceries

One of my favorite gifts to bring friends is a tote bag from a farmers market, shop, or restaurant in a city I've visited. I've purchased them everywhere from Germany to Japan, as well as right in my own backyard. The Ann Arbor Farmers Market just released a new series, and I've got my eye on the one featuring sweet corn. All the better if the tote bag folds up easily and can tuck into a coat pocket for last-minute use, like this Ami Net string bag (I have it in blue).


Fizzy water

I like to bring a couple of bottles of sparkling water to parties with me, just to make sure there's something for everyone to enjoy. One year, Costco had a great price on San Pellegrino water, and I toted along an entire case. You would think that we were in the middle of the desert, because my fellow guests fell on it as if they had not hydrated in days.


In many places, a case costs less than a single decent bottle of wine. You can ask your host their preference, or simply surprise them with something they haven't tried. Pretty bottles like Saratoga's are a nice touch.

Potted herbs

When I was living in New Orleans last year, Christmas trees got so expensive that one local nursery decided not to sell them at all. Instead, the business encouraged customers to purchase rosemary bushes, ranging from tabletop size to several feet tall. I took home five, and I enjoyed the scent and flavor in my cooking all season long. Many stores like Trader Joe's sell basil plants year-round, ultimately a much better value than purchasing a plastic box of basil leaves every time you need it for a recipe. If your host has a green thumb, the plants can go outside when there's no chance of frost.


Seeds for planting

Many independent farm shops and hardware stores up north are having end-of-fall sales on seeds right now, while fresh seeds are arriving in Southern places. A collection of seed packets can be fun to sort through, and this gift allows a growing minded host to get a head start on some indoor plantings in a few months. You might look for collections of Asian produce, like these seeds sold by Kitazawa. Or you can put together the plants needed for a favorite dish, like the gumbo garden grown at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum.


Tea towels

Tea towels rank right up there with tote bags as a functional and eye-catching gift. I snap them up whenever I spot some with the potential to not only dry dishes but also serve as pretty cloth napkins. My collection includes towels from the Marché Président Wilson in Paris and Balmoral Castle in Scotland, as well as a wonderful set of pure linen towels that I found in Phoenix—pricey at $20 each, but they've endured for a decade. Encourage your host to use them, not just tuck them away. If they grow battered from everyday use, you can always hunt down more.


Advent calendars

With the wide variety of food-related Advent calendars available these days, you may delight your host by thinking small. Even though I had trouble obtaining my See's Candies calendar last year, once it arrived, I was happy that each door contained an individually wrapped piece that became a daily treat. Likewise, my friend Shari Robards, a professional home organizer, loves the little jars of jam that come in the Bonne Maman advent calendar. You don't even need the framework of a daily calendar; you can bundle a variety of little foodstuffs for your host. And if they drink alcohol, those miniature booze bottles are fun to tuck in a gift bag, too.


Packaged snacks

I do a lot of shopping at HomeGoods, and one of my first stops is always the gourmet section. Along with coffee, oils, and jams, HomeGoods is a great place to find packages of snacks. In the past few months, I've picked up Italian breakfast treats, plantain chips, edamame beans, seaweed packets, and trail mix. They're fun to offer beyond the usual holiday cookies, and they're far more useful, since the recipient can keep them on hand in a bag or the car for a mid-afternoon pick-me-up.