We love preparing homemade food stuffs for gifting to loved ones throughout the holiday season, but it's easy to overthink the project and end up with more than you can handle during the already-busiest season of the year. Here are our top 5 pieces of advice for preparing budget-friendly, time-saving, and practical items that everyone on your list is sure to love.
Dark Chocolate Peppermint Bark
Credit: Jeffery Cross; Styling: Kelly Allen

It's grind time, people--and by that I mean, we're less than two weeks from Christmas. This is my favorite time of the year and, honestly, I wish sometimes I could slow down the clock to enjoy the few short weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas a little more. But though I can't stop time, I have to constantly remind myself that I am in control of how I prioritize and spend mine. It's a daily struggle that, for me--someone who has the tendency to take on more than I can handle and gets really stressed out as a result--involves learning how to say "no" and focus on my personal goals for each day, week, and month. With all that being said, each Christmas season I enjoy spending time, money, and effort on making homemade, from-the-heart food gifts for neighbors, friends, and loved ones in my life. But more often than not, I've found myself biting off more than I can chew (no pun intended). If you're anything like me, I challenge you to simplify your life this season and focus on doing small things really well--rather than attempting to tackle huge projects and ending up completely spent and wondering why you thought it was a good idea to begin with. Here are my 5 best pieces of wisdom for keeping it simple and saving yourself stress when preparing food gifts this season.

1. Don't make something that's difficult to prepare in large batches

One of my favorite homemade Christmas food gifts is chocolate-covered peanut butter balls. In fact, I wrote about my experience gifting these delicious bite-size treats awhile back, and you can read about it here. However, the problem with these treats is that each bite has to be individually dipped into melted chocolate one at a time and then set out to harden before packaging. If you're only planning to make a few food gift deliveries this season, this may be an achievable option for you--but for anyone with a long list of giftees, this time-consuming project isn't super practical. So save the laborious food projects for another day, and focus on something more attainable--recipes that are easy to whip up in large batches like homemade granola, chocolate snack mixes, peppermint bark, and popcorn.

Classic Banana Bread recipe
Credit: Lee Harrelson; Styling: Jan Gautro, Laura Zapalowski

2. Don't go overboard

Like I said, I have a tendency to dream big and rush in over my head on a project only to look back later and realize I could have avoided some stress and saved time by simply thinking through the best course of action from the beginning. Case in point: I wanted to do something nice for my friends who were leading a large conference in our community last month, so I made them a 'survival kit' and gave them each a large gift basket filled with gum, tissues, hand sanitizer, chocolate, snacks, drinks, and more to help them get through the long event weekend. In the middle of my preparation, I decided to throw together some pumpkin bread (a baked good I have been craving during pumpkin-everything season this fall), so I spent the entire afternoon baking the loaves and preparing the baskets. When I finally delivering the gifts that night, I realized they were more excited about the simple pumpkin loaves (although I'm sure they appreciated the thought behind the 'survival kit') than the huge package I dropped on their doorstep. Looking back, I could have saved lots of money, time, and stress if I would have kept it simple with a fresh loaf of quick bread and a quick, encouraging note. Point being, you should always start a gifting project by thinking through your end goal and how to achieve it in the most efficient and practical way possible. Let's face it: When you have a million things already on your to-do list, the holiday season is not the time to go overboard.

3. Don't skimp on the wrapping

You may have heard that the best way to elevate a simple gift is through beautiful wrapping and packaging, but the same wisdom applies in reverse--meaning, a lame wrapping job is the absolute easiest way to dumb down the delicious and beautiful homemade food gift you spent hours laboring over. You don't have to be an expert gift wrapper (or willing to drop a lot of money) to take your simple gift to the next level, here are a few quick tips to keep in mind when wrapping:

Roasted Pine Nut Butter
Credit: Randy Mayor; Styling: Cindy Barr

#1. Glass always looks nicer than plastic, and it's not as expensive as you may think. Don't believe me? You can purchase a set of 12 half-pint Mason jars at Target for just $8.

#2. The larger the bow, the closer to heaven. Okay so that's not exactly how the saying goes, but close enough. And seriously, a luxurious bow tied around the jar, box, or bag of your choice is a simple way to take your gift from blah to bangin'.

#3. Gift tags add oomph and personalization--plus, this means you can skip the greeting card if you want--so don't forget them!

4. Don't wait until the last minute

While some food gifts--like fresh breads, desserts, homemade snack mixes, etc.--are best consumed just a few days after preparing them, you should come up with your game plan well in advance of when you plan to cook or bake your homemade gifts. So go ahead and pick/print out your recipe, buy your packing supplies and gift tags, and block off your baking and prep day on your calendar. Then, when the day arrives, set aside the entire morning to prepare, bake, and package your gifts and then use the afternoon to drop them off to the recipients. (Bonus points for bringing your little 'elves' along to sing a Christmas carol and spread extra holiday cheer.)

The sweetness of chocolate toffee candy increases with a sprinkle of fleur de sel.Recipe: Salted Chocolate-Pecan Toffee
| Credit: Annabelle Breakey

The sweetness of chocolate toffee candy increases with a sprinkle of fleur de sel.

Recipe: Salted Chocolate-Pecan Toffee Annabelle Breakey

5. Don't gift the impractical

I saw a recent poll on Facebook in which a mom asked teachers what they wanted from their students as a Christmas gift--and 99% percent of the teachers replied gift cards. They said they're overrun with a random assortment of food, candy, and baked goods throughout the holiday season and can't finish it all (or don't really care for the type of food they received), so most of it goes to waste. While I'm not suggesting we should all just run out and buy Starbucks cards (A. that's no fun and B. it will get expensive quick), you should definitely think through the recipients of your gift and make something he or she would enjoy. When in doubt, keep it practical. Consider food items your loved ones are actually apt to eat in their day-to-day life. If you're stumped for ideas, we have a whole guide to useful homemade food gifts--for every budget and skill level--you should definitely check out.