Zero Waste tips for gift-giving: stick it in a jar

9 Last-Minute Gifts in Jars Your Recipients Will Love

Even a lump of coal packed in a jar would look good—not that you’d give something so environmentally unfriendly

some great ideas from The Zero Waste Chef

by Anne Marie Bonneau

For the following nine gifts in jars, you could buy fancy Le Parfait or Weck jars—for gifts within gifts. Or you can simply remove the labels from any pasta jars, peanut butter jars or jam jars spilling out of your cupboards.

Candied citrus peels

This makes a small amount of candy that tastes fantastic! Make these with oranges, lemons, limes…so good! Candied citrus peels taste like gumdrops with an intense citrus flavor, made with actual citrus rather than chemicals formulated in a lab to mimic citrus flavors. They keep in sugar sort of indefinitely. Here is the recipe.

Dried fruit

When a friend of mine dropped off a couple of bags full of Fuyu persimmons at Thanksgiving, I initially panicked. Then I remembered the old dehydrate-fruit-in-the-oven-to-prevent-food-waste trick.

Squat Fuyu persimmons have a texture similar to apples and dehydrate very well. Hachiyas—the teardrop-shaped persimmons that must soften to a jelly-like consistency before eating fresh—dehydrate through a different process. For the oven method, use Fuyu. (This works for apples and other fruit also.)

Go here for details on dehydrating fruit in the oven. If you live in the Southern Hemisphere, check out this post and this post on solar food dehydration.

Two gifts in jars of dried persimmon slices. The jars and four dried slices of persimmons are sitting on a gray and white marble top.
Dehydrated persimmons

Granola (or muesli)

If you dehydrated some fruit, add it to this granola. Make the granola a couple of days before you give it away and it will stay fresh and delicious until your recipient gobbles it all up. In addition to the oats, all sorts of things can go in, a handful of this nut, a cup of that seed. It’s really good with flax meal or wheat germ mixed in. Add some oil and sweetener, bake, cool and transfer to jars.

Read my granola post here. Or make muesli. Find recipes for that here and here

homemade granola
Homemade granola


Looseleaf chai blend

You’ll need to first buy and eat oranges and dry the peels (I’d go for unwaxed, organic oranges). You can dry the peels out at room temperature over several days or dehydrate them in the oven similarly to the fruit up above (it will take much less time than the fruit). Once you have your orange peels, chop and mix them with black tea and spices such as cinnamon sticks, cloves, cardamom pods, star anise, coriander seeds, black peppercorns and ginger. I used to buy a looseleaf chai until I realized I had been paying a lot of money for all those orange peels in there. Find the full instructions for looseleaf chai here.

Store-bought on the left, home-blend on the right

Staples (or candy) from the bulk bins

You can also buy some of the items on this list directly from the bulk bins. Below, I have flour, chickpeas, sugar, brown rice, white rice and popcorn. My daughter worked at a restaurant one summer a few years ago that tossed these giant jars! She brought home at least 30 of them (I gave about 20 away). Ask restaurants, cafés and bars near you for their jars.

Before you fill the jars at the store, first have them weighed (i.e., tared)! The cashier will deduct the weight of the jar from the weight of the filled jar. You don’t want to pay for the weight of a heavy jar (or a light one).

jars of food
Jars filled with pantry staples

Lemon curd

Lemon curd is a dessert spread you eat in the same way as jam. I’ve also used it to make fantastic frosting or filling for lemon cake. It tastes sweet, intensely lemony and has a velvety smooth, custard-like texture. This recipe is incredibly easy to make.

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For the chocolate chip cookie mix pictured below, you can fill your jar in a few minutes. If you do lots of baking at the holidays, you probably already have all of the ingredients on hand. Include the directions and check off another person on your list. Go here for the post with full instructions.

Chocolate chip cookie mix

Hazelnut-cocoa spread (aka Nutella)

If you’ve already rifled through the cupboards for the ingredients and kitchen gear you need to prepare this rich, nutty, chocolatey spread for a friend, you may as well make a bit extra and treat yourself as well. My daughter Charlotte sometimes makes a similar version with sunflower seeds—a good option for someone with nut allergies. Sunflower seeds also cost much less than hazelnuts, which in turn cost less than many other prized nuts such as pecans, almonds, walnuts and cashews.

Go here for the faux Nutella recipe.

a jar of hazelnut chocolate spread with some sourdough bread in the background and a handful of hazelnuts
Jar of hazelnut chocolate spread11. Staples in jars

Chocolate syrup for hot chocolate on demand!

This chocolate syrup is the easiest fix for a chocolate craving. It calls for just cocoa, water, sugar, vanilla and a pinch of salt. Whisk a couple of tablespoons into a cup of milk of choice, heat and voilà, you have instant hot chocolate with simple ingredients. Add pinches of cinnamon, nutmeg and cayenne for Mexican hot chocolate. 

Go here for the chocolate syrup recipe. Find the Mexican hot chocolate recipe here to make with the syrup.

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