December 12, 2011

Holiday Healthy Gift Guide (And Giveaway)

Image: Plan 59

Got gifts let to buy? Or perhaps you'd like to pass on ideas to well-meaning loved ones who will otherwise bestow you with an assortment of nightgowns, scarves, scented soap, and Festively Wrapped Gift Baskets Full of Tasteful But Toxic Junk Food.

Well, no worries, we've got a bunch of ideas! Most of them are unsolicited, though a few came from a desire to try out Stuff For Free. We'll make sure to disclose any freebies so that you can adjust your skept-o-meter accordingly.

Wait, hold on... what's this "we" business?

Yep, it's true, I got some help on this one. The Lobster offered to take on some Product Testing and Review Duty for a few gift items that caught her eye. She's even responsible for bringing us this week's giveaway: Leela, a meditation video game from Deepak Chopra. And, thank goodness, this one is open to those in the US, Canada and Australia.

So for those of you with gifts left to buy, or who want to win a cool meditation game, or those of you who just want to check in and gloat give helpful advice because you're done shopping already, it's time for the Cranky Fitness 2011 Holiday Fitness Gift Guide!

Cartoon: Natalie Dee

Healthy Food Gift Ideas

The holidays make a great opportunity to foster healthy habits by splurging a bit, either for a loved one or yourself.  So consider...

Treats! Keep an eye out for tempting but reasonably healthy items like fancy dried fruits and nuts, whole grain cookies and crackers, healthy jams and spreads, organic wine, juices, or dark chocolate bars. (My personal favorite: the Endangered Species brand. Given my consumption rate, I've probably saved at few herds of rhinos by now). You could even make your own hand-selected gift basket.  And, depending on your recipient's dietary restrictions, you can find vegan, gluten-free, low-carb, raw, primal etc options if you shop online or in specialty stores.

 Perhaps not the specialty item you were looking for?

Other possibilities: You could also think about a fruit/wine/whatever of the month membership, or gift certificate at a reasonably healthy restaurant or health food store. (Our go-to treat gift certificate request tends to be for Pinkberry, a fancy-pants frozen yogurt place that's a the perfect holiday combo of Tasty, Healthy-ish, and Too Expensive to Treat Yourself Very Often). Or perhaps you could even go whole (humanely raised) hog and give a share of a CSA farm.

Oh, and one recent discovery in the snack food category: Brad's Raw Chips. I got these for free to try, but am now a big fan and have actually asked family members for the Holiday Bundle for Christmas. If said family members don't dutifully fork over, I'll be buying more myself.

The deal with the raw chips: they're ridiculously freakin' healthy. I tried the Vampire Killer, Leafy Kale, and Sweet Potato chips. They're dried at a low temperature to preserve raw food nutritional awesomeness, and are not baked or fried. Ingredients are natural and pretty darn virtuous.

Are they the perfect gift for anyone? Eh, perhaps not. Best for someone with pre-existing health-food-eating propensities. They taste like crunchy seasoned vegetables, but in some flavors like Vampire Killer, the yeasty flavor is pretty noticeable. But I thought they were tasty, especially for a guilt-free snack, and quite filling too due to the high protein and fiber content.  Downside? They ain't cheap.  But if a serving of these prevents an unplanned stop at Burger King, it may be a price well worth paying.

Fancy and/or Healthy Ingredients: If your recipient likes to cook, look for exotic spices, oils, vinegars, unfamiliar but highly touted healthy grains, grass-fed meat, etc. And here's where I'll put in another plug for the Vitamin D Mushroom powder I got to try courtesy of the Dole folks.  It's a great Vitamin D source for vegans and those who prefer natural supplements, but here's the weirdest thing I found: over time I've gotten strangely fond of the earthy, chocolate-like taste.  The flavor blends well not just in savory dishes but with nutty flavors, vanilla, chocolate, nutmeg, coffee, etc.  I put in my green smoothie with other healthy spices and am actually planning to buy more myself when my free bottle runs out.

Healthy Cooking

Gadgets!  Might a new kitchen accessory make healthy meal preparation more appealing?  Think about blenders, food processors, countertop grills, juicers, choppers, freezable glass tupperwarish storage containers (no icky BPA's), rice cookers, non-toxic bakeware (we use nonstick USA pans in the Crab/Lobster household), bread makers, good knives, windowsill herb gardens, etc.  Inspired by the raw chips above, I'm asking for a food dehydrator for Christmas and will keep you posted if it turns out to be useful.

And if you're looking for a more high-tech kitchen gift idea?  HuffPo has a handy high tech cooking gift guide. 

Or wait... how about a combo kitchen and exercise gift?  (And yes, the Fender Blender does appear to be a real product.) 

Healthy Cookbooks, DVD's.  Tons of choices out there.  Some of them awesome!  Some of them... well, less so.

Recipe Girl has a round-up of much better choices, as does Simple Bites.  And Diets in Review has a couple of recommendations too.

Or, if you want to save a few bucks, make a cookbook yourself!  Scour the web for recipes you think your loved one might like to try, print 'em out, add some of your own favorites, perhaps throw in some personal stuff, put a cover on it all and voila!  It's a "hand made" gift.  You can save money, feel crafty, and be a sneaky advocate for healthy cooking.

Fitness Equipment

The great thing about giving a gift to a physically active person? Virtually all exercise fiends need stuff. Whether it's an "invisible shoe" for an almost-barefoot runner, or a swinging trapeze for your favorite circus acrobat, there's a good chance there's something out there that would make their chosen activity easier, safer, or at least hipper looking.

However, serious sports or fitness buffs tend to be rather particular about what they like in terms of clothing and equipment. Consider asking them what they need to avoid the pained smile followed by the half-hearted "Um, thanks!" Getting a gift certificate from a favorite sports-specific store might be another way to go.

For more general-purpose fitness needs, a few possibilities are: exercise DVD's, yoga mats, stability balls, doorway pull-up bars (I have the cheapo "as seen on TV!" Iron Gym, which works perfectly well, but I ain't gonna link to it because the site yammers at you when you arrive), kettlebells, foam rollers, bosu balls, suspension trainers like the TRX or Jungle Gym, jump ropes, elastic bands, sports watches, interval timers, wobbble boards, barbell or dumbell sets, stretching aids, and water bottles (stainless-steel with no BPA is a great idea).

Fitness and Activity Monitoring Devices

Beware of surprising someone with one of these gadgets unless you know they're happily OCD about numerical measurements of health and fitness. Because sure, a high-tech scale or pedometer or calorie burning monitor may seem like a nifty gift if you've been wanting one yourself. (And yes, as a matter of fact I am still addicted to my BodyMedia Fit armband and Polar FT4 Heart Rate Monitor, both of which sponsors gave me for free). But unfortunately, recipients of these sort of gifts may interpret your benevolence as a not-so-subtle suggestion get off their lazy asses and drop a few pounds. Not necessarily a happy holiday sentiment.

However, these are great gifts to ask for yourself, especially if you're female and asking a boyfriend or husband for a fitness gift. Or is it just an ill-informed stereotype that dudes are more gadget-oriented than gals? I'm thinking heart rate monitors, gps devices, Fitbits, etc may make an easier and more exciting gift for the average guy to shop for than a "flattering" workout ensemble or a "cute" pair of shoes. Well, unless you're a straight woman dating a gay guy. (In which case, go for the outfits, not the electronic gizmos, but then you may also want to check out "counselors" and "coaches" below).


Subscriptions to health magazines are great motivators, even if most of the popular women's titles have morphed into fashion, hairstyle, beauty, and "lose weight instantly" magazines.  One shining exception is my current favorite, Experience Life.  It's a health and fitness magazine that, shockingly, is pretty much about health and fitness. The articles explore recent research, theories, and expert advice from both mainstream and more controversial sources.  (And yeah, my subscription is comped, but I'd spring for it even if it weren't.)

Hired Help:  Personal Trainers, Life Coaches, Classes, Boot Camps, Dieticians, Counselors, Gurus etc

As it happens, the holidays lead right in to the New Years Resolution season. And who couldn't use a little help with healthy living, fitness, nutrition, and long-term life goals?  Again, best to avoid surprising someone with a gift that could be perceived as a "you need to get your act together" statement.  Plus, your recipient is likely going to want some choice in terms of the provider he or she selects, so don't get too bossy about it.  But perhaps a DIY "invest in yourself" gift certificate with some helpful ideas for possible resources?  Or, if for yourself, might it be worth dropping a few Big Fat Hints to loved ones?

An idea along those lines for the runner (or wannabe runner) in your life:  There's a online training program/class/coaching site called Up and Running that looks affordable and fun, and is designed to help you run your first 5K or kick ass on longer races.  Anything Shauna Reid is involved with has got to be awesome, right?

And gosh, it just so happens at least one Life and Wellness Coach we know of has been offering 50% off!  But, the clock is ticking and the discount is going to expire January 1.  So if you've been pondering the possibility of affordable Life Coaching and assuming that the cheaper rates will be good forever?  Er... nope, sorry.  Schedule an intake before the new year, though, and you're good for 50% off for at least 8 sessions in 2012.  And don't panic if you're not quite ready-- some sort of discount will still be available to Cranky Fitness readers even after the beginning of the year.

Self Help and Other Miscellaneous Gifts

Self-help books, CD's and DVD's that feature meditations, visualization, hypnosis etc can make great gifts for stressed-out loved ones.  Two Cranky Fitness favorites are the awesome science geek/enlightened dude/all-around-nice-guy Rick Hanson, and Sounds True, a company that has some of Rick's stuff as well as a huge catalog of other self-help resources.  (And yep, they supplied Crabby with a free course). But there are tons of other great options out there too if you Google.

And for those with loved ones who struggle with insomnia?  Consider gift items like white noise machines, sleep masks, lavendar oils, black market ambien prescriptions, natural herbal remedies,  high tech gadgets like the Zeo that measure your brainwaves, or, a favorite gizmo I reviewed a few years ago and still use myself:  SleepPhones.

And now, the Lobster has a few holiday gift reviews, and also a giveaway opportunity!

Make Gifts From Your Photos:

Consider the very aptly named Easy Canvas Prints. This is how simple it is: choose a size, upload an image, decide on a border, pay and ship. They let us try it out, and the whole process took at most 5 minutes. Within a few days, this picture was delivered to our door. (Though we decided not to leave it by the front door and now have it hanging in the bedroom).

If you want to create a custom holiday gift, Easy Canvas Prints is offering half off prints plus free shipping for anyone who goes to their facebook page and clicks on "like."

Next, MyMemories has a ton of ideas for organizing your pictures.  They gave us a chance to review one of their products, MyMemories Suite 3, which is a nice way to create digital scrapbooks. The program offers a variety of templates to use, and more to buy if you want to get more creative. When completed, you can share your handiwork by a variety of methods, even by creating a movie. The interface uses recognizable drop-down menus, but it does take a little wandering around to get the full extent of the capabilities. Here's a look at a quick page I created:

While I really liked the product and have already created a year end review book, my one issue is that the templates are aimed more at traditional scrap-bookers and don't have the hip look younger users may prefer. But if you want to start getting organized and creative, this is worth a try. MyMemories is offering Cranky Fitness readers $10 off the price of the software and a $10 coupon to use at the Memories Store. Go to My Memories and enter the code STMMMS27481.

Leela: Meditation via Xbox or Wii

Deepok Chopra's Leela is a great antidote to the stress of the holidays. It's a set of meditation exercises for the Xbox Kinect or Wii that can help mellow you out before you hit the mall.  Leela captures body movements and breathing to help you relax, focus and "enter into your personal flow state." While Leela says it's a "game concept" and not a "game," being the competitive person I am, I was charging through the Chakras as fast as I could. While the instructions could have been a little clearer (wait, perhaps I was focusing on the destination, not the journey?) I found the guided meditation and breathing exercises were particularly helpful. Visually, it's beautiful, and as a Wii user, it was a nice break from those ridiculous looking weeble-like people.

The not-game is available in either the Xbox or Wii format, or for those of you without either of those, they also offer a soundtrack which provides you with the soothing and restorative sounds you need when that jerk in front of you takes your parking space.

Want to win your own Leela? 

To be eligible, you need a shipping address in the US, Canada or Australia.  Just leave a comment below, and the random number generator will pick a winner in a week.  (You can comment more than once but only the first one counts). Then make sure you check back by the end of day Wednesday Dec 21 to claim your prize or there'll be a new drawing.

So, still got shopping left to do or are you one of those smug super-achievers?  Got any holiday gift advice or horror stories?


  1. I loooove the FenderBlender.

    8 days till Hanukkah. Just in case you're still shopping for me...

  2. Well fine, website. Be that way. Eat my comment. Crabby, don't you ever feed this thing?

    - cranky merry

  3. Thanks for the Hanukkah reminder Miz! In my haste to get the post finished I kinda forgot to check on dates for that.

    And Merry, the website ate your comment?!? I hate when that happens. It must have been a particularly delicious one. Sorry!

  4. Hi Crabby and everyone!

    Long time, no write for me--I've been kind of out of the loop lately.

    I would love to win the Wii version of Leela--my sister and her family have a Wii, and she would love this.

  5. Most interesting. I don't need to win anything, but am tickled to be geographically eligible.

  6. Ruth! Great to see you back.

    Good luck on the Leela and hope all is well!

  7. Thanks for the kind welcome back, Crabby.

    All IS well. Went through some challenges these past few months, but (knock wood), things seem to be settling down.

    Hope all is well with you, too, and hi to "Lobster" and all your loved ones.

  8. Thanks for the ideas! I am always looking to fire people up to be healthy for the upcoming year- and a health promoting gift is a good place to start!

  9. Raw snacks are fabulous!

    Just be careful about giving a woman an appliance if you happen to be her SO. Even one she wants might not be appreciated as a holiday gift if she thinks you are hinting that you think of her as just the cook.

    Guys, however, often love such gadgets, especially if they think they are chefs (as most of them do).

  10. Just finished up my shopping but now preparing to do a lot of traveling over the holidays to see both my family and the in-laws. Flying on the 24th stresses me out!

  11. Thanks for the gift roundup! I could stand to have a little help in the meditation department, so here's hoping the RNG works in my favor.

  12. Mostly done my shopping, just need to wrap the kids stuff to see what I actually have for the husband. Pretty sure he doesn't have much in the pile o gifts!

  13. Great post! I've been eying the sleep headphones for a long time now-and the zeo!

  14. What is this? Crabby scrapbooking? Not an image I keep in my head of you dear Crabby! Are you branching out in to craftyland? :)

    (No need to include me as I'm wii-less.)

  15. I don't need any more than just the pleasure of reading Cranky Fitness

  16. Amazing ideas for gifts! Love the Wii meditation exercise idea- Although I do kinda like creating those weeble-like people. I think I need to add me a Crabby! :)

  17. This sounds like it could be a great de-stresser, which I sorely need!
    I still need to get a gift for my brother, at whose home we'll be staying for the holidays.

  18. The fenderblender needs a redesign for a laptop or tablet.... just sayin'.

    WHO may I ask would NOT love a Leela!

    Thanks for another fun post!

    Ho, Ho HMG my word verification is upessed (u pest?)


  19. I want to enter your give-a-way - despite the sad truth that you will not be giving away the Festively Wrapped Gift Baskets Full of Tasteful But Toxic Junk Food.

    But a girl can dream.

    Jane at

  20. buWhat a collection of creative ideas! I've never heard of a Leela, but I'd love to try it out!

  21. Interesting article. I'm happy to hear about a new magazine!

  22. WHAT A LIST!!!!!!!!!! I guess I best win the lotto! ;-) I saw those Brad chips on Hoda & Kathie Lee but then I heard the price & how small the bag was so.... but I might still try then to try them! :-)

  23. Great post! I would sooooo love to be the lucky Leela winner. Please count me in. Thanks!

  24. [shhh--they forgot New Zealand]

    Mary Anne in Kentucky, ever-vigilant for international shipping

  25. because I have neither Wii nor X-box, I would win the Leela! Better not enter me even though I am very interested in it :) Great list of ideas too.

  26. Thanks for the GREAT ideas!

  27. I really appreciate your perspetive! Thank you. (60+ and homebound shopper)

  28. I may not have time to check back... Hanukkah, Christmas Kawanza, etc....
    1prizewinner at gmail dot ocm

  29. The Fender Blender is great! Bah Humbug and a Merry Christmas!

  30. I'm just stopping by different type of blogs and thought id say hello folks. So greetings from an Amish community in Pennsylvania, and wishing everyone a merry Christmas and a healthy and happy new year. Richard from Amish Stories

  31. Great post. Thanks for the gift. Keep writing interesting articles :)

  32. Thought I would check to see who won?


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