y now you probably already know that adulting definitely comes with its perks—buying whatever you want at the grocery store, driving a sweet ride, etc.—but it does come with a few downsides. Other than having to take your car for an oil change every now and then, you can no longer get away with giving people subpar gifts.

Giving gifts to adults for any variety of occasions can be tricky. You’ll likely find yourself in several situations where giving someone money or materialistic items may be out of place—like at a dinner party—but not giving anything can be looked down upon. In these situations, it’s always safe to turn to food.

Giving someone the gift of food can be a very thoughtful gesture that shows effort and appreciation, but there is a right way and a cringey way to do it. You already know which way you want to do it, but you may not know how. Don’t worry, though, we’re here to help. There are only two things you need to know in order to master the art of gifting food. 

  1. When to give the gift of food
  2. How to decide what food to give

When to give the gift of good

A group of adults happily drinking champagne at a party.
Gifting food doesn’t work on all occasions, but if you’re attending a casual birthday party or going to a dinner party, showing up at the door with a food gift is usually a safe bet. Image courtesy of Gossip and Gab.

No, you can’t give food to everyone in your social circle for every occasion. Doing so would become tacky and impersonal. But yes, you can use food as a way to save money and get out of having to buy someone a materialistic gift. There are three things you need to know when it comes to discerning between whether you should give the gift of food or opt for Amazon instead. 

The right occasion

First think about the occasion you are acknowledging by gifting someone food. If you’re going to a dinner party or attending a casual event where people will be eating, food is not only polite, but in some situations an unspoken rule. Play it safe and ask the host before you go to the gathering about what you can bring.

Avoid gifting food if you are attending a major event or milestone, like a wedding or formal retirement party. In some of these situations, gifting food or a bottle of wine is a nice gesture, but if it’s the only thing you decide to give, you will look tacky. When living the adult life, this is never the goal.

Yes, gift food: Dinner parties, social gatherings, holiday parties, difficult times, casual birthdays, when showing thanks or appreciation.

No, think of something else: Big occasions or milestones, like retirement parties or weddings.

The right person

Be sure to think about the person you are thinking about giving food to. Most of the time the recipient will be appreciative and excited to receive a food gift, unless it’s something they really don’t like. But if you know someone who isn’t really a foodie or prefers not to receive food gifts from people, then you might want to play it safe and think of something else. 

Yes, gift food: Close friends, neighbors, your partner’s parents (if you’re a good cook), coworkers, family members.

No, think of something else: Your partner’s parents (if you’re a bad cook), someone who either isn’t a foodie or won’t return your pie pan.

In a pinch, on a budget, or out of ideas

Whether people are willing to admit it or not, gifting people food is a great option for those who want to show their appreciation but are on a budget. The holidays are especially useful for this—instead of buying your neighbors a fancy candle, whip up a quick batch of cookies. Food gifts are also extremely useful if you want to give someone a gift but don't know a lot about them, as it allows you to make something generic that most people will like while still showing your appreciation. And then, of course, gifting food means that there’s always the option to go to the store and buy a bottle of wine for your aunt’s birthday that you forgot about.

Yes, gift food: Someone you appreciate but don’t know well, if you need a gift but want to skimp, if you forgot about an occasion that requires a gift (oops!).

No, think of something else: If you’re in a pinch or out of ideas but the occasion requires a little more than just a plate of cookies.

How to decide what food to give

You have two main options when it comes to gifting food: to buy it or to make it. While there’s no wrong answer, taking into account your time limit and cooking skills may help you make the best situation based on your circumstances. 

Buying food

The hand of a customer in a wine store grabbing a bottle of wine off a shelf.
Store-bought food gifts, like a bottle of wine, are a perfect option for those who are short on time or prefer to stay out of the kitchen. Image courtesy of Dayton Business Journal.

Buying food is always a great option if you’re tight on time or if you’re not a good cook. There’s no shame in either of these things—after all, it’s the thought that counts. Buying a food gift may not be the route that shows the most effort, but getting something that looks and tastes great will definitely make a statement and catch the recipient’s eye.

💸 Ideas for store-bought food gifts: Edible Arrangements, bottles of wine, boxes of chocolates, store-bought cakes, fruit boxes, coffee bean boxes.

Making homemade food

Two women sitting at a table and decorating cookies with bags of white icing.
Gifting homemade food is not only a nice gesture, it shows you deep appreciation for the recipient by taking time out of your day to make something you think they will like.

Giving someone food that is homemade, although it takes more time, really shows your appreciation for the recipient by putting in a significant amount of effort for their gift. If you have the resources and the skills, make them something in the kitchen yourself. It will likely make your food gift more meaningful.

Remember, we are talking about food here, so you do want the final product to taste good. If you know there is something that you excel at making, go for it. If you’re a little iffy about how something might come out, save the recipe for a different day, unless you are so close with the recipient that you don’t mind each other’s cooking mistakes.

If you’re concerned about how your food will turn out, consider making something with individual servings, like cookies or muffins. This will allow you to try one for yourself to make sure it is good to give to someone else. If you fear your cake won’t come out of the pan and that all of your hard work will be ruined, consider making a pie, something you can leave in the pan without risking a beautiful presentation.

🍳 Ideas for homemade food gifts: Cookies, cakes, pies, casseroles, frittatas, breads, muffins. 

Keeping the recipient in mind

Regardless of whether you decide to buy food to give or to make it from scratch, the most important thing you can do is keep the recipient in mind. What do they like to eat? What food would they be excited to receive as a gift? The most important thing about gift giving is making the recipient feel special and appreciated, and the best way to do this is to spend time putting thought and effort into the gift you do decide to give them, whether it’s homemade or store bought.  

It’s a good idea to also note whether the recipient has any food allergies or dietary restrictions. If you don’t know, try asking people they may know for more info. If you still can’t find an answer, consider making or buying something that avoids common food allergens like nuts. Or, if gifting an assortment of food, try to find a variety that gives those who are gluten free or vegetarian options of things to eat.

Above all, remember why you are giving a gift in the first place—in the adult world, gifts are a way to show gratitude and appreciation. Such a huge part of our culture, it makes sense that food would be an optimal way to do this. 

Apr 26, 2021