COOK IT UP
Slow cookers or crockpots are “hot” again, so there’s no excuse for not having the time to cook. They are easy to use — basically you just throw the ingredients in and let them cook unattended for four to seven hours. Standard slow cookers sell for about $20 and up. The best feature is that you don’t need any added fat to cook with crockpots — so everything is a little healthier.
These are usually compact enough to store on a table or countertop right in your kitchen, and they work equally well for vegetables, meat, fish and chicken. Best of all, they are designed to drain fat and grease through special sloping grooves on the grilling surface. One of the best-known brands on the market is the George Foreman Grill, which starts at about $15. The newest model, the Next Grilleration Grill (Model GRP99, $99 at www.esalton.com), has a sleek silver metallic finish and a 96-square-inch cooking surface as well as a removable washable grill plate with a nonstick coating.
Hot Air Popper
Why not give a friend an air popper and a bag of kernels? Air-popped corn is less fattening than the stove-top kind made with oil — and it’s a lot less expensive than buying individual bags of microwave popcorn. Air-popped popcorn has about 30 calories per cup — not a bad treat. Try the Presto 04821 Orville Redenbacher Hot Air Corn Popper ($24.99 at amazon.com).
DVDs and Videos
There are so many really good fitness DVDs available that giving one is almost like hiring a top fitness expert to visit your friend right at home. MTV has a few DVDs for yoga and Pilates, or for a more traditional approach, try Rodney Yee’s “A.M. and P.M. Yoga for Beginners DVD” (www.gaiam.com, retails for $20 on DVD, but it’s currently on sale for $2.99 on video).
Gaiam is also introducing two new DVDs — “Qigong For Beginners” (documentary and workout, $15) and “T’ai Chi For Beginners” ($15), both available at gaiam.com.
For a tremendous selection of exercise videos and DVDs (more than 700), try www.amazon.com or www.collagevideo.com.
Animated Virtual Trainer
There’s a new “virtual” personal trainer named Maya whose workouts are available for either the Xbox or a home PC. Maya, the animated personal trainer, guides you through a workout that includes more than 500 unique exercises. My friend works out with Maya on her Xbox and says it’s absolutely the best fitness product out there (www.yourselffitness.com, $34.99).
SMALL THINGS — BIG IMPACT
A simple jump-rope can make a great gift. You can take it anywhere, it’s easy to use and provides great exercise. Everlast makes a wonderful leather rope with ball bearings in the handles ($15, www.everlastboxing.com).
These inexpensive, simple devices are great motivators for getting out there and walking. Research shows that pedometers boost your motivation to increase and maintain physical activity. They start at about $15 and are worth every penny (www.thepedometercompany.com).
One set of Bowflex SelectTech Dumbbells allows you to automatically change your resistance from 5 pounds all the way up to 52.5 pounds by simply turning a dial. These dumbbells are space-efficient and easily adaptable for multiple exercises. The only problem is that the price is a bit steep at $399 (www.nautilus.com) — so save this gift for someone you really love!
READ ALL ABOUT IT
Cooking Light Books
Healthy cookbooks make great holiday gifts — and a subtle way to motivate someone to lose weight and get healthy. The editors of “Cooking Light” magazine, which offers great recipes every month, released two excellent new books: “The Best of Cooking Light” (Oxmoor House, $34.95), which is a collection of their all-time best recipes (more than 500), and “Cooking Light Annual Recipes 2005” (Oxmoor House, $34.95). Both books are packed with tips, nutritional analyses, photos, food facts and menu suggestions to help you eat smart without sacrificing taste. Or, as an alternative to the books, why not give a subscription to the magazine?
Nutritionists Weigh In
The American Dietetic Association has two books that deserve attention. The first is “Cooking Healthy Across America,” which takes readers on a culinary tour of the country featuring regional recipes from the kitchens of the nation’s top food and nutrition experts. The book also includes nutritional analyses for each recipe and advice on how to buy, store and cook everything from asparagus to tofu. It’s available in hardcover for $45 or in paperback for $24.95. Look for it at your local bookstore, or order online at www.eatright.org.
The second is “365 Days of Healthy Eating from the American Dietetic Association” ($14.95), which is not exactly a cookbook, but offers practical hints, tips and strategies — one for each day of the year — for putting healthy eating and regular exercise at the top of your daily agenda. There are also more than 60 simple, flavorful recipes for meals and snacks.
I’m a great fan of spa chef Cary Neff’s book, “Conscious Cuisine: A New Style of Cooking from the Kitchens of Chef Cary Neff” (Sourcebooks, $39.95). I’ve tried many of the recipes and can personally vouch for the fact that they’re not only easy but also taste great.
FOR THE “NOT SO SENSITIVE”
This gift is strange, very innovative, slightly disturbing, yet probably effective: Mypetfat. This takeoff on the ’70s “Pet Rock” fad is actually a replica of what 1 pound of fat from the human body looks like. According to its creator, Jay Jacobs, who recently lost more than 100 pounds, it works the same way as tying a string around your finger to remind you to think before you eat. “Hold it in your hand when making food choices, and it will make you conscious of the fat you want to get off your body and the fat you want to avoid putting on your body,” he says. It’s available from www.mypetfat.com. One ounce of Mypetfat is $14.95, and the 1-pound version (for more of an impact) is $29.95. Be forewarned, however — this is not a gift for someone who is sensitive about his or her weight or gets easily queasy!
Body Fat Scale
Another interesting gift for those who are not too “sensitive” is a body fat scale, which measures the percentage of fat in your body. Measuring your body fat in addition to your weight is a great motivator. The best one is the Taylor Body Fat Analyzer Bathroom Scale, rated best by both “Good Housekeeping” and “Consumer Reports” (model 5553, $34.78 at www.walmart.com).
For an unforgettable gift, create your own “healthy-living basket” using any or all of the following: cooking or fitness books, pedometers, aerobic or yoga DVDs, jump-ropes, a balance ball, an exercise or yoga mat and a health magazine subscription.