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Mindy Kaling says this common holiday party gift is a big ‘faux pas’

The actress walked us through her go-to holiday gifts and beauty must-haves.
Nathan Congleton / TODAY

Mindy Kaling is showing no signs of slowing down any time soon. She's a true multi-hyphenate — a writer, actress, founder of the media company Kaling International as well as the creator and executive producer of a seemingly ever-growing list of hit shows like "The Sex Life of College Girls" and "Never Have I Ever."

Though when the holiday season rolls around, the mom of two admits that there is one place where she's learned to take a step back — in the kitchen.

“Before I had kids, I thought of myself as this real foodie and chef that would find a complicated recipe online and then spend days doing it, and I could just cook in my parent's kitchen and they would just be helping me," Kaling tells Shop TODAY over the phone. However, having kids has changed things, Kaling notes. "Now that I have kids, it’s like one-third of it is stuff that I make myself so I can feel good about having a homemade meal. And then two-thirds of it, I’ve either commanded other people to bring or I have bought. So I really embrace the potluck of the holidays, even though I do enjoy cooking. Because I think there’s a real fine line for those people who are the cooks in your house who enjoy it because it relaxes you and then feeling like, put upon and resentful about it. I just try to find that line and make sure not to cross it.”

Most parents will agree that finding that balance this time of year is important, in the kitchen and beyond. Because even with all of the joy of the holiday season, it can get stressful. And Kaling says that she manages some of that by going on family walks with her kids, Katherine, 5, and Spencer, 3.

"What we've been doing now, especially since my son is big enough and won't run into the street, is we take 15 to 20 minutes and we just walk after dinner," Kaling says. "And so that's been a really nice tradition that at first I just did to kill time before they watch TV — because I don't want them to be watching TV every day for three hours — and now it's become like a real bonding activity for us. So I really enjoy that."

For our Shopping Diaries series, we asked Kaling to walk us through some of her must-haves, from the top holiday gifts that she is giving this year to her tried-and-true beauty favorites.

Shopping Diaries: Mindy Kaling

Tonies Toniebox Audio Player Starter Set with Playtime Puppy Set

"I have a lot of that kind of mom guilt about not having my kids be on screens, although that would obviously be the easiest thing," Kaling, who recently partnered with Tonies, says. "And so what's wonderful about Tonies is it's this incredible product that resonates with children, but they don't have to look at screens, which is amazing to me. And they can be listening to a story, it's really simple to use, it's very adorable."

She adds that the Toniebox is her "number one present this year." "I just bought them in bulk to give to all of my little nephews and nieces and my cousin's kids."

Tonies Zuma Audio Play Character from Paw Patrol

Once you have the Toniebox, you can swap out the characters to hear new stories. "What's really great about it is my son is 3 but my daughter is almost 6, so it really spans all these different ages," Kaling says. "So my son loves the Paw Patrol one, but my daughter is really into Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. But they have so many Disney characters too and they have their own original characters as well."

The Office Kelly Kapoor Ornament

"When I go to someone's house, particularly for a dinner party, I think a big faux pas is [bringing] something that needs to take the host away from having fun," Kaling says. "So if you get them loose flowers in a bouquet, it's like now they have to go be a floral arranger. Or if it's like oh this is a food you need to heat up, it's room in the fridge or the oven which might already be spoken for, so I'm very sensitive to this type of thing."

That’s why she has a few go-to's. “I make a really good apple chutney in my family, that I can just make big batches of it in December and then if there are holiday parties, I can give people apple chutney that I make at home, which I love. And the other thing I love is if people celebrate Christmas, I really like bringing a Christmas ornament because I can just put it right on the tree and it just adds to that collection, particularly if there’s an inside joke or anything associated with it.”

Kaling says she always likes to get one that will remind the person of her (like this one, which we found on Etsy). “Weirdly enough, you can find Kelly Kapoor Christmas ornaments or the character from ‘Inside Out’ that I play called Disgust. And so whenever they look at it, they’ll be like, ‘Oh yeah, Mindy gave that to me.’ So if it’s something from one of my more memorable roles I think that is funny and also has meaning attached to it.”

Spicewell New Salt

"I find men — this is very sexist of me — more difficult to shop for and slightly more challenging," Kaling says. "And so for the men in my life, I'm always giving them a version of Bedhead Pajamas, because they're soft and comfy."

Or, she says Spicewell's New Salt or New Pepper are good gifts for men and women as well (she got it for her dad, who is a cook). "It's salt and pepper that also have vitamins and minerals in it but it doesn't taste weird. It's awesome and I've been using it in all my cooking and it's a great inexpensive present."

Things Are Looking Up Kids Optimism Deck

"There's this deck of cards for kids, which I love, called All Things Are Looking Up," Kaling says. "And I know the creator of them, Deepika Chopra. It's a great product for kids and a game for kids. It's a deck of cards that you can play with your kid that's super fun, but it's about optimism and resilience. You know, I'm very materialistic but if you don't want to be materialistic, you can give that to the kids."

Varley Barton Sweater

Like us, Kaling also loves to shop on a budget. "I always try to find gifts that are under $100 and [Varley has] this one iconic sweatshirt with a drawstring around the waist called the Barton Sweatshirt, which I think is just an iconic gift to give to any host or friend."

Jenny Bird Toni Hinged Hoop Earrings

Kaling says that she both loves to "receive and to give" Jenny Bird's jewelry. "They're always really on-trend, they're such a such a good price point and they make those really cute chunky earrings that everyone's wearing right now that kind of shaped are like teardrops."

Birkenstock by The Great Boston Midnight Birkenstock with Paint

"The other thing I love is this company The Great, they're doing a new collab with Birkenstock. And I used to be that person that was like, you will never catch me in these and now I think they're so fun and comfortable. And they're really chic with lots of really pretty patterns."

Mindy Kaling's beauty favorites

Tatcha The Rice Polish

For her skin care routine, Kaling says she loves this scrub, "because if you have oily skin, or you get buildup or you wear makeup a couple of times a week, which is what I do, it just gets everything off."

Cetaphil Face Wash for Combination to Oily Skin

Kaling follows up the scrub with a quick cleanse. "I have two that I use. One is just Cetaphil for oily skin, which is not expensive, you can get it in any supermarket. And then the other one I like is a little bit more luxurious, but not even super expensive, is this one by Dr. Sarmela Sunder. She has a polishing cleanser which is really great."

La Mer The Oil Absorbing Tonic

"Toning is a big part of my skin routine, because my skin is so oily, I feel like I didn't totally clean it," Kaling says. "So I'll dry my face after I clean it and then I wipe it all over with La Mer Oil Absorbing Toner," which she says makes her skin feel "sparkly clean."

Dr. Lara Devgan Scientific Beauty Vitamin C+B+E Ferulic Serum

"And then if it's in the morning, I'll do a vitamin C serum [from] Dr. Laura Devgan," she says. "And then a moisturizer."

Along with vitamin C, this formula features vitamin E and ferulic acid, which the brand says helps reduce the appearance of fine lines and protects the skin from UV damage.

Senté Even Tone Mineral Sunscreen

"I always use sunscreen, always, always, always," Kaling says. "I use a tinted sunscreen, because I have pretty dark brown skin so if I use a regular sunscreen with a lot of protection, it looks insane." But after "searching and searching," she found this one. "They have one in Medium Dark, which is perfect for my skin, it blends right in. "