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Care Package Food: What to Include & What to Avoid

Care Package Food

When my husband is deployed, I have two separate lists every time I go to the store. One is my regular grocery list and then the second is my care package grocery list. More often than not, I’m searching for just the right care package food to send in my next box. But since not all food is created equal (or even care package appropriate) where do you start?

Obviously what you send should be tailored to your loved one’s likes and dislikes. But there are some general guidelines to ensure that everything arrives in the best condition possible.

Care Package Food

What to Include: 

  • Items in hard containers: Care packages go through a lot to get to your loved one and the contents often show the most wear and tear. It’s better to send care package food that comes in hard containers; they prevent crushing or exploding during shipping.
  • Shelf-stable food: Did you know they make shelf-stable milk, coffee creamer, cheese and meat? Well before I started shopping for care package food, neither did I! But they do and you can send them in care packages. Keep in mind that even shelf-stable items may not make it in the best condition, especially if they get delayed.
  • Condiments: I’m not saying military meals are gross, but odds are they aren’t 5-star restaurant quality or what your loved one is used to at home. Sending favorite condiments can make things taste a little better or more familiar. Some restaurants (Chick-fil-A for example) will sell or donate condiment packets for you to send.
  • Drink mixes: These little packets take up almost no room, but pack quite a punch! Since they aren’t liquid, you don’t have to worry about a soggy box, but your loved one still gets the added benefit of flavored water.
  • Easily prepared food: Deployed service members are often short of time and resources when it comes to food. It’s important to send care package food that doesn’t require a lot of prep or equipment to cook it. Items like microwavable soups, tuna in packets and ramen noodles are all great options.
  • Healthy snacks: I know most shelf-stable care package food falls squarely into the “junk food” category, but if my husband is any indication, healthy snacks need to make their way into the box. My default healthy care package food is definitely nuts; A goes crazy for these salt and pepper cashews.

What to Avoid:

  • Chocolate: In general, I would avoid chocolate at all costs. It would likely melt, even if you freeze it beforehand. If you do send chocolate, make sure to put it in a plastic bag to avoid any mess.
  • Homemade baked goods: There’s no rule about sending them, but between shipping time and high temperatures, they may arrive stale or moldy. Many folks send baked goods in Mason jars – just make sure you give them plenty of padding so they don’t break!
  • Perishable goods: Anything that spoils can’t be shipped. This includes fruit, vegetables and most dairy and meat products.  If you get creative, you can find shelf-stable alternatives for most care package food. For example, dried fruit can take the place of fresh items.
  • Pork or pork by-products: This depends on where your loved one is. If they are in the Middle East or Persian Gulf, this type of care package food is against the rules.
  • Carbonated beverages: They may explode during shipping or lose their fizz by the time they arrive.
  • Alcohol: It’s actually illegal to ship alcohol via the USPS and most deployments are alcohol-free. Please don’t try and send it anyway! Not only can you get your loved one in trouble, but you can also jeopardize mail service for everyone at that location.

Other Tips:

  • Send extras so that your loved one can share with co-workers.
  • Use plastic bags to contain messes! Bag liquids and items that could melt or explode to prevent them from ruining your box (and boxes for others!)
  • Since everything you send is shelf-stable, shop for items whenever they’re on sale to save money.

What’s your favorite care package food to send overseas? How do you keep things from getting crushed or broken?

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