College students love to get care packages stuffed with stuff that reminds them of home. And few things conjure up warm memories of home better than some of their favorite foods.
Okay, so you can't send spaghetti and meatballs through the mailbut you can send home baked chocolate chip cookies or a package full of their favorite snacks.
Sent from the Heart
"Care packages are comforting they deliver a piece of home plus the knowledge that someone out there loves you," says Melinda Hemmelgarn, MS, RD, of the Nutrition Communications Center at the University of Missouri, Columbia. "I remember receiving them myself, and with my son ready to enter college next fall, I know I'll be packing boxes for him as well."
While college students have no shortage of food sources, they're bound to miss some of their favorites. In addition, sending a care package that includes nutritious snacks guarantees that there will be at least some healthy choices available for mid-afternoon or midnight snacking.
"College students have ready access to junk foodsoft drinks, candy bars and chips are usually a stone's throw away in assorted vending machines," Hemmelgarn notes. She suggests parents try to pack the kinds of food that the student enjoys that are not available close at hand, and, if possible, have a link to home.
The Well-Traveled Cookie
Homemade cookies made from the student's favorite recipe travel well and are a true gift from the heart. Cookies are ideal for care packages as they are low in moisture and will not mold, as a cake or muffins might, but they do crumble, and so should be wrapped carefully.
"I used to love my mother's care packages," remembers Patty Stern. "She used to send me these wonderful oatmeal-raisin-chocolate chip cookies when I was in college. Each one was individually wrapped in wax paper. It was always such a thrill." Today, Stern makes the same kind of cookies for her son, currently in his sophomore year in college.
She also remembers how exciting it was when other students received care packages, and how everyone would swarm into the recipient's dorm room to check out the goodies. So be sure to send enough to share!
Other healthy food products that taste great and travel well include granola or fruit bars, microwave popcorn, individual sizes of canned fruit or applesauce and peanut butter. Dried fruits and nuts, particularly those that are produced in your area of the country, favorite spices, or a local salsa or barbecue sauce are other simple ways to help deliver a taste of home. Gourmet coffees or a variety of teas that can be brewed in the dorm room on a cold night are always welcome. Dried soups such as chicken noodle can perk up a student who may be feeling run down.
Leave it to the Pros
If, despite your best intentions, you just can't do the shopping, the baking, the wrapping or the trip to the post office, there are a number of companies that will put together care packages for college students or young people in the military. They offer a wide selection of packaged goods, and can build snacks around themes such as exam time or organic foods. Or, parents can shop online and order non-perishable grocery and health care items through Internet grocery delivery services that ship directly to campus.
Many university dining services also offer care packages that can be ordered online through the university's website. These can be linked to birthdays, holidays, an anniversary, to encourage study or simply as a reminder that someone cares. In most cases, the students can pick up the care packages at the front desk of their residence hall on the requested date.
One of the advantages of using a university service is the ability to send the freshest food. For instance, the "Exam Kit" offered through the University of Wisconsin-Stout dining service includes a dozen fresh baked cookies, two pieces of fresh fruit, two packets of microwave popcorn and a croissant sandwich with turkey or ham, while UW's "Fruit Basket" features a heaping basket of seasonal fresh fruit, cheese and crackers.
At Northwestern University, the catering service offers a custom care package that includes muffins, bagels, pretzels, fresh fruit, cookies, tropical trail mix and more.
Hemmelgarn notes that care packages don't need to be limited to food. College students also appreciate receiving basics such as shower gels, new toothbrushes, clothes, laundry detergent, photos and of course, cash.
"A Frisbee, jump rope or other fitness toy, a book of jokes, or a framed family photo are sure to bring a smile to a far-away student's face. And that's really what the boxes are all about," she says.
Lastly, don't forget to tuck in a prepaid phone cardit might even be used for a thank you call home!
Lisa R. Van Wagner
Send your favorite student these easy-to-ship treats:
Applesauce Oatmeal-Raisin Cookies
Lemon Shortbread Tea Cookies