Now that your teen is off to college, how are you supposed to take care of them when you’re so far away? How can you be sure that they don’t overload on salt and sugar, have the right medicine, or give themselves a break when they need it?
Take a cue from the families of World War II: send a care package! (Read up on this fascinating history here.)
Put together a care package using our ideas below! You might not be there to make them use it, but they’ll hear your voice in their head (or over the phone) and know what to do.
When in doubt, go with the classics! Fruit baskets are easy to put together— sometimes you can even buy them ready-made at the supermarket or a farmer’s market— and customizable to your student’s tastes.
Choose fruits that last a long time and preserve well, because they could be sitting out of the refrigerator for a while! That’s why oranges, apples, grapefruits, and pears are classic additions to a fruit basket. You’ll often find bananas, which— while they don’t last for a very long time— do not need a fridge to keep them safe.
Luckily, there is a huge variety of each of these fruits to choose from, and they all have a different taste. Don’t limit yourself to just plain “Ida Red” or “Red Delicious” apples— include Pink Ladies, Granny Smiths, Jona Golds, and heirloom varieties like Pippins and Northern Spies. Try blood oranges and tangerines, red D’anjou pears and throw in a pomelo instead of the normal white or pink grapefruits. If you want to add a touch of “naughty” you can include a fruit dip!There are other, more modern ways to do fruit baskets. You could go ethnic, and include a trip around the world in fruit: persimmons, starfruit, pomegranates, and dates should all survive the shipping process and provide a unique experience.
We won’t suggest coconut— partially because many people are allergic to them, and partially because they are VERY hard to crack open— even with a hammer!
Dried Goods Basket
Dried goods have two benefits: they keep extremely well, and they’re usually lighter than fresh foods. Dried goods can be sugared— also called “candied”-- or salted, so you’ll need to decide whether you want to avoid that or not.
Drying fruits allows companies to sell all kinds of sweetness that they otherwise may not be able to preserve. You can find a wide variety of dried fruits in every market from Walmart and Target to Whole Foods and indie shops. Apricots, raisins, blueberries, apples and figs are all traditional dried fruits. Nowadays, you can also find dried strawberries, mango, pineapple, oranges, and even lemons and pears! All dried fruit is excellent for snacking during studying or between classes, but they also travel well to the food court in the morning to pop on top of oatmeal.
For an interesting twist on dried fruits, look for freeze-dried! Freeze-drying preserves more of the original flavor— and in some cases, intensifies it— than air-drying does because of the intensity and quickness of the process. This is also the process used to preserve food for astronauts! Use freeze-dried fruit to make good toppings for oatmeal, an interesting snack, also an interesting addition to yogurt with a touch of honey. We’ve found freeze-dried strawberries, kiwi, mango, apples, blueberries and even peaches. The person sending the care package stuffed full of freeze-dried goodies benefits from the extra-light weight, which reduces shipping costs.
Get Well/Remedy Basket
Let’s face it— your college student is in a new environment, stressed out and exposed to tons of germs. Even though you’ve made doubly sure that they were vaccinated, you can’t be there to constantly remind them to wash their hands and get their rest. They are— quite simply— going to get sick at some point. So why not give them a care package that sends remedies as well as love?
The flu is vicious and everywhere— and contrary to popular opinion, it’s not just a stomach bug. For those times when the flu is fever, chills, aches and sniffles a care package should feature: pain medicine like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, facial tissue (the really soft kind— maybe with aloe to soothe irritated noses), microwavable soup, and either echinacea tea or Umka to boost immunity and warm those chills away. If you choose to send Umka, be sure to calculate the correct number of boxes to send since you need to take it three times a day until three days AFTER symptoms stop.
Oh, and do include some disinfectant wipes that smell good— nobody likes germs hanging around, or a nasty hospital-like stench. (The roomies will thank you, too!)
What about the stomach flu? (It’s a good idea to send this care package BEFORE this bug hits.) When that disgusting, wretched beast rears its head it’s time to bust out the big guns! When your college student can’t keep much down, it’s really important for them to stay hydrated. Since electrolyte-rich drinks like Gatorade or Powerade are costly bulk, try sending the powdered mix instead. That way, your faraway-sickie can customize how strong the mix is and still get all of those electrolytes integral to battling dehydration.
Dried soup mix is also a great idea to include a flu care package— it’s light, microwavable and provides more of the salt they’ve lost being sick. It’s also a good idea to replace the Umka or echinacea tea with mint or ginger tea. Both mint and ginger are known for soothing upset stomachs. And to help them stop vomiting— or losing food out the other end— include some Bonine or Dramamine and some Imodium AD.
A “cold care” package will be slightly different. As before, include soft facial tissues and Umka. But this time around, include throat coat and spicy cold care teas as well— throat coat teas should include slippery elm, and cold care teas can include eucalyptus, ginger, black pepper, elderberry, and/or tulsi (also known as holy basil). Slippery elm creates a mucus-like coating down the throat through the stomach to help stop that irritated scratchiness. Elderberry and tulsi are immunity boosters, while eucalyptus, ginger and black pepper warm up the nasal passages and help soothe congestion. Vitamin C tablets are also a great idea!
Mental Health Basket
Stress can really overwhelm your college student and get them down in ways you’ve never seen before. Whether you’re just in time or not, sending a mental healthcare care package sends your kiddo a big hug from home and some small ways for them to take care of themselves.
First of all, include some food and beverage items that help the body to de-stress. Chocolate is a popular go-to item, but the caffeine and sugar in chocolate can trigger symptoms similar to anxiety and escalate their stress levels instead of calming them. Instead, send plain kale chips— the magnesium found in kale and chard make cortisol (the stress hormone) take a time-out in the corner.
Nuts and seeds contain tons of anti-stress goodness— they boost serotonin (feel-good hormones) levels, contain Omega-3s that manage adrenaline, and they contain zinc and other vitamins that boost the immune system. So consider adding either some trail mixes or unsalted mixed nuts. By the way, if you really feel the need to include chocolate— some nut brands offer cocoa-dusted roasted almonds, which satisfy the craving without drowning the nut’s goodness in a sweet shell.
Avoid sending coffee, as the caffeine won’t help and the acid could upset their already-sensitive stomachs. Instead, send relaxing teas like chamomile, rose, cinnamon or peppermint. Make sure to send caffeine-free varieties! If your child is having serious sleeping issues from stress, check with their doctor before sending a kava kava or valerian blend.
Sometimes the brain just needs a break from thinking in specific ways, but still needs to be stimulated. There are lots of creative and therapeutic methods to achieve this. Probably the easiest to package and send are coloring books and crayons— don’t be stingy or childish with this, either. Send your child the really big, full sets of crayons or colored pencils so they don’t become frustrated with lack of selection or a limited palette. And find some really awesome coloring books— these days, you can find everything from stained glass patterns to history to goddess coloring books.
Playdough or silly putty is another idea. They keep hands busy, and playdough offers lots of options for molding and modeling. And unlike modeling clay, it doesn’t need to be baked to dry into shape— although it is rather fragile once it’s completely dry.
No matter what kind of care package you send your son or daughter, be sure to take the time to include a card or letter. Really sit down and write them a supportive, loving message. Whether they’re healthy or sick, they’ll appreciate the reminder that Mom and/or Dad is still wrapping their arms around them from afar.