How You Can Fill Care Packages with Healthy Tidings

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Care packages arrive at Guantanamo Bay.
Care packages from the General Mills Corporation await Joint Task Force Guantanamo's Navy Expeditionary Guard Battalion Sailors at the Tierra Kay Housing post office Sept. 11, 2008. (Spc. Eric Liesse/Joint Task Force Guantanamo Public Affairs)

No one ever said when you joined the military that you'd be eating fine dining, but there is an even greater challenge for our troops to eat well when overseas. In many locations, a full chow hall has been established, from fast food to coffee houses, but variety and nutritious foods are not always available. Friday's "tough and burned" steak and "chewy" lobster can even start to resemble the mundane after a month or two. Soldiers begin to dream about all of their favorite foods at home.

Mail call brings packages and letters of all shapes and sizes to our troops overseas. Grandmas send home-baked treats, moms send underwear, kids send handmade cards and wives send loving pictures. From candy, cookies and other goodies, the troops get overloaded with "carb-filled" gifts. As much as these treats are great for the soul, they may not be as great for the soldier on a mission.

The equation for energy and how and when our body utilizes what we eat can be a little complicated, but take a moment and think of fireworks. The traditional quick-to-react black cat is like simple carbohydrates (i.e., sweets, white flours, potatoes), and then the longer-lasting Roman candles are more like complex carbohydrates (i.e., whole grains, fruits and vegetables). Like simple carbohydrates, black cats give the body a quick bolt of energy but leave you craving more. Like complex carbohydrates, the Roman candles allow energy to linger like smoke in the air. While both provide some satisfaction, the latter serves a greater purpose.

I remember sending my very first care package overseas to my husband. He informed me later that my cookies crumbled, the bread went stale, and the boxed soy milk exploded. I was crushed. The next time, I became a littler wiser and sent a lot of "packaged" goods.

He then told me everyone else's wife had sent similar things, and he was starting to gain some unwanted weight from all the goodies. No one ever said "goodies" were good for you. I figured there had to be something better to send that would help him on his mission, add some variety and keep him fit.

With the food market growing, there are a lot more shelf-stable food options to choose from, making it easier to fill a postal box full of treats for your loved ones. So instead of picking the usual bag of Skittles, magazines and cookies, take it one step further and send healthy tidings.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Homemade granola or muesli
  • Zucchini bread
  • Banana bread (cranberry orange and dried blueberry work, too)
  • Packaged hummus dip and pretzels
  • Kashi bars
  • Protein powder (preferably one that blends well without a blender, and you might want to include something to shake it in)
  • Vita-Muffins (sometimes found in the freezer section)
  • Trail-mix cookies
  • Green or herbal teas
  • Rice noodles (superior choice over the high-fat ramen noodle alternative)
  • Boxed milks (small sizes travel better and handle the "bumps" along the way)

Now that you have your "treats," you need to get them overseas without the contents going bad or crumbling.

Keys to keep things "fresh" during their possible three-plus-week journey overseas:

  • Put a piece of white bread in with cookies to keep them from going stale (just tell them not to eat the bread).
  • Vacuum-seal and freeze first (deep freeze works great), then wrap with a towel to absorb the liquid as it defrosts.
  • Seal everything in double bags to avoid crossing of smells.
  • Put in plastic boxes to make it easier to pack and avoid breaking.

Cookies and brownies certainly are appreciated, but you might be surprised at how happy your soldier is to get food that not only tastes good but truly is a "goodie."

Helpful links to use in your quest to make the healthier care package:

Recipes:

Packaged goods:

Shelf-stable milks:

As a registered dietitian and culinary consultant, Wendy Jo Peterson has a passion for the healthy palate and making nutrition information a little more edible for everyone. As a military spouse, she understands the challenges of eating on the road, on deployment or with a hectic schedule that comes with the territory. Whether you are training for an event or looking to shed a couple pounds. Peterson has some nutrition advice for you.

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