Eat, Drink & Be Healthy: Tips for creating a care package for college students

H. William Tetlow/GETTY IMAGES - Children watch CARE parcels being unloaded at a warehouse in Berlin, immediately after the lifting of the Berlin blockade in 1949. The organization Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe was initiated in the 1940s.

I’m finally getting used to walking past my daughter’s silent bedroom, to setting one less place at the dinner table, to talking with her more via Skype than in person. For her, the giddiness of first-time independence and meeting new friends at college has been tempered by the realities of grades, head colds and looming midterms.

Time to send her a care package.

Care packages should exude homey coziness. In food terms, that translates to chocolate-chip cookies, boxes of mac and cheese and a jar of Nutella.

Which was pretty much the direction I was headed – until I remembered:

I write about nutrition, including the perils of the Freshman 15 — when first-year college students gain weight.

I should know better.

So the struggle of conscience began: Should I try to craft a better-for-her care package that would convey all the love without the calories – and risk her not really finding much comfort in what I send? Or should I stick with Nutella?

This first college care package seems like kind of a big deal, so I sought advice from some experts — Ruth Frechman, a registered dietitian in Burbank, Calif., and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, and Heather Mangieri, a Pittsburgh-based registered dietitian, also an ADA spokeswoman. Readers of Washington Post reporter Jenna Johnson’s Campus Overload blog also chimed in with tips.

Everybody had good ideas for healthful items, food and non-food, to stash in the box. As Frechman said, “It’s not necessary to show your love with macaroni and cheese and brownies. You can send something comforting and show your love without contributing to the Freshman 15.”

What to pack for my kid

I just needed to sort through the options to find the right mix for my kid. Here are my thoughts:

Instead of: A stuffed animal. She’s got plenty of those already.
I’m packing: Slippers. Cozy and practical.

Instead of: Jump-rope. Nothing says “Your mom thinks you’re chubby” like the gift of a jump-rope.
I’m packing: A Frisbee. More festive, and she can play with friends.

Instead of: 100-calorie snack packs. Does anyone really like those?
I’m packing: 100-calorie microwave popcorn. Full of fiber and fun.

Instead of: Sugar-free hot chocolate. I don’t do artificial sweeteners.
I’m packing: Herbal tea and a squeeze bottle of honey. Tea’s tasty and good for you, and she can control the sweetness.

Instead of: Whole-grain cereal. There’s plenty of that in the dining hall.
I’m packing: A jar of peanut butter and some whole-grain crackers. The protein and healthful fat in the nut butter plus the fiber in the crackers make for a filling, satisfying snack.

I’m going to round that out with some hand lotion (pure comfort, zero calories), dental floss (a discreet reminder to mind her health), a gift card (to Target, the ultimate comfort zone). And, at Mangieri’s suggestion, a few oranges, not-yet-ripe bananas, apples or pears.

“College students often find it hard to obtain fresh fruit,” she says.

My care package seems abundantly caring without any hint of a scold.

I’ll let you know how it’s received. In the meantime, what will you put in your kid’s care package?

Other ideas

Readers of Jenna Johnson’s Campus Overload blog offered good ideas, Many of them drawn from their own experience as college kids. Commenters sang the praises of fancy hand cream, fuzzy socks, fleece blankets and Whole Foods gift cards. Among the recommendations from those responding via Twitter:

• baked chips

• beef jerky

• dried cranberries granola bars

• iTunes gift card

• juice boxes

• Luna bars

• oatmeal

• oatmeal bars

• powdered drink mixes salsa in a jar

• tea and honey

• tuna-to-go packets vitamins

• walnuts

More: For nutrition news, visit the Checkup blog at voices.washingtonpost.com/checkup , follow @jhuget on Twitter and subscribe to the Lean & Fit newsletter by going to washingtonpost.com/wellness.

Did you know?

The iconic box of comfort-from-home goodies that we refer to generically as a “care package” is an offshoot of the U.S. government’s CARE — Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe — package program initiated in the 1940s. The first CARE packages, distributed to people in Le Havre, France, in 1946 in the aftermath of World War II, had been created to feed our soldiers and contained enough food — meat, dried milk, biscuits, jam, raisins and chocolate— for one of them for 10 days, according to the CARE Web site.

 
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