Is there anything more lovely than eating food that has been made by someone who loves you, for you? And food can transport us to different times in our lives, with people we love and care about; it can remind us of stories and fond memories; it can make us feel like we’re home, even when we’re not.
I’m often asked by Jo, My Gosh! readers about how to send food in care packages. If you’ve never done it, it can be a little intimidating. After all, food, improperly handled, can make someone sick. And it can have financial implications too– you don’t want to spend a ton of money on a care package, only to have the contents be inedible for your recipient.
The good news is that you definitely can ship food safely–even food that you make in your kitchen– to your care package recipient. Here’s everything you need to know:
Can I send food in the mail?
Short answer: yes. Longer answer: Some foods are considered a perishable items if they “create a health hazard, or cause an obnoxious odor, nuisance, or disturbance, under ordinary mailing conditions.”
While there’s no hard and fast chart for what is and what is not perishable, I’ve always erred on the side of caution. If I’m sending foods that are prepackaged, shelf-stable, and were produced in a food facility, then I don’t consider them to be perishable. If it’s something that I’ve made–even if I know that it will be shelf-stable for quite some time– because it doesn’t have preservatives and because I made it without the help of industrial, food production or packaging, I consider it as perishable and label it as such when I send it. This is my own working definition based on the USPS’ directions. I’d rather be safer than sorry.
If you ship perishable food items, you should also know that it is at your own risk and not the responsibility of the postal service if the food is ruined by the time it gets to your recipient.
How much shipping time should I plan for?
This is a hard one! Shipping time depends where you send from and where your recipient is. If you’re in the US sending to an address within the US, it should be super easy to figure this out, especially if you’re sending a three-day Priority Mail box. (Because it should be there within three days.) Not sure or nervous? Consult with your local post office for estimates on delivery times.
It gets a little tricky when you’re talking about APO/FPO/DPO addresses. When John was deployed to Afghanistan and I lived in Baltimore, a Priority Mail box could take as little as three days (no, I’m not joking!) up to two weeks. In fact, it once took a letter six months (not an exaggeration, either!) to get from Baltimore to Afghanistan… it had postmarks from Guantanamo Bay on it when John finally got it.
However, the DoD and USPS do have a transit time estimation for mail, broken out by APO/FPO zip code:
What recipes are best for sending in the mail?
While I’d err on the side of foods that you know will be safe for consumption (like shelf-stable, packaged ones), I also know that there’s nothing like getting home-created goodness. You’ll want to stay away from recipes that are moist and opt for ones that naturally have a long shelf-life. Think crispy cookies and homemade granola. Stay away from things that you think might have to be refrigerated (like baked cheesecake bars) or that you’re unsure how long it will keep (like fruit leather). Remember, too, that these packages will most likely be in weather extremes– either very, very cold or very, very warm temperature (or both)– during transit. The last thing you want to send is a big, ol’ box of food poisoning to the person you love.
With that said, there are many tried-and-true care package recipes out there. I’ve written about a bunch of them and I’ve even turned to other military spouses for their greatest hits. You can start with these 27 recipes that are great for care packages.
I will note that John absolutely loved my homemade granola bars and homemade blueberry granola. It’s super easy to make and it keeps and ships extremely well. It’s a good place to start if you’re a novice.
What’s the best way to package and ship food?
There are many different ways to ship food safely to your recipient. Of course, the first is to send prepackaged, shelf-stable purchased items. This is the very best way to make sure that the food you intend to send gets there with as little damage as possible. After all, food that is mass-produced is already made to travel from the facility to a warehouse and then onto you. And it doesn’t have to be the same, boring granola bars, either. Consider these microwavable options or these healthy, shelf-stable alternatives that work great in care packages.
If you want to send homemade food in your care package a lot, you might want to invest in a vacuum sealer for food. I’m a fan of the FoodSaver brand; it’s served me well. Just beware: to seal your food as well as possible, you’ll want to suck out as much air as possible without completely flattening the product… and it will reduce your chocolate chip cookies to crumbs and dust if you suck all of the air out. Of course, for other things, like granola and granola bars, that’s not a problem at all.
If you opt not to get a vacuum sealer, that’s okay, too. I’ve had great success by wrapping homemade foods multiple times in plastic wrap and then placing them into one or two Ziploc bags, squeezing as much air out as possible, and zipping them tight.
What about mason jar cakes?
I know a lot of military spouses swear by mason jar cakes. That’s not me… not because I had a bad experience with them, but because I never tried them. I was too afraid of doing them wrong and accidentally sending a lot of mold and grossness to John. (Honestly, it’s more about me than about the sweet idea of a mug cake.) If you’re not ready to try mason jar cakes but your recipient does have access to a microwave, consider sending single-serving microwavable mug cake mixes instead. These usually only need water to be stirred into the mix and just a few minutes in a microwave. (And some mixes even come with shelf-stable icing, too!)
What other considerations should I make while shipping food?
Keeping in mind the climate and season where your recipient is deployed to is so important. They might absolutely love chocolate bars, but sending a crate to Afghanistan in the middle of July might be a sloppy, awful mess for them. (Especially if they do not have access to a refrigerator or freezer!) These treats are perfect and won’t melt in transit.
If you’re sending treats, you might want to ship enough that your loved one can share with his or her buddies. That’s not a postal requirement. It’s just a nice gesture, especially since some service members don’t get care packages from home.
Are there any services that will send food to my loved one?
Absolutely! If care packages aren’t really your thing, there are businesses and organizations ready to do it for you.
Consider Troopster. Founded by a veteran who is also a military spouse, Troopster’s mission is to send awesome care packages to military members. With affordable pricing, full-sized products, and boxes jam-packed with items, it’s a great choice. Troopster offers a variety of care pack options when it comes to food– keto, vegetarian, and vegan boxes are available. (I honestly don’t know of another care package company that does that.) There’s also a subscription option for care packages– you just set it and forget it, and care packages are still delivered to your recipient every month from you through Troopster.
Depending on the APO/FPO zip code of your recipient and the products that you’re sending, you can ship food and drink directly from Amazon to your recipient. Doing so bypasses the need for you to repackage or to ship yourself. Amazon also offers non-perishable food care packages, some of which can be sent to APO/FPO/DPO addresses.
Want to send an experience? Swatara Coffee Co. is a veteran-owned, brick-and-mortar coffee shop shipping to APO/FPO/DPO addresses, no matter where they are. Send bags of coffee (whole bean and ground options) or consider the Coffee Shop in a Box gift set which includes coffee and snacks to go along with it. (Full disclosure: I am a part-owner of Swatara Coffee. Co. The other owner is John!)
Looking For More Care Package Tips? Try These Articles:
- 40 Ways to Save Money on Care Packages
- The Gigantic List of Free Care Packages for Deployed Service Members
- Here’s What Troops Really Want in a Care Package