When my kids’ father was deployed for a few months to Afghanistan, I put together several military care packages filled with fairly typical items. Don’t get me wrong, they were definitely very appreciated by his unit! But it wasn’t until he returned home that I got the inside scoop on what soldiers really want in a military care package.

Because this is so personal for me, and for several of our writers with military families, I’m really happy to have the opportunity to share some tips and tricks for how to make a military care package more personal, whether it’s for a family member, a friend, or perhaps a community or church member who’s currently deployed or about to head overseas. Especially this time of year, as we get closer to the holidays and that twinge of missing distant family is a bit more profound.

And I’m happy that I get to do this on behalf of our sponsor, HEALTHY ESSENTIALS from Johnson & Johnson, which is celebrating military families in a big way this month. I’m always grateful to any big company that devotes energy to supporting both our troops and their families, and they’re even donating to support the USO, a cause that’s near and dear to my own family’s heart.

Of course, whatever you send will be appreciated, but when you add that extra special personal touch, it goes one step (or really, many steps) further. Plus, it can help you channel your own emotions about that person being away.

1. Think about the person you’re sending it to.

Surprise, not every soldier or troop is the same! So, like any gift, when you take the time to send items that really reflect the recipient’s taste, it’s just going to be appreciated that much more. Trust me, that extra bit of work is totally worth it. And honestly, it’s not necessarily that much more work when it comes down to it.

Some idea starters for you: Does he like a certain kind of snack? Is she an art buff? Is he a big fan of a particular celebrity or band? Is she missing one sports team’s games beyond all others? Answer these questions and you may end up with some cool, creative touches, whether it’s an actual item you buy, or how they are wrapped and presented in the box.


2. When it comes to food, think beyond candy.

Military care package ideas: Send homemade granola bars like these Copycat Clif Bars | recipe at Brown Eyed Baker | Cool Mom Picks

It’s may be no surprise to you that soldiers get a lot of packaged candy thanks to various organizations who collect it for them, especially after Halloween. And yes, treats are always welcome! However I discovered that any sort of non-perishable protein, and healthier snacks are very much appreciated. Consider packing your care packages with items like beef or turkey jerky, protein bars (chocolate-free is ideal so they don’t melt in warmer climates), canned tuna, cured meats like pepperoni, dried fruit and nuts, peanut butter, that sort of thing.

If you’re up for it, you can even make your own granola bars! We have 5 awesome recipes, including these easy, no-bake, energy bar copycats from Brown-Eyed Baker. Who doesn’t love something homebaked from the heart? And for that personal touch, you could make your own labels!

Ideas for military care packages beyond candy: Try powdered drink mixes, protein-based snacks, or even a favorite condiment from home like Old Bay!

Also, powdered drink mixes from hot chocolate to vitamin-C enhanced drinks are a great idea, and a welcome change to the plethora of unhealthy goodies they often receive. Or consider some favorite condiments. I bet a can of Old Bay would be a huge hit with the Baltimore crew!

And don’t worry — if you send along a favorite candy treat, it’s totally fine. But as you might guess, the meals on base aren’t always the tastiest, and the troops are working long hard hours. The last thing they want is to compromise their health, and sending some healthier food items can really help.


3. Send photos. Lots of photos. Lots and lots and lots of photos.

In this digital age, I didn’t realize how little we’d be able to communicate with my children’s dad when he was deployed. And honestly, neither did he. The morale tent, which houses computers and phones, is always packed with people, so it was really hard for him to get in touch. Plus the time change between Afghanistan and the east coast was challenging, especially with my kids’ schedules. I wish I had thought to send more photos of the kids to him so he could see what they had been up to while he was gone.


How to make a military care package more personal: Send the funny photos too


There’s nothing wrong with sending posed photos, but don’t forget the funny ones too! Include the ones of yourself and your kids doing everyday things (like the one I took of me eating out alone with all my kids, whee!). They might not seem print-worthy to you, but seeing the daily goings-on (the good, the bad, and the ridiculous) are really special too.

And of course there are no shortage of options for printing your photos — even right from your social media accounts to make it easier for you. You can of course send just some snapshots. But consider making an entire photo book, especially if your soldier is deployed for a while. That’s one military care package gift that popular across the board, no matter who you’re sending it to.


About our sponsor: 

As part of their Celebration of Military Families promotion, HEALTHY ESSENTIALS from Johnson & Johnson is donating up to $100,000 in support of the USO. For every registration on HealthyEssentials.com, they’ll donate $2. And for every purchase of Johnson & Johnson products, they’ll donate $4. Plus, you’ll get a free Shutterfly photo book!)


4. Help make downtime more interesting.

coloring books for adults: The Tattoo Coloring Book by Oliver Munden

I know that much of my kids’ dad’s downtime was spent catching up on sleep, given the odd hours he was working, but there isn’t much you can do about that. He was relegated to the base and could not really travel outside of it for safety reasons, which is why it’s a great idea to send along stuff for the troops to do. Think puzzle books like Sodoku, word finds, or crossword puzzles. Inflatable balls or hacky sack bean bags are great. If music is a big thing for your recipient, think about a pair of headphones or earbuds. Or hey, maybe some colored pencils and a few adult coloring books would go over well with those artistically inclined troops, considering how popular the trend is right now. Plus it does help take up a lot of time.

Shown here: The Tattoo Coloring Book by Oliver Munden. Cool, right?

Another idea I like is to send multiple copies of the same book, so that they can create a book club of sorts, whether it’s a new biography, or the much awaited sequel in a popular fiction series. Anything to make such a foreign experience feel a little bit more like home, and help the time pass more quickly.


5. Get the kids involved as much as possible.

My kids were pretty young when their dad was deployed, so letter writing wasn’t a great option for us. Still, they could draw and even scribble, so I made sure to send their artwork over in our care packages. To take it one step further, you can keep an art journal for the kids, allowing them to can go and draw whenever they want (or whenever you ask them to), then you can send the finished book, or one each month, to your deployed soldier.

I like this idea because I’ve found that loose papers have a way of getting lost, and there’s not really a ton of space to keep them. A book keeps things more organized and readily available for the soldier to browse.

However if your kids are old enough to write letters, definitely have them do it. Even if it’s just a simple note of thanks, I know for a fact that those handwritten words go a really long way in lifting the unit’s spirits during what can be an extremely challenging time.


HEALTHY ESSENTIALS from Johnson & Johnson

Thanks so much to our sponsor HEALTHY ESSENTIALS from Johnson & Johnson for their support of military families. Visit their site which is full of tips and tricks for caring for families, including ways to save money, which I know is a big thing for military families in particular.  

And a big special thank you to all the military families, both deployed and at home, for their service to our country.