If you’ve stumbled on this page, chances are that you are familiar with care packages and want to send one to your soldier. Frankly, there is so much advice out there on what to send and what not to that it’s becoming chaotic to make perfect healthy care packages for soldiers. Here, I am going to simplify this issue by arming you with the knowledge base you need to make an educated decision.
Care packages for soldiers are traditionally packed with sweet treats and various savory snacks. These types of packages provide our soldiers with quick gratification but are actually VERY bad for their health. Sure, a few ones aren’t that harmful and who can blame them for indulging a little, but a box-full is just crazy.
Recent studies have shown the dangers of high sugar consumption especially this Harvard study has stated that high sugar intake is directly proportional to heart disease. This trend has nowadays reached epidemic levels. Also, Sugar is not the only enemy in these snacks; sodium and salt are also lurking in there. Suffice to say, these, when combined together, make a very dangerous mix that will harm your soldier’s health in the long run and cause them to gain weight.
Origins of Care Packages
Did you know that Care packages were originally prepared as 10-in-1 food packs by the US for a possible Japanese invasion in WW-II? Well, as we all know that didn’t happen and so the thousands upon thousands of these meal boxes were soon going to waste. A humanitarian organization, namely Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe (CARE) began sending these boxes to friends and relatives left behind in Europe at the end of WW-II. Hence began the noble tradition of sending care packages which have now become a tradition in the US Military.
Isn’t packaged food unhealthy?
Wait a minute! Isn’t packaged food unhealthy too? With health warnings everywhere to avoid processed and packaged food, this is a valid question.
By packaged food I mean the stuff you get at your normal supermarket that is mostly packed in vacuum-sealed plastic bags or tins. Before we say that this type of food is the root-of-all-evil in foods we must examine some facts. The main limitations you MUST consider before sending food items in a care package include:
- What items you are allowed to send in a care package. These shipping restrictions vary with each country so it’s important to have a look.
- Time to reach the soldier.
- Perishability (the ability for food to remain eatable for a long duration of time).
When you take these points into consideration, all fresh produce is out of the equation and packaged food remains the only reasonable option. Now as the cat’s out of the bag, let’s see some options.
What are your options?
While fresh organic produce is the best way to go, you need to know that all packaged food is not evil! There still are ways for you to select healthy snacks and yummy treats without hurting your soldier’s health. Just follow the tips below and you should be just fine.
Start reading the labels.
Nutrition label reading is a habit that everyone should adopt while grocery shopping. This table on the back of your product contains a plethora of information (Read a quick guide here if you don’t know how to understand a nutrition label). It’s best if you know what your soldier’s requirements are; losing weight (fewer calories), gaining muscle (more protein), etc. It makes one hell of a difference. Few things to avoid are:
- BPA (Bisphenol A) Packaging. Its a chemical contained in most plastic packing. They are known to cause a variety of health-related issues. Always choose BPA free packaging.
- Artificial Food Dyes. These are used in bringing color to the food and are linked to causing cancer, allergies and more.
- Preservatives. The ones including sulphites, nitrites, sodium benzoate, BHA and BHT should be avoided.
- Trans Fats/Hydrogenated Oils. The unique chemical composition of these oils is believed to cause heart disease.
- Refined Sugar and Artificial Sweeteners. These are linked to obesity, hormonal imbalance and various diseases like diabetes and heart disease. Sugar is often masked with names like sucrose, glucose, fructose, corn syrup, maltodextrin and more.
- MSG. It’s a flavor enhancer used in packaged foods which may cause liver damage, reproductive issues and more.
What to look for when selecting healthy products
Don’t worry, despite removing products containing these harmful substances, there are still plenty of options for your care package. Keep a lookout for the following and you can make a good selection:
- Simple ingredients. If you see a product with fewer ingredients this usually means that this eatable has lower additives or other harmful elements.
- Non-GMO. The absence of Genetically Modified ingredients is a good thing. Now a day’s crops and plants have been artificially modified with chemicals and questionable practices that have been known to be harmful to human health.
- Wild produce. Canned meat usually has the options for either farmed or wild. Go for wild due to more natural goodness in the food.
- Whole ingredients. Your first choice should be those food items that have whole ingredients like nuts, raisins, dried fruits, etc. On the other side, there are also foods that use processed powders of these ingredients. Sticking with whole natural ingredients is your best bet in this case.
- Low Sodium. Salt is often used as a flavor enhancer and preservative in packaged foods. These both in modest quantities are not harmful but when their intake gets high, your body pays the price.
- Organic. Organic produce is the best there is. The wholesome nutrients within are present and not destroyed by excessive processing, which only takes care of the flavor. It’s free of pesticides, GMOs and other additives. Also, this supports sustainable farming methods which are good for the environment. Go for it!
Products for healthy care packages for soldiers
Healthy snacks and goodies should have all the good stuff including vitamins, protein, fiber and much more. I have scoured all over and having while applying the limitations we saw above, found some healthy snacks which will add to the health of your soldier.
Nuts and Seeds
Ideal natural protein loaded with all types of healthy fats, fiber, vitamins and much more
? – Most have an almost indefinite shelf life, so your soldier can store them for a very long time.
? – A great addition for outdoor snacking.
? – Look for unsalted, raw and natural/ organic versions.
? – Beware of pre-processed options like roasted, salted or sweet ones. They may contain unhealthy oils and preservatives.
A perfect alternative to fresh fruit and packed with all good nutrients like antioxidants, vitamins, and much more.
? – Relatively inexpensive
? – A great addition to soldier’s MREs by acting as a natural sweetener.
? – Look for single fruit packing and those sweetened with natural ingredients only like an apple sauce.
? – Beware of those which contain Sulphites, flour, canola and/or sunflower oil to avoid fruits sticking together and discoloration. Also, be on the lookout for added sugars.
The best anti-inflammatory, omega 3-rich options in fish are Salmon, herring, and Sardines.
? – Relatively inexpensive
? – A great addition to soldier’s MREs.
? – Look for fish packed in olive oil or water.
? – Beware of high mercury content in canned fish, so don’t overload.
Trail mix is often a mixture of dried fruit, nuts, seeds, chocolate. These are packed with all known nutrients and are a perfect dry snack.
? – Virtually limitless eating options; mix with cereal, salad or munch on it alone.
? – Look for organic options that are raw, and unsalted only.
? – Beware of hydrogenated oils, added sugars, suplhites, corn syrup, and artificial colors. keep a lookout for peanuts if your soldier has an allergy.
While on deployment, a consistent source of protein, fiber, and healthy fats is necessary to keep up the energy levels.
? – Relatively inexpensive. Long shelf life.
? – Adds flavor and nutrition both to your soldier’s MREs.
? – Look for BPA free packing and ones with low sodium levels.
? – Beware of refined or processed options that contain unhealthy oils, preservatives, and sugars.
Crackers are the perfect snack and wholegrain ones are loaded with good nutrients. Perfect as an outdoor snack and for when your soldier craves for something crunchy.
? – Look for low sodium levels in the nutrition label. Multigrain crackers are also a good option as more of these will increase the nutrition level of the snack.
? – Beware of ones that contain hydrogenated oils, corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners.
Soups can give your soldier a break from the same-old food routine. Containing nutritious vegetables can become a yummy as well as a healthy alternative which will keep your soldier happy.
? – Perfectly complements your soldier’s MREs.
? – Look for low sodium levels and BPA free packing. Also, read the nutrition label carefully and see if it has natural elements only.
? – Beware of ones with artificial flavorings, corn syrup, MSG and modified food starches.
Healthy alternatives to soldier’s favorite snacks
Let’s be honest for a moment. Your soldier is toiling away in some foreign land or sea with tough routine day in and out, so maybe he needs a little break. Once in a while, it’s Ok to munch on some comfort food and remember the good times back home. Not leaving your soldier’s health to chance, here are some healthy alternatives to the most soldier friendly snacks out there.
Recommended – Rickaroons
- Made from healthy, organic ingredients.
- They are vegan, gluten-free, Paleo-friendly. Coconut palm nectar is used as a sweetener.
- Available in a variety of flavors like Megaroon, Chocolate Blonde, Mint To Be, Mocha, and seasonal varieties.
Avoid – Nabisco Chips Ahoy Original Chocolate Chip
- 11 grams of sugar per serving coupled with high fructose corn syrup can increase body weight and body fat.
- They also contain unhealthy oils like partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil and soybean oil, which are worse than sugar.
- ‘Artificial flavor’ label hides questionable contents under its murky name
Recommended – Laura’s Lean Beef Organic Grass-Fed Jerky
- Made with organic, grass-fed beef.
- No nitrates or harmful preservatives present.
- 11 grams of protein in each 1-ounce serving is a healthy amount.
Avoid – Matador Original Beef Jerky
- They increased the amount of sodium by 40 mg, decreased the protein count by 2 grams and added an extra gram of sugar.
- Uses harmful MSG for flavor enhancement.
- It contains purified nitrites that form cancer-causing chemicals called nitrosamines.
Recommended – Baked Ruffles Cheddar and Sour Cream Potato Chips
- Baked not fried or processed.
- This saves a lot of calories and fat, especially when compared with normal potato chips.
Avoid – Fritos Corn Chips, Chili Cheese
- A massive 10 grams of fat and 270 mg of sodium loaded in one serving of these chips. Guaranteed to add inches to anyone’s tummy.
- It contains caramel coloring found in soft drinks. It is a possible carcinogen in humans, as found by a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study
Recommended – Health Warrior Superfood Protein Dark Chocolate and Coconut Sea Salt Bar
- Chia seeds are the main Superfood in this bar. It is a great source of protein. Omega 3 is an added bonus from this ingredient.
- It contains clean, whole-food, plant-based ingredients that are totally organic.
- It boasts 10 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber.
Avoid – Gatorade Prime Fuel Sports Energy Bar, Chocolate Chip
- It has an astounding 29 grams of sugar which clearly is not a healthy way to get energy as advertising by this bar.
- Containing a massive 350 calories, this thing is heavier than McDonalds French Fries.
Water drink enhancer
Recommended – Stur Liquid Water Enhancer
- It doesn’t contain most of the dangerous chemicals as seen in other flavor enhancers, but it does contain Stevia.
- Although there are mixed opinions about this ingredient, however, it is declared safe and is calorie less, so go figure.
Avoid – MiO Liquid Water Enhancer
- Although very popular, this drink contains propylene glycol, which is a thickening agent, stabilizer and preservative.
- Also, this chemical is used to make polyester resins and is present in electronic cigarettes.
How to box the care package
Now that we’ve got plenty of options on the table, let’s get packing. While this is an extensive topic by itself, if you take care of the following tips, you should be Ok:
- Consider where your soldier is deployed. Send them what they need only. The package itself has limited storage space and so does your soldier. If you don’t want to ask, then get intuitive and find what your soldier is missing from home and select its healthier version.
- Do not spend too much effort on the beautification of the box. It usually gets thrown away. As much as your soldier would love to hang on to your effort, they really can’t keep it forever. A few artsy touches are fine but going full Picasso is not smart.
- Pack carefully and methodically. You will be surprised how much you can fit into this care package if you compress and carefully structure your goodies.
- No perishables or prohibited items. This is must follow or otherwise you risk getting your care package confiscated and seeing that much effort wasted would be a shame. Also, anything with chocolate is not recommended as it melts and causes a mess.
- Pack with the mindset that these boxes often get tossed around. The overall package should strong enough to handle some bashing.
Know this; health is something we’ve all taken for granted for far too long. It’s the small things that count. In the end, a care package for a soldier is all about how much you “care” about them. Their health is therefore at the top of this list. Don’t be swayed by seeing others pack junk food as today’s healthy choice will benefit your soldier in the long run.