Help a Spouse: Care Package Ideas

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Care packages are one of the most fun yet frustrating things to put together. We all want to send them, we all get excited about cramming them with reminders of home –but about two months into deployment the idea well starts to run dry and the whole thing becomes kind of a chore.  What’s a person to do?

I can’t help but think I could’ve been slightly more creative with care package contents during our last deployment. My poor husband received more sticks of deodorant than he could possibly have used. I figured, hey, it’s really hot there in the ‘Stan – surely one can never have enough deodorant. I was wrong. As it turned out, simply cramming each box with nice smelling America goodness just didn’t cut it after awhile. I needed ideas and I had none.

Fortunately SpouseBUZZ is a never ending wealth of wonderful folks who love to share ideas about this kind of thing.  So — what is your number one favorite, creative thing to include in a care package? What things have you included that seemed like a good idea to start with but were in the end not? Share!

About the Author

Amy Bushatz
Amy is the editor in chief of’s spouse and family blog A journalist by trade, Amy also covers spouse and family news for where she is the managing editor of spouse and family content. An Army wife and mother of two, Amy has been featured as a subject matter expert on, NPR, Fox News, NBC, CBS, ABC and BBC as well as in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. Follow her on twitter @amybushatz.
  • Amy

    I’ll get us started. The only creative thing I was able to consistently come up with was a scrap notebook of journaling and photos that I would send once a month. I would feverishly journal in it daily and print and paste photos off the computer of our rapidly changing infant. Often what I wrote was no more interesting than “…and today I ate…” I called the book my “Love Letters” and I know how much he treasured them.

    As for a glaring care package mistake: I thought it would be nice if I sent him the fixings for tuna salad. I included a plastic jar of miracle whip, some tuna packages (even though I knew he could get those there) and a regrettably glass jar of relish. Can you guess how this turned out? He said he had never seen a package SO smashed … and the smell of spoiled miracle whip (which exploded out of the container) and spoiled relish (the jar broke) combined was not wonderful. Care package FAIL.

    • Love, love, love the journal idea! How wonderful. Lol great story about the relish and Miracle Whip! Great idea though!

    • Leti

      I sent my husband a big glass bottle of frank’s hot sauce… I can definitely imagine how you felt.. it’s been a month since i sent him the package and he says the granola bar wrappers STILL smell like hot sauce

  • Petra

    I have a hard time to keep up the fun with packages, but I like the scrap notebook idea, I did something similar, but would send letters that would span a few days (I added as the days went by) which the second time around turned into email attachments. Someone once declared that the poor guys n gals over there have a toilet paper shortage and that we should send TP to them. Hubby laughed when I told him about that one, but from then on it became a running joke that each of his packages contained a roll of TP (which also helped securing things in place at times when I didn’t have a lot to send…)

    The other thing he always looked forward to was the picture strip of me and our daughter the second time around. I’d go to the mall photo booth regularly and send him the pics…

  • christinam03

    My husbands friend is in Iraq right now and I always send him freshly baked cookies, brownies, or banana bread. When I finally got to ask him what he wanted, he said twinkies and beef jerkey :o) Apparently the other soldiers were begging him for some Twinkies when they arrived. Crazy boys!

    Another thing that I sent once was a box of toys. Uno cards, regular cards, a rubix cube, and some Monopoly cards. My husband wanted me to send a board game, but obviously that wasn’t going to fit in the post office box. That’s why I went with the Monopoly cards. I think I may have sent him some dominoes also, but I can’t remember.

    • My hubby also would clue me in on things that others were craving or missing so I enjoyed including those things as well! The Vanilla flavored Oreos were one of the things that for some reason they missed so much. The other day I bought some and hubby said to me that he ate so many during his deployment he has a hard time wanting them now….haha.

  • What a great conversation to have. While my husband was deployed he would often give me ideas about things that he needed. Coffee and canned food (Chef Boyardee, Soup) were two things he often requested. I liked to send candy. Holiday themed candy was really fun. Christmas, Easter, Valentines Day. One fun thing that we did was have several friends send Pancake Mix, Syrup and Orange flavored drinks. Often on Saturday mornings they would get together and cook a breakfast before staff meetings. Magazines from home that could be read and passed along. My favorite Care Package came right before The Superbowl. They got permission to wear their favorite team jerseys but just for the game. He was stationed at Kandahar. Also, as far as the toiletries go. I would wait for him to ask before I sent them. Many generous people are still sending care packages to be given out to our troops so he was really never in short supply.

    • Dana

      I think those are all great ideas and things I hadn’t thought of before!

  • DiAnne

    Two months BEFORE deployment I subscribe to 5 different magazines…Fortune, Field & Stream, one that female soldiers would like, and a couple of others…TIME, Rolling Stone, whatever. Then the other favorite thing for the soldiers would be the canned nuts (cashews, mixed, honey roasted, etc). Candy bars (if it isn’t too hot), GUM, comic books (for SURE), jerky, peanuts w/shell on (just plain fun to eat). A new, clean pillowcase was a treat, toothbrush, floss, razors and razor blades, hard candies.
    Those are just some things I remember doing. I sent a box every 10-15 days. They really do appreciate all the love and thought that goes into a survival box. : ) Enjoy the fun!

  • I am a new army wife…luckily my husband has yet to deploy (again, he was in Iraq for 15 months before I met him) so I have not had to make a care package yet….although I did make him walk around a couple of bookstores so that I would have an idea of what kind of reading material he liked…my husband also asked that i send him video games for his PSP and DSi, as well as digital versions of movies, shows and music for his laptop as well (I would recomend asking your husband/sweetheart what kind of digital media is allowable, my husband said that things like thumb drives were not allowed in his unit but re-writable dvd/cds were)…I do remember my mother sending care packages to my father though when he was in Irag years ago…she included things like a small BBQ grill, a small pup tent, bug spray (guess the fly’s are horrendous over there) cards, dominos, and of course snacks, pictures and letters from all of us…my father still has a shoe box with all the letters, pictures, and school work we sent him.

  • I’m right there with you. I carefully shopped for weeks for the items for his first care package. Now it’s the same old same old (including the deodorant). Some things, though, are classics. I can never send enough books (my husband and I are both readers). I go to the used book store and buy inexpensive novels and history books and whatever else looks interesting. I send him the medical journals and other publications he gets in the mail, art work from the kids, the latest issue of “Car and Driver.” He likes healthy snacks from Trader Joe’s, like nuts and dried fruit, as well as coffee beans. I’ve sent him new sheets, a small fan, and underwear. I bought cheap make-your-own-travel-mugs at Michael’s and let the kids decorate them for dad. I also made (and here I will betray my age) a “mix tape,” which was actually a CD, with songs from our wedding and other meaningful music. I also made him a photo book from Shutterfly. But all these things I’ve done, and we have months to go, and I’m completely out of ideas.

    • jon

      the regular freezer pops that you buy thawed out are always in high demand from my friends, make sure you put them in a gallon ziplock freezer bag or two so the make it safely :)

  • Petra

    The most interesting thing I sent was an electric kettle and packages of hot chocolate and cider, especially when winter came around and they had night flights…he ended up leaving it there for the next crew, because he and his buddies loved that they didn’t have to try to brew things with the coffeemaker. Only cost $10 at Walmart and kept him happy…

  • Emily

    Our spouses group sends holiday boxes, with candy and decorations ((Mini stockings and candy canes for christmas, plastic pumpkins and candy for halloween, stationary and supplies to send home Valentines, etc.)) It doesn’t have to be much, just enough to let them know we are thinking of them.

    Some other ideas are themed boxes, such as:

    football theme (nerf footballs, jerky, a team flag or poster))
    movie night ((DVDs, Popcorn, hot cocoa mix))
    beach fun ((sand toys, beach balls, fruity drink mixes, canned fruit cocktail, leis, etc))
    Settling in ((Room deodorizer, small mini album of photos, house slippers/socks, favorite magazine, favorite drink mixes/spices/snacks))

    Beef Jerky is the most requested item from what I’ve experienced. When sending snacks, I always try to send extra, because I know that when a package arrives, the recipient usually takes out the best and personal stuff, then shares the rest with the other guys and girls around. Neck coolers that you just soak in water are really popular as well.

  • Manda

    The one thing that my husband gets is a hand written letter every day that he is gone. I had a friend tell me years ago when we started the deployments to do it. She hadn’t thought I would take her seriously and I did. I don’t know what my husband would do if he ever went an entire deployment without getting a large stack of letters. I would put in his boxes Lamisil, boot inserts, new socks (always new socks), I sent a few board games just had to get creative with the packaging. I always told neighbors and friends when they got an usual shaped box to please save it and I would use it. It’s amazing how many things I was able to use those for. One ‘bed’ box as I call it had a new pillow, sheets, cushion for his bed, pillowcase that I had ironed on our faces and he basically flipped the pillow over for inspections. Hard candy is my number one cushion. And to encourage my husband (never worked) I would send stamps, envelopes and paper.

  • KKArmyWife

    When my husband was deployed, I bought a day calendar that had quotes from his favorite TV show and in the spaces on each day, I would write him little notes of encouragement, reminders on what we would be doing next year when he is home, and also how much I loved and missed him.

    He ended up holding on to a lot of the ones that kept him going on hard days. This was his favorite care package gift and swears that it kept his spirits up!

    • Michelle

      I did this for my son when he went to basic. I included names, phone numbers and birthdays to important dates. I included important dates of halfway, when he was suppose to graduate and encouraging saying for every month. He told me it was the one thing that was extra special to him as he had no contact. Now he is graduated from AIT and told he is going to be deployed. i plan on making a day planner for him again to include before he leaves.

  • Beth

    I sent a package full of toys from the dollar store like squirt guns, those balls that you can soak in water, etc… Unfortunately DH didn’t have an opportunity to play with them! I told him to give them to someone who went off post and saw children
    You can make cakes in a jar. Those are always fun. Angel food cake also travels well.
    I made a Windows Movie Maker movie full of pictures from the time we met until present and put backgrounds of our favorite songs to it. He really liked that. I also included a section on it of things he had missed while he was gone (just pictures of events and such). It was a big undertaking but it was totally worth it. I also had a girlfriend come over and take pics of me in lingerie and put them on a CD and sent them to him. Nothing too crazy though…
    During Winter I was able to find a kids toy in the science section that made snow. He got a kick out of that. Lots of friends would send golfing stuff with grass seed and potting soil or sod.
    Search the internet for ideas. There are TONS of sites out there with neat ideas for care packages especially if you have children

  • IAgal

    My husband likes to read the local newspaper, so one thing I did during deployment was to “pre-read” the paper, circling interesting items and writing comments in the margins. It kept him up on local news, and almost made it feel like we were discussing the week’s events.

    Another favorite of ours was an Advent “calendar” filled with small toys and candies we collected for him in the preceding months. It was tough for him to be away from the family during the holiday season, and opening a small gift each day gave him something to look forward to, and something for us to discuss during his phone calls.

    One thing I learned quickly not to send were toothbrushes and toothpaste. Apparently so many care packages contained those, that he received several years’ worth in just the first few months.

  • I love to decorate the inside of the box and do theme boxes. My hubby loves them and is always wondering what will be next! Wrapping paper is an awesome start just cover the inside of the box with it. For example Halloween I did a trick or treat box, covered the box then filled with his favorite goodies, but on top I used fake cobwebs and spiders to decorate so when he opened it they folded out and he got a cobweb to go through to get to his candy.

  • Mullins

    Ive never sent a care package but I received quite a few. I know my wife liked to send me things the kids had done or pictures and knick knacks. I enjoyed them but I didnt have the space to store them normally and I didnt want to thow them out because of who they were from. The things I liked to receive were American Magazines (ie FHM, Maxim, Mens Health… nothing dirty), food… well junk food: oatmeal pies, beef jerky stix not the jack links stuff because its readily available, and ramen noodles. The one thing that I was really excited to get were the powdered hawaiin punch things. At some point you get tired of drinking nothing but water and need a little flavor. I also went through a lot of socks and never could get the kind I wanted over there. Just a few suggestions.

  • nraddin

    Toys… I send lots of toys to my friends. From RC cars to boxes of plastic army men, to dice and cards. Every package always has toys.

  • Ken

    Here’s a comment from a guy who spent two years in Vietnam. The things we all loved most of all were basic: Letters, letters, letters, no matter how mundane. And my wife and I would send a cassette tape back and forth so we could hear each other’s voices. Sunglasses were welcome, as were photos. At Christmas, she had her and my family write a letter, with portions by each member. It was about 15 pages and was a great “cheerer-upper” for someone stuck thousands of miles away.

  • Beth

    I thought of another thing that I sent…. Crackers, cheese and sausage packages. My husband LOVED those. He couldn’t get enough of it and it traveled really really well

  • Norman

    I am retired out of the Guard, and I live in a college town. If I am sending anything to soldiers who are from this area, I go to the sport’s pr office for the local university. They always have promotional schedules and posters. Once they hear what it is for, they throw in lots of other promotional gear. I am usually leaving the offices loaded down. This gives the guys some flavor of home, and always seems to go over well.

    Also, here is a word to the wise from someone who got to spend a year in Iraq. Do not send Pringles or other stackable chips. By the time they get overseas, you have a tube of crumbs. Chocolate during the hot months is not a good idea either. My cousin had been asking me what she could send. I asked her for a spill proof coffee mug. To be nice, she filled it with chocolate pieces and I got it in July. I was drinking mocha for a few weeks. ;o)

    • Margaret

      I should have read this forum before I sent items. Definitely sent Pringles…used bubble wrap though. I even wrote: “I thought these might make it without crumbling.” I guess I was wrong. Ha ha. Hopefully, it will make him laugh.

  • Martha

    When my husband was on cruises, it wasn’t always certain how soon then next mail shipment would make it to him. To prepare for such things, I made up a series of little cards with cartoons I had drawn. Each card was placed into its own envelope, so each day he could open one, and be reminded that I cared.

    Packages included odds and ends that caught my eye when shopping. If I thought “Oh look, that is (cute, neat, funny, or whatever) that I wish I could share it with my husband!” and the item wasn’t going to break my budget… into my cart, and later into the care package, it went.

  • Since my husband usually got sent to Iraq, I knew that most things melted. He told me that one of his soldiers got a huge bag of gummy bears sent to them, and they were all melted into one giant gummy mess. Since I knew that I try to avoid anything that will melt. The exception to this rule was homemade fudge. I had to do like two vacuum sealed bags just to make sure it didn’t go everywhere. When the fudge got to him he put it under the airconditioner in his shelter, and re-solidified it.

    I have sent my hubby a large bag of drink mix in mango flavor and Horchata. I have also sent lemonade, gatorade, and hawaiin drink mixes. Anything that breaks up the monotony.

    I love World Market when I am trying to fill a box. I can get mini sausages and snacks. For Christmas I sent him a Christmas mug and plate and enclosed a cheap stocking. For valentines day one year I made him brownies in a heart shaped throw-away foil pan. I also enclosed valentines candy that he liked, and I used conversation hearts to fill in the gaps.

  • My husband went into his last deployment a squad leader and came out a platoon sergeant, so I found myself sending for between 8 and 30 guys! The thing that seemed to get the best response was slightly undercooked brownies (so they weren’t dry when they got there) and Yoo-hoo drink boxes. The flat rate Mil-Pak boxes from the post office worked great b/c the Yoo-Hoos fit perfectly, and I put Ziploc bags of the brownies on top. . . enough for each soldier to get their own bag. Sometimes I would mix it up with the store bought snack cakes, choc-chip cookies, etc. DH also appreciated the 5-hr energy shots. He said they worked better than the energy drinks that were available.
    Several people have already mentioned the drink mix pouches, like Gatorade, power-ade, crystal lite, etc; hard candy; Dollar Store toys, and holiday gifts. New socks were always appreciated, too. Definitely agree that after a few months it can be difficult to come up with new ideas! LoL

  • Cyd

    Our support groups has been doing packages for years and we always try to include a personal card/letter or picture (usually done from local schools, churches, etc.) and always something patriotic; small flags, stickers, magnets, buttons, posters, etc.

  • sarah

    i always include some kind of card (hoops and yo yo are 2 of our favorite hallmark characters) and something homemade, typically dried fruit and/or jerky and/or some of his favorite muffins (cinnamon sugar, they basically tasted like snickerdoodles in muffin form). i try to space them out so one package has muffins and the next has some of the dried fruit/jerky. i also did a fun photo shoot (with lone star pin-up) and have been sending him one picture every 2 weeks or so up until we get to meet for his R&R. i’ve been trying to keep up on his magazine subscriptions as well and sending those whenever they come in the mail. i think the biggest things that he likes though are the homemade things and the fun cards. =o]

  • Kristi

    I did this for my hubby for Valentines day but you could also do it for any romantic event! I printed pictures of a nice dinner for 2, a bath tub full of bubbles, and a romantic bed all the traditional and iconic romance night! I then picked up some mac and cheese, bar of soap, and a cheep blanket and covered the wrappings with the photos I took so it was his version of the romantic night we should have had together! I also included the fake flicker candles and a bunch of rose petals so when he opened the box everything just poured out! He ended up keeping the blanket and brought it back home with him.

  • To all you lovely ladies keeping the home fires hiring, may God pour his spirit upon you, your children, your home and send Angels to stand guard around each soldier. Allowing his peace to flow from every part of each person.

  • This greatest thing we sent were toys. Yo-yo were a hit, as was the remote control car. Large bins of popcorn from Popcorn factory were loved by all, as well as Girl Scout Cookies, even if they were melted and deformed, a little time on top of the A/C they were edible. Photos of the girls as well as movies of activities were e-mailed, not the tractional route for a care package but he treasured seeing the girls having fun and smiling. And it gave him things to talk to them about when he was able to Skype. This base had terrible food so snacks he loves were a huge it. And he enjoyed having his magazines for a distraction as well.

  • I will be watching this closely. I need ideas

  • LShep

    While I was active duty in the Air Force I was the wingman for two of my Airman who deployed at the same time. One was a single parent and her son went to stay with her Mom, well to make a long story short I would not only send a care package to the deployed Airman but one also to her son every two weeks. Before she left I had her write notes to her son on cards, coloring books ects I would mail these items plus other dollar store items to him. I didn’t want her to worry about him since this was her first deployment.
    One of the items that I sent to her was a 2 boxes of greeting cards and I included, stamps, Address labels return for her and print ones for each of her family memers so she wouldn’t have to write these out. I also sent her 3 boxes of X-mas cards. She sent some of these to her friends and family and gave some to the troops in country.

  • Mindy Walker

    My husband is an SEC football fanatic, as am I. Since his deployment fell during college football season, I got in touch with the University Television Center of our alma mater, Mississippi State, and asked if there were any way to get copies of each game the team played. The coordinator graciously agreed, so the week after each game I shipped my hubby a care package full of football/MSU goodies along with the DVD of that week’s game. One might include the newspaper article about the game and a bag of parched peanuts, another had a team pennant and t-shirt, and others had ticket stubs or pictures of me and his family at the game (we are season ticket holders) holding up signs that said, “Wish you were here.” All of his buddies got the opportunity to watch a game in its “ESPN entirety” as well. It was just one small way to curb his homesickness. He LOVED it! :-)

    • Sonya Forrest

      I just contacted GT to see if they had anything they could send me to send to my sailor!! Thanks for the idea!!! Fingers crossed!!!

  • Tara

    I have sent most of the things listed above (great ideas, by the way!) but I have a question. I am going to find out the gender of our third child in a few weeks and would love any fun ideas to share the news with my husband, who is recently deployed. My initial thought was to decorate the inside of the box either pink or blue accordingly and then fill it with pink or blue things. However, this is not really an easy task, coming up with a long list of blue or pink items! Does anyone have any ideas for this, or another cute idea? THANKS!

  • milwife2

    Coffee, Kool-Aid (the just add water kind), vidoes of the kids – nothing special, just playing on the floor, or crying, or putting together puzzles. : ) Any kind of chips. S’mores Goldfish. DVDs of his favorite movies – he likes the old black and white kind. Woodworking magazines. Phone card (hint, hint) Vitamin C, cold medicine, aspirin, etc. They can get these from medical, but mine won’t take the time to get an appointment unless he’s dying. A lamp with an incandescent bulb; on the boats they only have florescent lighting, and everyone envies his lamp. Wasabi peanuts. Any kind of nuts, actually. Instant oatmeal.

  • mrc

    I’m new at the whole care package deal, I just sent my very first one which was “Operation: Christmas in a Box.” My fiance just arrived in “stan” where he will be for 7 months. It had all kinds of little goodies, from home made cookies to a mini felt x-mas tree with home meade ornaments to hang on it. I included “royal pine” car air fresheners because he likes them, and then he can smell the tree! :) I also sent one of those wire head massagers, i threw in some hand warmers, a rubix cube, candy…..a bunch of random things I figured he would use or just treasure. and I wrapped EVERYTHING! to make it more fun to open, and then in every present I hid little love notes and smiley faces to make him smile. I even got super cheesy and kissed a note with lipstick on…so he could have my x-mas, new years, and valentine’s kisses! I also made a calendar for the months he’ll be gone, and sent him pens to count down the days with me.

    I think the more personal you make everything, no matter how cheesy or cheap, they will love. Being so far from home, I would LOVE the ancouragement of a few handwritten notes and an inside joke or two.

  • mary

    yes the vacuum sealed food works great. I have sent my husband home made cakes, deer jerky, deer snack sticks, I never sent vegetables, but some stuff keeps just fine in the vacuum bags. They also make the jars for the vacuum sealers, don’t know how long they will keep. anyone interested could check them out at the store. But if you pack them well you can send home made jarred or canned stuff. I did send my husband some relishes and stuff we canned at home and no problem. I packed the jars well with bubble wrap. For the bacon lovers, they do make precooked bacon that is sold right off the shelf, not refrigerated so you don’t have to worry about it spoiling, and it’s not bad (I tried it from Family Dollar).

    • Linda

      I’m surprised at the bacon remark. I thought we weren’t allowed to send pork. That would be great.

  • mary

    I also sent my husband christmas trees when he was away. since they don’t usually have alot of space, a small tree worked best for us. I just got a small tree and decorated it myself. I did not send lights, but you can use them if you like, they sell small strands like 35 – 50 light sets that would work on a small tree, or the one with the battery sounded great too._the rice cooker should not be a problem, I sent a coffee maker once. I took it out of the box and packed other things in and around it to save space._