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Published December 10, 2010, 12:00 AM

Prairie Fare: Food a great gift, but take care with packages

The other day at the grocery store, I bumped into someone I know. She had a cartful of groceries and was preparing to send food gifts to family members living in another country. I’m sure when they pick up the box of goodies from the Postal Service, they will be very grateful.

By: Julie Garden-Robinson, INFORUM

The other day at the grocery store, I bumped into someone I know. She had a cartful of groceries and was preparing to send food gifts to family members living in another country. I’m sure when they pick up the box of goodies from the Postal Service, they will be very grateful.

Maybe you have a friend or family member serving in the armed forces or Peace Corps. You may know someone pursuing an education overseas. Closer to home, perhaps a relative of yours lives in a distant state and cannot make it home for the holidays.

A gift package filled with favorite foods can conjure up fond memories of home when you cannot be together during the holiday season.

Besides deciding on the treats to send, keep postal regulations, safety and quality in mind. When shipping a package out of the country, check on postal restrictions related to allowable items, and size and weight of packages.

For example, perishable items, such as meat and soft cheeses, must be kept at 40 degrees or lower, so they aren’t good choices for a long trip. In the U.S., dry ice can be used for the overnight delivery of highly perishable items. You’ll need to decide if the expense is worth it, and you’ll want to be sure the recipient knows the arrival time of the perishable items.

Consider moisture content of the foods when deciding what to mail. Moist carrot bread or pumpkin bread may become moldy during shipment.

Quality can be an issue if you’re thinking about sending your favorite delicate holiday cookies. Cookies can become crumbs without some special precautions.

To keep cookies from crumbling, pack them back to back and wrap with plastic wrap. Put the wrapped pairs between two plastic foam plates and tape the plates together. Finally, surround the items with bubble wrap, foam or newspaper and pack in a sturdy box.

These are some ideas for foods that travel well:

  • Beef jerky or other dried meat. Exclude foods that are forbidden by the country’s religious restrictions, such as pork in Muslim countries.
  • Dehydrated soup and drink mixes.
  • Condiments in single-serve packets.
  • Canned items, such as corned beef, cracker spreads or dips.
  • Dense, dry baked goods, such as biscotti, prepackaged cakes and cookies in airtight tins, and dry cookies, such as ginger snaps.
  • Dried fruits, such as raisins and apricots, canned nuts and fruit or trail mix.
  • Hard candies. Avoid sending candy, such as fudge, that may melt during the trip.

Think about nonfood gifts, too, such as a favorite soap, toothpaste, plush blanket, lip balm or other personal products that might not be readily available. Slip in some stationery, stamps, books, crossword puzzle books or magazines. Do not include hand sanitizers or aerosol cans.

Be sure to pack items in a cardboard box designed for shipping. Use packing material to protect the inner containers and professional packing tape. Print the address clearly on the package, and double-check the address.

The website www.adoptaplatoon.org provides gift ideas for deployed troops and their families. You can learn more about shipping packages by visiting the U.S. Postal Service website at www.usps.com or United Parcel Service at www.ups.com.

Here’s a homemade mix recipe for those with access to kitchen facilities and a couple of other ingredients. Pack the mix in a plastic container or sealed bag.

If you are not shipping the soup mix, you can layer the ingredients in a glass jar and decorate the lid with fabric.


Friendship Soup Mix

½ cup dry split peas

2 Tbsp. beef bouillon granules

¼ cup pearl barley

½ cup dry lentils

¼ cup dry, minced onions

2 tsp. Italian seasoning

½ cup rice

½ cup macaroni noodles

In a clean, quart-sized jar (or a plastic container), layer all the ingredients except the macaroni. Place the macaroni in a sandwich bag and place it on top of the other ingredients. Cover tightly with a lid, decorate it (if desired) and attach a copy of the recipe card with this information:

To make Friendship Soup, you will need these additional ingredients: 1 lb. lean ground beef or turkey, 3 qt. water and 1 (28-oz.) can diced tomatoes.

Brown meat and drain. Place in a large pot and add the water and tomatoes. Add the soup mix except the macaroni. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for one hour. Add macaroni and continue cooking for 10 to 15 minutes (until macaroni is done). For best flavor, use this mix within one year.

Makes 12 servings. Each serving has 150 calories, 4 grams (g) of fat, 12 g of carbohydrate and 390 milligrams of sodium.


Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.

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