Since it was requested that I share what we’ve done in the past when sending mishloach manos on Purim, here you go!
First of all, I don’t do themes. I don’t write cute, funny, or inspired poetry. I just try to send something that fulfills the mitzva, that people will appreciate getting. What I’ve enjoyed receiving the most are practical and useable foods, so that’s what I try to send. I know most people send a lot of treat foods, so I feel that by sending something a bit different, it offers a balance. Of course cakes are always nice, but Purim is a very busy day, and it’s nice to receive something early on that you could sit down and eat right away if you wanted. At the end of Purim, there are so many cakes, cookies, and candies around that something that is more substantial always seems to be appreciated. When I’ve sent store bought foods, I’ve also tried to keep it practical.
Here are some things I remember sending: challah with vegetable soup; chicken soup with matza balls; challah with homemade marmalade; canned salmon and small bottle of grape juice; box of crackers and butter; box of tacos, can of beans, bottle of taco sauce; chocolate cake or banana bread with a fruit/juice. We often add in smaller items, like a small bag of hamataschen, nuts, or something similar, but that’s not the main thing. Sometimes I’ve chosen not to send homemade foods, because some people aren’t comfortable receiving them, and since most homemade goods end up piled together, some people will throw away all the homemade foods they receive at the end of the day. That’s not where I want what I send to end up.
Something that I’ve had to remember is people who only eat chalav yisroel or yoshon. The yoshon aspect limits home baked goods to them, and I don’t know everyone’s personal standards when it comes to this. It’s not a great feeling to give someone something, and have them hand back the items they can’t or won’t use! Fortunately, I can only think of two people over the years that we’ve given to who this has been an issue for. If I’m sending something dairy, like last year (butter), I make alternative packages for those who I think keep chalav yisroel.
I keep the expenses for each one to a maximum of $2, which I think is very reasonable, considering that to add your name to a Purim card and joint mishloach manos costs $3 around here. That includes the packaging costs. Obviously what I send depends on what I can buy or make for that price.
As far as packaging, I’m always a little torn between it looking nicer and keeping it simple. My kids recently informed me that they were embarrassed that last year it didn’t look so nice – we gave a large box of whole wheat crackers, with a 8 oz. rectangular bar of butter taped on, wrapped all around with ribbons. I thought using cellophane would be too much but the kids thought it looked too simple. (In the same conversation, they also said they were uncomfortable because their personal m.m. looked too nice last year. Yes, I was rolling my eyes. :)) My challenge isn’t the cost, but is balancing wanting to send something to someone that they’ll enjoy and feel good about, but not sending something that could leave someone feeling inadequate that what they’re giving you is too little. (This is why yesterday I chose not to buy Pesach cake mixes to send to people, even though they were inexpensive.) Purim should be a day of good feeling and not competition.
We usually buy inexpensive baskets, and wrap everything up in cellophane. I generally pay 25 cents for each basket (I’ve bought them the last few years at a nut store that sells their overstock from their x-mas gift baskets), and have used sturdy plastic bowls or plates when I didn’t get the baskets. I buy a large roll of cellophane from the store, which is enough for all of what we send (that’s about $6). I have ribbon from years ago when I bought a bunch of rolls at a thrift store for a very small amount of money. This past summer, someone cleaned out their basement, gave my kids a bunch of toys, and included some brand new rolls of cellophane – that will come in handy this year. Then I put a simple Purim sticker on top with our name and the name of the family we’re sending to.
This year, dh was at the store where the baskets were, and picked them up for me. He called to ask which ones to buy – there were three kinds, and one was especially beautiful, though they were all the same price. I told him not to get the nicest one – there’s no way anyone would think it was inexpensive, and I don’t want to be deceptive in sending something that fancy. Also, it was substantially bigger than the others, and I’d have to fill it! So he got only one, to send to our rabbi.
I hope this clarifies – if there’s something that I haven’t touched on that you’d like me to respond to, please ask!