What to send, how often and why personal touches make a difference. 

I asked some college kids, recent grads and a couple of college parents for their advice on what makes a good care package. What follows are the results of my very unscientific survey, which includes what I’ve learned as I enter my sixth, and final year of college parenthood.

College kids like receiving packages This is especially true when they’re feeling homesick, as well as when money is low or they’re growing tired of the same revolving dining hall menu. Some snacks, money and reminders that someone loves them make a difference as they try to adjust to this new life they were so excited to begin.

These items are faves Almost everyone touted gift cards. These can range from McDonald’s to Starbucks to Target to iTunes. Know what’s near campus so your freshman can easily use the card. Don’t go crazy on the amount, just enough to buy a meal or two, a couple of lattes or a few new phone games or apps. College students appreciate any opportunity to splurge on themselves or avoid spending their own money.

Very popular is food found only at home. For my East coast kids, it was black-and-white cookies that none of their Midwest friends had ever eaten. At the same time, snacks popular in the middle of the country are often not available on the coasts, or in fewer varieties. One dad includes his daughter’s favorite brownies and lemonade drink boxes from Trader Joe’s. If your student hasn’t mentioned anything about missing a certain snack, carefully pose the question.

Candy is always a hit, although kids and parents agreed that it should be balanced with healthier snacks, like granola bars or fruit- or nut-based treats. So throw in a pack of Twizzlers along with some Kind bars.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPersonalize it The package should be homemade, not one of those prepared by some third-party vendor working through the college. Kids like getting their favorite snacks and knowing Mom or Dad put it together.

Always include a note. All the students and grads said the note made a difference. A few words of encouragement can go a long way.

The just because item brings a smile, too—something you picked up because you saw it and thought of your child as soon as you did.

Nice to get, but not necessary There were mixed reviews on decorations, whether to make a dorm room more homey or for a holiday. Sometimes it helps to be reminded of the change of seasons or that holidays are coming up since that often gets lost in college life.

Toiletries, like deodorant and toothpaste, were mentioned by one recent grad because kids don’t want to spend their limited funds on them.

Though homemade food comes with love, not all food travels well. If you cook it or bake it, make sure it won’t become stale by the time it arrives and will stay intact on the journey. The same goes for fruit, which one student said she requests because she can’t find any worth eating on her campus. Ripe fruit won’t survive the trip.

Don’t forget the roommate Including the roommate’s favorite snack or adding a sticky note suggesting this item be shared helps your child bond with the roommate(s) and bridges the gap when someone hasn’t received a package of their own in a while.

Space out deliveries Once every couple of months is fine, but definitely not more than once a month was the consensus. Tying packages to a holiday is fun, and right before finals is a must.

Smaller boxes work best One mom said she quickly learned to downsize when her oldest daughter explained that she had to pick up her package in the center of campus and lug it back to her dorm room. Overweight or bulky packages, even when delivered directly to the dorm, are too much of a hassle.

There you have it. Now start putting together your perfect care package for your freshman, whether your child is half an hour away or a plane ride.

Thanks to Jeannie, Debbie, Irene, Amanda, Kelsey, Rob, Jacquie, Moni, Cody, T.K. and Charlie for your assistance with this post.

Share your must-have items for your care package in the comments section below.