How much do I care about my teenage son away at school? According to his college, I don’t care much, unless I send him one of their special pre-packaged student care packages.

A recent letter sent home to parents opened with a cheery story about two students who arrived at the campus center to pick up their care packages. “One beamed when she received her package,” read the letter, “while the other, whose family had not reserved a package, immediately called her mother on her cell with a plaintive “You didn’t send me a care package?” (cue the melancholy music)

I understand the concept of advertising, but I thought this was a shameless use of guilt. Moms already feel guilty enough. Imagine the parent struggling to make ends meet in addition to the high cost of tuition (topping $50,000/year at many universities) feeling like she was letting her child down, especially one away from home for the very first time.

The letter continued, “Because so many students receive care packages…it can hurt if a student is left out.” They enclosed a small black and white computer print out “thinking of you” card that you could send to your child on your own, and added “Of course, (the card) would be more appreciated if it comes with food.” Then they went on to list the various different packages you could purchase, increasing in size and degree of caring.

It’s not that I don’t believe in care packages. I think they’re great. And, the school sponsored prices may even be reasonable (From an exam survival kit which includes microwave popcorn, granola bars, gummy bears and cookies for $20, to the deluxe spirit basket with Ramen noodles, Pop Tarts, oatmeal, M&Ms, chips, cookies and crackers, gourmet teas and coffees and a mug for $55.) But I hate to think of anyone feeling like they don’t love their child enough because they can’t send one.

I rarely send the school care packages, mainly because my kid is finicky and I know he wouldn’t eat half the contents offered. But I often make my own care packages for very reasonable prices. Just don’t forget you have to take into account the cost of mailing.

Making your own care packages is fun, and you can include only the foods you know your child enjoys. This can be anything from a simple box of favorite cookies (Andy’s been begging for home-baked chocolate chips) to something more elaborate with several favorite treats. I generally go for a theme. When my daughter got a bad cold, I sent her a care package of tissues, cough medicine, microwavable soup and crackers. Since Andy needs a lot of quick energy for all his sports (and he isn’t prone to gaining the freshman 15) I sent him a big box of candy purchased on clearance the day after Halloween. For holidays, you can send simple decorations to make the dorm room more fun, along with seasonal snacks and treats.

Those college kids need a lot of food! They also need a lot of love and support. A phone call, a letter, a hug. Maybe even a basket of goodies. No guilt.

Kelly says love like a dog: unconditionally.