Ruth Baks:
It is true that at Purim time one can be inundated with junk food - at the same time, some thoughtful friends exercise ingenuity in providing healthful alternatives.

One friend always sends a top-quality roast beef sandwich together with all the trimmings, including pickle and cole slaw. (In Israel, especially, this is a rare treat!)

Another has made it her custom to send a container of fresh homemade hummus along with her straight-out-of-the-oven whole wheat roll.

Others offer health plates with fresh sprouts, fresh or dried fruit and nuts, including at least one cooked item, perhaps a whole wheat hamentaschen. Unusual drinks, such as strawberry-mango nectar, are always a treat.

A jar of your homemade preserves or pickles would always be welcome. Food offered with a bit of shelf life make excellent Purim gifts because these may be enjoyed long after the usual junk food has bit the dust (or dust bin.)

It is also a good idea to mark your goodies, milchig, fleishig ,or pareve, (dairy, meat, or pareve) so your friends know what they are receiving. If you are making something special, particularly for those with dietary restrictions, attach a note saying, "fat free" or "sugar free" - or how about "calorie free"... : )

Rather than pumping out generic gift packs, offer something distinctive which reflects your originality, creativity and talents. Let your gift show you care. Put your LOVE into it.

One neighbor, a nurse, was known for her health consciousness and vegetarian kitchen. Yet each year at Purim time she pulled out all the [health] stops and whipped up a large batter of "Pecan Dreams" from the Tassajara Recipe Book. This highly rich concoction of butter, powdered sugar and finely chopped nuts (hers were walnuts) she fashioned into tiny (but very potent!) hamentaschen, with a dainty fruit filling. These were later dusted in powdered sugar and the result was absolutely melt-in-your-mouth!... certainly not what one would call 'healthy' but so utterly outrageous that we would all gladly forego the combined calories of all the usual Purim junk food for just one bite of HER memorable hamentaschen! Quality is always appreciated... and long remembered.

Unfortunately, since she moved away we no longer enjoy her treats. Others have tried to duplicate her efforts, but to no avail. Her mishloach manot have become legend.

If you have a signature recipe for something that no one else makes, and everybody loves, then by all means make that your gift. I produce a wonderful boutique liqueur, and I know that is what my friends are waiting (hoping?) for...

Remember, above all, that mishloach manot are GIFTS. Consider what your friends would most appreciate and plan from there.