Last Purim, I left Megillah reading with a bunch of Ziploc baggies full of crumbly hamantaschen and sticky candy. I know it was generous of my friends to give me mishloach manot, but I threw most of it away and felt guilty both about wasting the food and about not reciprocating. Should I make my own baggies of mishloach manot this year so I can be part of this exchange even though my heart's not in it? Or do I have some kind of alternative where I seem like I'm involved in the holiday without giving people snacks they probably don't want?
The mitzvah of mishloach manot dictates that each adult over Bar/Bat Mitzvah age should give ready-to-eat food to two friends during the day on Purim. Each gift, ideally, should contain foods over which the recipient could say two different blessings. That's it. The rabbis never said anything about resealable baggies, extravagent baskets full of sweets, trading hamantaschen with everyone you know a la elementary school Valentine's Day celebrations or guilt. OK, the rabbis probably said a lot about guilt, but not directly pertaining to mishloach manot as far as I know.
If you'd like to give a couple of gifts to people who would appreciate them, you'd be fulfilling one of the Purim obligations while also doing something nice for a friend. You don't have to give hamantaschen or candy or anything else that you haven't appreciated receiving in the past. What about an apple and a bag of almonds, or a Philly soft pretzel and a bottle of water? You can think out of the box and still be generous, and you can be selective without seeming cheap. You should assume that the people giving out mishloach manot en masse are doing so because they want to and not because they really want more hamentaschen in exchange. The mitzvah of mishloach manot is not necessarily intended to be reciprocated, so you can also go easy on yourself from that angle, too. Be gracious about whatever you receive and move on with your day.
One of the other obligations of Purim, totally on par priority-wise with mishloah manot, is matanot l'eyvonim, giving gifts to the poor. You are just as obligated to give two gifts to two different people in need as you are to give two gifts to friends. But for some reason (like maybe the emphasis on partying) this part of the holiday takes second- or third-stage to the other, arguably, more fun parts of the celebration (read: religiously sanctioned drunkenness). Consider giving a substantial donation to a charity and then distributing cards to friends that say, "In your honor, I have made a gift to (fill in the blank) this Purim." This route could be an opportunity to do something meaningful with your dollars while also educating people in a non-judgey kind of way about the different parts of Purim festivities.
I happen to like the tradition of mishloach manot (and matanot l'eyvonim), and I happen to like giving small, thoughtful gifts to people I care about. I also like receiving small, thoughtful gifts and helping other people fulfill a mitzvah if it feels meaningful to them.
Even so, of all of the baggies of hamantaschen I've ever received, last Purim, I experienced this mitzvah in a new way. I was hugely pregnant and got really ill following Megillah reading. I ended up in the emergency room. It was a difficult and scary night, with no shortage of jokes about the pregnant lady drinking too much — though I swear that's not what happened. The next day, I received a mishloach manot package in a plastic grocery bag containing Gatorade and saltines. An unsuspecting bystander might have just thought that someone did a grocery run for a sick friend, but to me, on that holiday, it was so much more.
In the best of circumstances, giving gifts to your friends is fulfilling for you and also fulfills a need for them. So think about how you can use the excuse/obligation of the holiday to help meet some of the needs around you.