When was the last time you decided to bring a meal to a friend who is hurting?
Every person and family is unique, so there is not a perfect list of what everyone should or should not do when delivering a meal. The tips below however, are things to consider when you are giving the gift of food.
I know someone who is chronically ill and I’d like to volunteer to bring a meal for her family. Where do I start?
While some people will be glad if you bring a meal, others may be embarrassed to accept it. I remember as a newly married woman, I was struggling a great deal with my rheumatoid arthritis. A woman from my Bible study brought me a big container of chili and said, “I made this for my family today and ended up with way too much and thought you may enjoy it for dinner.” I think she knew I was in a grief-cycle of coping with my new limitations and that accepting a meal would be emotionally difficult for me. Some people may be resistant to accepting your gift. All you can do it provide it–or any other help–with love.
Who is the meal for?
Are you cooking for one-person who may freeze leftovers? Or is it for a family with children who are picky eaters? Consider this when deciding what to bring. It is kid-friendly? If not, could you include a small item that the kids would like, such as a container of macaroni and cheese and fun dessert?
What kind of food should I bring?
I find that every person–and their family–is very unique. While one has no restrictions in what she is eating, others are eating gluten-free, they are diabetic, they are eating low-sodium, or may have allergies. Some people love spicy stuff, others cannot eat it at all. If this is someone you do not know well, before you bring a meal it’s worth asking about diet restrictions or sticking with something simple. When a family has a crisis and they are receiving many meals, you should make sure your meal can freeze well and that is less common than what people will typically bring. (For example, sometimes it seems everyone brings lasagna!) When you are bringing a meal to someone who is chronically ill, however, odds are they have not received a meal from a friend in months–if ever–so lasagna may be okay. When preparing a meal, make the most of it by preparing the same meal for your own family and even one to freeze. Choose meals that pack well, can be used as leftovers for lunches the next day. Also, consider the season. Don’t bring hot soup when it is ninety degrees outside. Instead, consider a large helping of chicken salad, along with bread and a bag of lettuce.
I can’t think of what to make? Any ideas?
Here are about fifty we have on our Pinterest page for ideas. Go through your recipes and think of what you make for your own family that is easy to re-heat, freeze for later, etc.
- Soups or stews: chili (not spicy), homemade soups, chowders
- Casseroles or comfort foods: lasagna, macaroni and cheese, tuna noodle casserole, Shepherd’s pie, quiche, chick pot pie, chicken Parmesan, meatloaf, stir fry and rice, enchiladas, rotisserie chicken
- Breakfast: Breakfast casseroles with eggs, cheese, sausage, etc. can be eaten for any meal.
- Side dishes: Cesare salad, pasta salad, potato salad
- Salads: green salads are always a nice addition to a meal, but often wilt quickly. Consider purchasing a “salad in a bag” and then a container of things to add, such as sliced tomatoes, croutons, etc. Cut up fresh peppers to pair with carrots and such along with a bottle of ranch dressing.
- Extras: cornbread, french bread, sweet breads, scones and muffins
- Bring the fixins’: If you don’t know a family’s preferences or they are having company and serving many people, this can be a good alternative. Make your own taco, make your own sub sandwich, make your own sandwich (such as chicken salad, egg salad, tuna salad).
Remember not to add in dressings or gravies if the food will become mushy. Just bring it along.
Be sure to write on the outside what it is (some casseroles you just cannot tell) and include heating instructions. When mom is in bed sick it may mean dad is warming up the meal and he won’t have any idea if you heat it at 325 or 375 degrees. We’ve provided some cute labels you can print out and attach where you also put any directions you may have.
When you bring a meal, have it be nice
Although this is not a time to look for glory for your gift of a meal, make sure it is a meal you can be proud of. I remember counting on a meal someone said they would bring me for dinner in a couple of hours, and instead it was a stew that was frozen solid with freezer burn. And the accompanying loaf of bread had been in her car a couple of days (she confessed this to me). When someone counts on a meal from you, don’t disappoint them by taking something your family wouldn’t eat themselves.
Arranging the delivery of the meal
I find the best way is to call and say something like, “You have been on my mind and I doubled my dinner recipe for tonight. I’d like to share it with you and I can drop it by this afternoon. Does that work okay for you?” She may say something like, “Oh, you didn’t have to do that,” but assure her that it is a blessing for you to help out. Before you bring a meal, communicate early in the day or the day before so she knows you are bringing something. Then show up when you say you will. I have had people tell me they would bring a meal, only to call around dinnertime and say that she got busy and would bring it the next day instead. This is terribly inconvenient, because then you are left scrambling at the last minute to make a dinner for your family. When you call, ask if there is anything she may need at the grocery store. Grabbing a gallon of milk on your way to her home may save her a trip to the grocery store later.
Delivering the meal
Bring a meal by when you said you would. It’s nice to bring it in a bag of some kind that can even be left on the doorstep if necessary. Don’t invite yourself in unless she insists and avoid staying for long. If, however, you feel your visit is a blessing for her and she wishes to talk a few minutes, don’t be too eager to drop and run. Give her the gift of some of your time as well.
What should you put your meal in?
Bring your meal in disposable containers. You can purchase inexpensive plastic containers and tins at your grocery store if that is most convenient. You can also stock up on these items at your local dollar store to have on hand when you need them. Resist the urge to use a nice dish. Even if you tell the recipient, “Just keep it,” she will feel guilty about it and plan to return it and it will become one more thing on her to-do list. In Jodi Picoult’s novel Handle with Care she writes, “It seemed to me that if you made a meal for someone who was sick, it was pretty cheeky to ask whether or not she’d finished it so you could have your Pyrex back.” If you do want to give an extra gift, some women have gotten crafty and personalized a baking dish with their family’s name. I think it would be a very special gift if one made a dish for the family she is delivering the meal to personalized with their family name, and then they will know it really is a keeper.
Remembering the kids
Is there a meal that the kids love she has not had the energy to make? Would she give you the recipe? It may make the children especially happy to have their favorite dinner. Throw in some breaded chicken nuggets or mac and cheese. A jar of applesauce or even a box of goldfish crackers. One woman created a special paper bag of goodies, like a puzzle, crayons, etc. for kids to amuse themselves while the parents had a chance to eat.
Should I bring dessert?
Consider the family you are bring the meal to. Would the children love some sugary goodies, but the parents are limiting the sugar in their household? Then don’t bring something that will put the parents in an awkward position. Focus instead on healthy items or small portions. For example a Jello dessert with a can of whip cream. Or a salad of fresh fruit that can be eaten anytime, even for breakfast. There are many ideas for healthy snacks for children on Pinterest. In just a few minutes you can make it special without including sugar.
Throw in a couple of extras
Consider what other items may be helpful for later. You may wish to throw in a box of spaghetti and a jar of sauce for an easy meal anytime. Healthy snacks can include some cheese sticks, boiled eggs, or bagels and cream cheese. A box of animal cookies for the toddlers may give them something out of the ordinary to munch on. If you financially able, add a gift certificate to a restaurant near their home. Perhaps this will be a nice evening out when she feels up to it, or a family member can pick up a meal to go and bring home. How about a few candles to the meal basket?
Remember, it’s a gift, not an obligation
During my surgeries I have had people who have volunteered to bring a meal. Sometimes it was just take-out from the Chinese food restaurant or a bucket of chicken. At the time I did appreciate these, but it was also food I should not have been eating. I know it can be difficult (especially if you are ill yourself) to cook an extra meal and deliver it to a friend. But it really is a priceless gift. By having disposable containers on hand, using your crock pot when possible, having labels printed out and stashed in your kitchen drawer, it can cut down the energy it takes you to do it considerably. And even better, you will feel the truth in Proverbs 11:25, “He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.” Happy cooking!
* Be sure to check out our fun free printables to use when you bring a meal to fancy-up those meals with a personal touch.
Lisa Copen is the founder of Rest Ministries and she lives in San Diego with her husband and son. She is gradually learning how to balance motherhood, family, illness, and ministry, but she still knows it will be a lifetime lesson. You can see the books she has written, including, Why Can’t I Make People Understand? at the Rest Ministries shop.