When someone you know is going through a transitional time, you may want to bring a meal to them to show your support. There are a lot of questions you might have about bringing food to someone. Here are some general tips for bringing meals to others in need.
When I first started thinking about my “maternity leave” from the blog with baby boy on the way, I knew I wanted to do a sort of theme for the time that I’m out. Something that has been really important to me my entire adult life has been cooking for others. A lot of the time this means hosting someone in my house, but it also often means providing a meal for someone.
Whether it’s a person who has just had a baby, had surgery or another medical issue going on, experienced the loss of a family member or friend, is going through a transitional time like a move or career change, or just someone going through a tough time emotionally, bringing a meal to that person can be so powerful.
Even for someone like myself who enjoys bringing food to others, it can be a daunting task to know where to begin. What should you bring, how much of it should you cook, how can you approach them, etc. There are a ton of questions. So to start off this maternity leave of mine, I decided I wanted to share some tips for bringing meals to others. Then over the next 6 to 8 weeks I will be sharing recipes on the blog of meals that are great to bring people.
A few that you’ll see coming up are casseroles like chicken & wild rice casserole and chicken enchilada casserole, baked goods like chocolate chip cookies and banana muffins, and breakfast ideas like gluten free chocolate oat pancakes and spinach egg casserole. I’m so excited to be sharing so many recipes that are perfect for bringing to others in need and great for expecting mamas to make ahead of time and freeze for when the baby comes.
So now, here are some general tips for bringing meals to others when they’re in need! Keep up with the entire series on this page!
What kind of food should you bring to someone in need?
There are a lot of answers for this question. The first is that there truly is no right answer. However, there are a few general guidelines.
Ask about family members and their preferences.
If you can ask someone who isn’t the person in need or in the immediate family, that is even better. But it’s SO important to ask about allergies, how many people are at the house (extended family may be visiting), as well as preferences. This is really true for any “need” situation, but I especially think it’s important for when you’re bringing a meal to a mom with a new baby. New moms can have very strong cravings and/or preferences for things in the first few weeks. So ask if there are any aversions or preferences.
Keep the food simple and comforting.
This isn’t the time to try a new recipe you found on Pinterest. It’s the time to use a tried and true family recipe, something your family enjoys eating, or something you are sure that you can make. Comfort food is always a good answer during these times. One of my favorite blogs, Pinch of Yum, did an entire series on “Feeding a Broken Heart” after she lost her son. The recipes that people brought her were tried and true comfort food recipes that were not too exotic but also not boring. You can see the series here.
Don’t forget breakfast, lunch or snacks!
People often think about dinner but forget that mornings can often be just as stressful (if not more) than dinnertime. I’ve heard from a lot of new moms that they struggled most with breakfast in the first few weeks of having a newborn. All they could muster was eating a bowl of cereal but between postpartum recovery and breastfeeding, they really needed a more substantial meal. You could bake a casserole (keep an eye out for a few recipes over the next few weeks) or bring a box of bagels from a bagel shop or grocery store. Lunch is also another meal that you can bring either in addition to dinner or as the meal you’re bringing. I always love grabbing a box of granola bars or other snack bars to bring over as well.
Include a few “little somethings” with the meal.
This isn’t to say that a meal isn’t enough, but it’s super easy to add a little something extra to go along with the meal. A few ideas:
- Bakery rolls or package of Hawaiian sweet rolls
- Something sweet (box of Girl Scout Cookies (when in season), pint of ice cream (ask for their favorite flavor), or something from the bakery at the grocery store
- 2 liter of soda if they drink it or a jug of juice or tea
- Bag of chips and salsa
- Box of granola bars or protein bars
- Fruit or veggie tray to snack on
- Dark chocolate bars or squares (here’s one of our favorites!)
- Bag of coffee (new mamas can never have enough!)
- Something for the kids (the new baby and any older children)
Think beyond pasta and red sauce!
During our birth class with our first son, we joked about how everyone always seems to bring pasta with red sauce when they bring a meal. I get it. Baked ziti or lasagna is SO easy to make and bring. But if the person you’re bringing a meal to is getting meals from other people, there’s a really good chance they’re going to get more than one baked pasta dish. In fact, with our first son, the two people who brought us meals ended up bringing us the exact same recipe. One even brought a pan for us to eat that night and a pan to freeze. So we ended up eating baked ziti for a looooong time, which was delicious but maybe not so practical.
If you don’t enjoy cooking or don’t have time, bring take out from a restaurant or bring a gift card.
If you would love to help but the thought of doing the cooking itself is the scary part for you, you do not have to cook to be helpful. After having a bunch of meals brought over, the family may enjoy getting take out from their favorite spot or grabbing Chick-Fil-A one night. Even ordering a pizza online is a great way to step up and help. This is also a fantastic way to help if you aren’t close by and can’t bring food over. You could also really splurge and set up a meal delivery service like HelloFresh or Blue Apron for a week for the family – if they are in a position to be able to cook the food.
Always label ingredients in recipe and instructions.
I always try to include a sticky note on the container itself with what ingredients are in the dish and how to prepare it. Even if you know the allergy/preferences of the family, they could have guests stop by and stay to eat or have another situation where they need to know what’s in the food. It’s better to give the information than for them to wonder.
Bring food in disposable containers!!
This is a huge one. I asked on Instagram for people to give me their best tips for bringing meals to others and almost every mom that responded said this, but I know it’s not a common thing. Yes, it’s a bit wasteful, but when someone has enough going on in their life to warrant you bringing them a meal, the last thing they need is to have to bring your Pyrex dish back. You can either purchase disposable pans with lids to bring food over or buy a set of cheap reusable plastic containers that don’t need to be returned to you. Be sure to tell them they do not need to return the containers to you!
If bringing extra, divide dish in half to freeze half for later.
One of the worst things to experience is having people bring so much food that you end up having to throw some of it out because you can’t eat it all in time. If you’re planning to bring a big portion of food, separate it into two disposable pans and mention that one is to freeze for later. If the family wants to eat both they can, but you’ve taken the hard work out of it for them and divided the food so they can easily freeze half for later.
Don’t ask when, suggest a time
I’m extremely guilty of not asking for help and not accepting it easily when it’s offered. But the good thing about being that kind of person is that I also know how to avoid situations where someone doesn’t accept my help. When someone you know is going through a tough time after a new baby is born, a loved one is lost, or even just a transitional time like starting a new job, they have enough decisions to make. Don’t ask “Can I bring you a meal?” but instead say, “I’d love to bring you a meal next week. Does Monday work?” Taking away the element of thinking through schedules to find a good time and date can make a huge difference when someone is already dealing with so much.
Find out if there is a meal train already going, if not, think about creating one!
If you haven’t heard of the website Meal Train, I highly recommend it if you know of someone who could use a meal or two. It’s a website that allows people to sign up for different dates and times, as well as mark what they are bringing so that the person doesn’t end up with 13 pans of lasagna. Whoever is organizing the sign ups for this could even create a Facebook event for people to share or send out an email with the information for bringing meals. In my experience it’s easy to assume that someone else will take care of this, but it literally takes minutes to set this up for someone!
Think beyond food!
If you aren’t a big fan of the idea of bringing food to someone, think beyond that. Bring over a care package with things like toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning supplies, dish soap. Especially for unexpected situations, the person may be running out of these essentials! Offer to walk their dogs, take their trash cans out, or even provide them with a one time house cleaning service. Even something as simple as pulling weeds in their yard could brighten their entire week!
What tips would you add to this list?