Food that feeds the body and nourishes the soul

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by Sandy

Sandy Coughlin is an author, blogger, wife, and mom to three children. She lives in Oregon and loves to develop recipes, cook, and host dinner parties. Read more at Reluctant Entertainer.

Some nights you’ll find me in the kitchen doubling up a dish. This is because I’m either freezing one for my family, or I’m getting ready to take a meal to a family in need.

Hospitality covers the whole range of life experiences and emotions.

For me, some of these life experiences and feelings have come in challenging times, like when I had my children (who are now teens), when my husband and I lost three parents within a five year period, and when I had several surgeries.

Friends rallied together and gave me one of the most thoughtful gifts: They brought my family a meal. They fed our bodies and nourished our souls with their generous love for us.

Taking a meal to others in need happens often in churches, but it’s not just church people who we should look out for. Our world is full of need.

A basic checklist for bringing a meal to a family

Here are some simple tips for blessing another family during hard times with a meal:

• Make sure the family knows when you will be arriving.
• Keep the meal simple, whether it’s one entree or a full course.
• If possible, use disposable dishes so the recipient doesn’t have to worry about washing pans and plates and getting them back to you.
• Don’t plan to stay and visit unless you are invited in.

Helping for an extended period of time

If you know a family is going to need help for an extended period of time, setting up a meal schedule can be a huge blessing.


Photo by Emily

Some simple steps include:

• Ask the family if they’d like to receive meals, and then ask for names of some of their close friends, neighbors, or family members.

• Ask when the family would like the first meal, and for how long the meals should continue (I usually only commit to two weeks). Let them know to expect a meal every other day, and decide with them when it should be delivered.

• Set up a calendar with the schedule.

• When you make the calls to friends, neighbors, and family members, you don’t have to know what they plan to contribute. Let them decide the menu in their own time.

• Fill the calendar and make sure to include names and phone numbers. Email or mail the information to the recipient.

Once the schedule is set, my mission is accomplished! The family is on their way to being blessed.

This is what I call having a hospitable spiritseeing a need and jumping in to help ease the pain of others. Who’d ever guess we could bless other bodies and souls in such a simple, yet meaningful way?

If I hadn’t been the recipient of this beautiful act of love years ago, I would have never understood how nourishing it is — to the body and the soul.

And who knows the lives you’ll touch in the process.

How do you look for needs around you? Have you been touched by being the recipient of a meal when you really needed it?

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Comments

  1. Many people offered to bring us meals when I had a surgery last summer. I said no, and ended up wishing I’d taken them up on it when I was in bed for a couple months recovering!

    When I do bring foods to others, I’m always sure to ask about allergies and likes/dislikes, too. It’s also nice to ask if there’s any special requests, though sometimes if the situation is grave, I wouldn’t want to add another decision for them.

    Lovely post :)

  2. After having my oldest daughter, my friend and her husband made us three large casserole meals, already frozen, left them in a cooler on our doorstep, for us to store away and eat later. It was fabulous!

    A great website for setting up a schedule for what a family in need could use is -lotsaehelpinghands.com.

  3. Just wanted to add that there are meal planning websites out there that take a lot of the burden off of the organizer. A free one is http://www.mealtrain.com

  4. And http://www.takethemameal.com is another free meal schedule site.

  5. avatar
    Catherine says:

    I would love to hear other people’s ideas of good meals to give to others.

    • Hi Catherine, I usually take pot pie or enchiladas. But if I’m in a hurry, I take a pre-cooked chicken from the store, salad, fresh bread, and maybe ice cream or brownies for dessert. It’s quick! People appreciate anything!

      • Let me start with: I loved EVERYTHING people brought or did when my kids were born. That said: My three favorite things people brought when my second son was born were: quiche Lorraine, salad, and brownies; a bag of bagels and spread; and a roast chicken over rice and veggies. All easy, comforting food.
        I like to take roast chicken, or poppy seed chicken, or macaroni and cheese, sometimes with ham or chicken mixed in. I have also stocked freezers with favorite Trader Joe’s frozen meals when I have not had my own cooking mojo going.

  6. I just lost my 18 week pregnancy on Jan 17. Very sudden and with two other very full term children, very unexpected. My dear friend made me food for weeks! The amount of love and thoughtfulness brings me to tears and I can’t wait to pay back the favor. It made for one less stressor, and it made a huge difference.

  7. This is another free meal registry website: http://mealbaby.com/

    Our church has had great success with this and it gives the option for people to say what they are bringing to make sure someone doesn’t get lasagna 3 meals in a row. :)

  8. This is lovely, and bringing food is one of my very favorite ways to care for people who need it. I always think of Eat Pray Love, and the passage where Elizabeth Gilbert is talking to her sister about a family down the street who has had a tragic event happen to them. Elizabeth says, “that family needs grace,” and her sister says, “that family needs casseroles.” And, in fact, casseroles ARE grace.
    xox

  9. 2 years ago this winter… I was very pregnant, separated from my now ex-husband.. and suffering from depression and anxiety attacks at every turn. One of my (then) 6 year old’s friend’s mothers knew only minimally of the series of events that led up to my current condition. Imagine my surprise one Saturday morning when I woke to she and her 6 year old daughter shoveling my driveway. Then, to top it off, when I opened the front door, there was a large brown bag with frozen, disposable containers of soup and lasagna (some with veggies, others without so my son would be more likely to eat it as well). All had re-heating instructions taped to the top. I cried like a baby at the kindness this woman showed me. She was so humble and brushed off my sobbing “thank yous” like it was nothing for her to do it. She told me to go back inside and stay warm while she and her daughter finished digging me out from the previous night’s storm. They left just as quietly and quickly as they had arrived. I still get overwhelmed and teary at the thought of her generosity… and for what an example she set to her own little girl. I plan on paying this act forward when I can to whomever is in need.

  10. Homemade is WONDERFUL and generally when taking someone a meal that’s what I do. But if I’m short of time or energy, instead of NOT taking something, I follow the example of my friend Debby who brought me this meal after my miscarriage: a Rotisserie Chicken, a loaf of French Bread, some “steam in the bag” veggies, and a salad mix. Perhaps not as frugal as from-scratch cooking, it is reasonable and yummy and blesses! I second the comment about allergies! ASK! My husband has a seed and nut allergy, and its sad when I forget to mention it and cashew chicken arrives! The meal planning sites that I’ve used (mealbaby.com and carecallendar.org) have a space for food allergies and/or aversions. =)

  11. I had 2 children and lost both parents within a 5 year span. The meals helped me through it all! I especially liked when someone would bring breakfast foods for the next morning! Meals for those going through a hard time help more than people realize.

  12. Great tips! I love the checklist.

    Here are a few free web-based services that I’ve found extremely helpful in planning meals for new parents or someone who just needs a little extra help:

    http://www.mealbaby.com
    http://www.carecalendar.org/

    “Coordinate meal sign up, and other needed assistance, without the frustration of making dozens of phone calls. The volunteer helpers can see the needs and sign-up for items that fit their schedule.

    As a CareCalendar coordinator, you can:

    Reduce the amount of time needed to coordinate the effort: Volunteer Helpers can access the CareCalendar when it’s convenient for them. No need for phone tag or explaining the needs over and over again. Helpers can see what is needed and when and sign themselves up to fill the need. “

  13. When I was pregnant with twins and our first daughter was two years old, our neighbors and church community brought us TONS of meals. I really believe that they helped me gain the needed weight that helped the twins grow and have healthy birth weights.

    Also, one cool thing that our church community banded together to do, recently: provide meals to someone far away. A dear friend who moved several states away, with her husband and kids, in order to attend medical school, was facing a crazy week with her upcoming medical boards. Everybody pitched in financially to buy a week’s worth of pre-prepared, delivered meals from one of those chef-kitchen-learn-to-cook places. We couldn’t bring casseroles to her doorstep, so we found the next best thing!

  14. We live in Manhattan so there are so many easy food options. Good delivery so easy and so fast. So it seemed odd to me when my church congregation wanted to bring our family meals for two weeks after I had my baby. But when the time came I so appreciated not having to even think about dinner. And to have such kind visitors come to our home was an added bonus!

  15. One extra that’s nice if you’re the one to coordinate the meals is to send a reminder email (or call) the day before or the day of, just to help prevent a miss!

    I fix meals a lot- I find it’s an easy way to serve others in the little kids at home season of life when so many other ways are out of reach- plus, kids can help (wash veggies, color a card to tuck in) and it’s a great lesson for them too. :)

  16. I know most of these comments have been about having babies, but when each of my parents passed away, my church was awesome about bringing food, helping set it all up, and even cleaning up afterward and packing it all away in the fridge. I was responsible for everything to do with their funerals, so not having to worry about this was awesome.
    Bernice

  17. A few years back, I wrote a blog post on bringing meals to families. You can check out my tips here: http://www.northofthe49.com/blog/?p=212

  18. Great, great post!!! What a blessing it is to bless others in this way, you get a warm fuzzy and THEY get a warm meal! When I was on bedrest for 3+ months (then we had multiple babies in the NICU), we were blessed beyond belief by so many meals, lovingly brought our way. It means the world and there is nothing like this amazing kind of act of love to ones who need it.

  19. We have been blessed to receive meals three different times…at the times that both of our children were born, and when my husband returned home after a long hospital stay & our family was topsy-turvy at best. All three times were such a blessing.

    Recently, a friend went through a 7-week round of radiation for breast cancer. She is part of a Wednesday night group of ladies that minister to the young girls of our church. Many of the ladies involved volunteered to take meals to this friend. Since we all took turns, it didn’t really seem like much that we did. Each person only prepared one meal. However, my friend has told me countless times and in several notes that this meant the world to her. She had to travel a lot during the day to go from home to work to treatment & back home. She basically did not have time to cook, so our meals were a huge blessing to her and her family. It made me realize how important even the little things can be to someone going through a hard time.

    If we are all preparing meals for our family anyways — how easy it is to duplicate a recipe! – just as you said. =)

    • Thanks for sharing, Sally. I really do try to double up on meals for myself (to not have to cook an extra night that week), so why not triple, even? Great concept and it works!

  20. after having a baby, it was such a load off to know that food was coming… and i didn’t have to do anything for it! we even had a few people call and ask what was our favorite pizza/subway sandwich/value meal at wendy’s. since i’m not a confident chef myself, i totally appreciated that even though they may not have wanted to cook (or had the time) they still wanted me taken care of.

  21. Good meals to make are vegetable soup and bread (throw some barley or pasta in the soup), entree salads, tacos and all the fixings (use plastic bags), taco soup with chips, cheese, sour cream and avocado, meat loaf and baked potatoes- throw in a bag of microwavable vegetables. I always call ahead and ask if they need milk, juice, bread or toilet paper!

  22. Great article! Thanks for sharing. I think I’ve been lagging in my volunteering activities lately and you’ve given me great “food for thought(fulness)!

  23. avatar
    Sarah Rogers says:

    Another great website food coordinating website is http://www.foodtidings.com. I’ve used it quite a few times and it has been very helpful to keep up with who’s brining what.

    Thanks for the post!

  24. I try to help new mothers by making food and freezing it for future use. We sometimes forget how hard it is to make a meal with a new blessing in the house. Casseroles, pizza, enchiladas, and lasagna all freeze well!

  25. My next dor neighbor lost her husband very u expectantly in November 2010. His wife is now a single mom to three children 14, 12 and ten. She is a teacher. We set up meals three day a week and have continued them through Mid March so far with hopes of finishing the school year for her. I know it seems like a long time but we had thirty volunteers sign up to help. Because of a previous illness, her husband had no health insurance and no life insurance so this is a financial help in addition to allowing her to be mom when she comes home from school each day. We used an online calendar to sign up for meals and people bring things to me so they aren’t interrupting their own dinner time. It also helps heer not to fell she needs to update everyone on how she’s doing each day. It’s amazing to see community come together to love our neighbor so well. I think we have been blessed along with our neighbor.

  26. This is one of my passions. I was so blessed when people brought me meals after my babies. A great tool is takethemameal.com. it sets up a schedule and you can sign up when you want to take your meal and even what you’re bringing. Nice to see what else the family is receiving so you can add variety.

  27. I’ve been blessed to head up our church’s “Meal Brigade” for the past several years and I’ve found that the TakeThemAMeal.com site super helpful in organizing the scheduling of everything.

    I ask each recipient of start/end dates, preferences, allergies, drop-off time preferred, and how many servings (and I ask volunteers to bring enough for leftovers so they can freeze or have lunches ready-made too). I typically take a taco salad or Shepherd’s Pie – something where I have the bulk of the main dish in the freezer already. I also try to include a cranberry juice or something, dessert, and breakfast and/or snack foods too. Again, I usually have the majority of these things already in the freezer/pantry already so it’s not so taxing on my family.

    After every baby delivery, surgery, chemo treatment cycle, or just those fallen on hard times, we step up to support our church family. Having been on the receiving end of these meal blessings, I can attest to how important it is to the receiving family. We are loving others as Christ loves us. (John 13:35, among others :-))

    Thank you for bringing up such an important aspect of hospitality – an often overlooked one. In His humble service…

  28. Such a thoughtful and massively kind gesture. When I was pregnant with my first daughter, a co-worker said she wanted to give me the best gift she’d received – a fresh lasagna at my door step. She insisted on just leaving it one day without coming in and I didn’t know then how valuable it was. I think about that all the time & hope one day to pay it forward. I

  29. Such a thoughtful and massively kind gesture. When I was pregnant with my first daughter, a co-worker said she wanted to give me the best gift she’d received – a fresh lasagna at my door step. She insisted on just leaving it one day without coming in and I didn’t know then how valuable it was. I think about that all the time & hope one day to pay it forward.

  30. I was on bedrest a total of 4 months while pregnant with my second child (was on bedrest for 7 weeks with my first) and had meals brought to us almost every night. On top of that, there was a cleaning schedule. Several women paired up and rotated weeks. So every week I had meals PLUS people there to clean my house. It was such a blessing! Our family was fed and I didn’t have to stress about the house. The Lord was used people to take care of every detail!

  31. I have friends who regularly received what we have dubbed take-out orders when they needed them. When you’re already cooking for your own family, making a bit extra so you have enough to share doesn’t take (or cost) that much more.

  32. avatar
    Mother of Pearl says:

    I’ve been blessed by many meals over the years, but the one that blessed me the most was when my firstborn was in the NICU. We were getting meals (i.e. dinners) but some close friends brought me a bag of groceries full of things for breakfasts and lunches. They didn’t even tell me they were doing it – they just left the bag on the doorstep. It was so thoughtful, and I’ll never forget it.

  33. One hot summer day a few years ago, when I had six kids under 11 yrs. old, another mom stopped by, and brought me a Bixby’s bagel lunch: bagel sandwich, small bag of gourmet potato chips, a dill pickle spear and an ice tea. Total cost: $5, but priceless to me! She handed it thru my door, and said, “Thinking about you today! Have a relaxing lunch w/o your kids around.” Then she turned and left. I quickly made the kids PB & J’s to eat in the kitchen, and I went out on the patio and ate my lunch in silence. HEAVEN!!!

    Something that insignificant made my day, my week, and my month! I still think about it often, and have done likewise to many mothers over the years.

  34. I have never enjoyed cooking until I got married. My sister-in-law stayed with us for few days after the wedding I learned how to make Italian foods. She came back a year and was making food for me suggesting this recipe and that–all Italian. It was a total bliss to wake up in the morning with food ready, come home in the afternoon/evening and food was ready. I just came to the UK and don’t know any family in the neighborhood except the people in my church. Sometimes I invite friends to come and share a meal with me.

  35. One other note: a friend’s son had surgery recently. A bunch of us signed up to bring dinners four nights a week (figuring leftovers, family, etc.). The day I brought dinner, I asked the mom if she had a spare 9×13 pan. She did, and left it for me to pick up in her mudroom. I baked the dinner in her pan, so while she did have cleanup, there was no trash and no worrying about return. It isn’t feasible for every situation but it was an easy solution in this case!

  36. I’m so glad to have found this story and the comments. I’m not a churchgoer, so the websites listing ways to help is really wonderful. I did this once for a family with a newborn babe, and was so grateful that someone set it up and asked me to participate. The act of bringing nourishment to this new family was as good for me as it reportedly was for them!

    Rather than use disposables which I’m trying to avoid, I would offer to pick up dirty dishes and do them myself. I wonder if that would feel awkward for the receiver?

  37. An easy casserole dish that’s very yummy is called Spaghetti Bake. Simply cook spaghetti, place in a buttered 11×7 dish, cover with 8 oz shredded cheddar and top with spaghetti sauce of choice (or homemade) cooked with 1 pound beef and 1 pound sausage , then freeze or bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. If frozen, thaw before baking. Serve with salad, bread and dessert!

    We also used an online meal planning site called http://www.CareCalendar.com when my cousin unexpectedly lost her son to an asthma attack. She lived in a different state and it was perfect for organizing her friends through her Facebook page to give meals during such a difficult time and provide updates.

  38. Take Them a Meal . Com ( http://takethemameal.com/ ) is an amazing website to set up a meal calendar. Through this site, I easily and quickly organized 4 weeks of meals for my sister who lives 500 miles away from me. Everyone who used this site said how easy and efficient it was! My sister and her family were able to see who was bringing a meal and what they were bringing. Bringing meals to her family during a very hard time was one of the keys to carrying them through. Meals do indeed nourish the soul.

  39. i agree! the first experience i had with this was when i was 14 and my cousins died in a car accident. we were at my aunt and uncle’s house quite a bit in the next couple weeks and people brought them meals. it was such a blessing and touched me as a teenager. since then i have been on both the giving and receiving end and have to say that this is such an underused area of ministry among my generation. i am so glad to see people talking about it and bringing it back. from someone who has been blessed in this very practical way many times, i can say that i love being able to bless others by feeding both their bellies and their souls.

  40. This is such a lovely post and I’m defintely going to put it into practice, the next time I hear of a neighbor or friend being unwell. Thank you so much for sharing something so simple yet totally beautiful.

  41. This is a lovely idea Sandy. It got me thinking. It’s not too much effort to make extra when preparing dinner and there’s this elderly couple in my apartment building who just lost their son. I guess I could help them out this way. Thanks for the inspiration.

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