Having a meal delivered when you need it most is a wonderful gift.
For the past four years I’ve belonged to a local mother’s group, which is very active in scheduling meals for moms who need the help. Usually that’s due to the birth of a child, but also if the mom has surgery (as I did two years ago), or if she or a family member are undergoing medical treatments, or if there is a death in the family, or for any special needs that arise in a family.
Having been on the receiving end of these wonderful gifts of meals, I know what a relief and help it is to have food to feed your family when you are not able to make a meal. Whenever possible, I now pay-it-forward by making meals for others in need.
From all these meals I’ve delivered, and from those received, I’ve learned a lot about this process. Here are some hints and suggestions. If the opportunity arises for you to bring a meal to a friend, I hope you will find this information useful.
- Take into consideration the ages of the children in the family. If the children are young, don’t include onions or garlic. Stay away from spicy dishes. Usually casseroles for little ones don’t tend to go over well. A safe bet would be a simple meat (roast chicken or sauteed chicken breasts, a beef roast, etc.), a veggie side, and potatoes or rice or pasta. Yes, there are children that will eat anything (my oldest) but I’ve learned that for every one of those type children, there are two that are super picky (my two youngest).
- Don’t be adventurous. This is not the time to try a new recipe or experiment. I’ve made this mistake twice (I know, I know… I should have learned my lesson after the first disaster!). Usually I have luck with new recipes, but the two times I tried new ones, both for moms that had just had babies, the recipes failed big time, but I realized this too late. If I had known before sending over the meals, I would have tossed them in the trash and ordered pizzas. From this I’ve learned it’s best to pick a meal you’re comfortable making — one that you know will turn out well. Save the experimenting for your own family.
- Vegetables are a must, of course, but it’s so hard to know what the family members will or will not eat, without bothering them by going down the list of every possible veggie. I’d suggest making a simple steamed veggie mix — for example, broccoli and carrots. The children may not eat both, but chances are they’ll eat one of the two. In addition, bringing a baggie of cleaned and cut raw carrots and cucumbers and other good crunchy veggies may satisfy those that don’t like cooked vegetables. Maybe even a bottle of your favorite ranch salad dressing for dipping them into.
- Everything should be in disposable containers. Easier said than done, I know, especially when cooking in those foil pans is less than ideal. Lately I’ve started cooking the food in my baking dishes, then I transfer it over to a disposable container. Reduces space in their fridge as well, since by doing that I can put the meat with the potatoes and veggies in one dish, rather than sending over three separate containers.
- Consider including fruit. It’s a great option for those picky youngsters who might not eat veggies, and can be served with breakfast the next day — for the mom in need, or any family member. For a simple fruit salad I like to cut up a couple crisp apples and a pear, and toss in some berries. When doing this I coat the pieces of fruit with about a tablespoon or so of orange juice so that the apples don’t turn brown. If I add a banana and berries to the mix, I don’t toss the fruit salad before sending it over, since the berries and banana slices could end up under the heavier apple pieces and get squished. Instead I layer the fruit starting with the apples on the bottom and end with the berries and banana on top. Strawberries with pineapple chunks is a simple combo that is a favorite of mine as well. Of course, a large bag of cleaned grapes or a few oranges would be welcome too.
- A very thoughtful addition to the meal being delivered would be muffins or something similar for the family to enjoy at breakfast the next day. This doesn’t have to be homemade (but I do have some recipes to suggest … this … this … this) — a store bought baked good or half a dozen bagels with cream cheese would work well. Or if you live near a donut shop, you could pick up a half dozen for the family.
- Desserts are usually appreciated (though sometimes not — for example, if the meals are due to a serious health issue where desserts would be frowned upon). When making a dessert for another family, I highly suggest staying away from anything with nuts (all nuts… not just peanuts). So many people have nut allergies and it’s advised that younger children shouldn’t have nut pieces until they reach a certain age. There is a family I made cookies for once, and I knew the kids (teenagers) didn’t have any food allergies, so I went ahead and tossed on some crushed walnuts. When I delivered the meal I told them about the nuts, just to be sure, and found out the dad has a walnut allergy. I felt terrible that I hadn’t thought to ask if the parents had any food allergies. From that point on, my new rule is no nuts. Period.
- Portion control is important. If the family is getting meals delivered every other day, I suggest sending over enough food for 1 1/2 meals. If you double everything, and some of the family members don’t like it (hey, it happens), that’s a lot of food to deal with when dinner is done. And maybe they also have meals from neighbors or church friends or work buddies. Sometimes the food can be overwhelming and there just isn’t room to store it all if it can’t be eaten the day it’s delivered. So I suggest sending over just enough for that one meal, or a bit extra for them to eat for lunch the next day. If meals are being delivered daily, stick with just enough for the one meal.
- Don’t expect a thank you. I know, I know, that’s a tough one. I’m a stickler for what is now considered the old fashioned written thank you note, but when I was recovering from surgery, I had just enough energy and brain power to log onto email every few days. It was much easier for me to send a quick email, letting them know the meal was received and enjoyed and appreciated. If I waited until I felt well enough to write a heartfelt note, I may have forgotten who gave which meal and would have surely missed someone.
- Finally, let’s say you don’t love to cook. Or you don’t have time. Or you are worried the family won’t like your style of cooking. You could send a pizza with a large salad from a local restaurant. Or pick up a rotisserie chicken and a few side salads and fruit from the grocery store. Another option would be a few subs (or submarine sandwiches, grinders, hoagies, — whatever you call them!), or deli meats and cheeses with hearty rolls, a salad, some chips and fruit. Anything that would help the family — it doesn’t have to be homemade.
Do you have any suggestions or hints for delivering meals to a family in need? Please share in the comments section!