With six babies (including a preemie) and a whole slew of major surgeries, we’ve been the beneficiaries of many a meal, brought by friends. So much generosity! I know how hard it is to cook dinner every night for my brood, so the fact that someone else cooks for us while whipping up something for their family, too, makes me that much more grateful! So many nights I wanted to weep with joy that I did not have to cook for my family, particularly on the hard days.
With all those meals that came into our home, I gleaned some pretty ingenious ideas. I’ve even include a few suggestions for a go-to meal and my killer breakfast recipe that’s gluten-free!
1. If you’re the one coordinating the meals, use a care calendar or something similar that folks can just sign up instead of trying to keep track via email. The programs allow the family to enter allergies/dislikes, directions to their home and normal eating time – all information that is much more efficient to get online than emailing the family directly. Plus, when it comes time to do thank-you notes, it’s nice to have one place to go to remember who brought you what! Think about setting up the calendar for just 3-4 meals a week (say Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday) and then spend the other days eating leftovers. The food accumulates faster than you might think.
2. Package the meals in dishes that the family can keep or throw away. Nothing says “awesome” like a sink without dirty dishes. One particularly awesome family even brought us plastic silverware, napkins and milk boxes for the kids. That rocked – so much so, that I now do it for every meal I deliver.
3. Believe it or not, it is breakfast that’s the hardest meal. Well, at least I think so. Bringing breakfast foods that can be frozen and then thawed to eat (like muffings or breads), overnight breakfast (like crock pot oats) or gluten-free (think quiches), are all a welcome addition. Of all the “best practices,” this is the one that can have the greatest positive impact on a family in need of meals. I mean, really. Your kids can only eat so many bowls of Cheerios before the complaining starts.
4. Go easy on the salads. I love them, as do my children, but when we set up our meal calendar right after our youngest was born, we put these in the “dislike” category for one reason. We knew three big bags of salad a week would go to waste. Granted, this may not be a big deal if folks are bringing you meals for a week or two, but long-term, we much preferred bags of frozen veggies that could be thawed and eaten in smaller portions. If you do bring one, consider including the salad dressing, too!
5. If you bring a casserole, divide it up for easy freezing. But, as a general rule I try *not* to bring a casserole since every one else usually does!
6. For a change of pace, give gift cards (either from Uber Eats or directly from the restaurant) or bring a meal from the family’s favorite place. That can be fantastic. Aside from the “no dishes” it might also allow the family an occasional night out with the kids. For families who live out-of-state, you can always order pizza, pay for it (including the tip) and have it delivered. A sweet friend did that for us and I was honored to return the favor!
7. Hooray for the grocery run. Offer to swing by the store. But, even if you can’t do that, just bringing a gallon of milk, a bottle of juice, a loaf of bread, a dozen eggs or some fruit can be a big help. I typically bring a half gallon of organic milk in the carton (it lasts for weeks) or a bottle of wine (that doesn’t last quite as long). I know there’s delivery and pick-up these days, but sometimes you don’t want to place an order for such a small bundle of items.
8. Put a cooler on the front porch. That way, people can drop off dinner if the family isn’t home or is unable to get to the door.
9. If you have the time, include the recipe. We’ve had so many meals that were absolutely delish, but now I can’t remember who brought them and who to hound for the recipe. Make it easy on them. And, it absolutely helps if there’s an allergy in the house!
10. Bring along snacks for the kids. Hypothetically speaking that could be a total lifesaver when packing lunches the next day. I mean, not that it ever saved our hineys or anything. A juice box here, a box of goldfish there and somehow the world can be a little easier to handle.
11. Pray for the family as you cook. There’s no better gift you can give them than a little Jesus along with that kick-ass meal.
A FEW GO-TO COOKBOOKS
I’m a huge fan of these three cookbooks. It’s also worth noting, that if you’re gonna make a meal for someone else, make that YOUR dinner, too. Same amount of prep and your dinner is on the table quicker that night!
Real Food Slow Cooker Cookbook
If you do go the slow cooker route, consider swinging by the house of the friend, and cooking it in their slow cooker, that way they don’t have to return anything to you! And, make it so they don’t have to do multiple steps to get it on the table.
Cook Once Eat All Week
This is fantastic for one reason. One grocery shopping trip gives you three meals. So, you can use two for your house and send them the third. Or, if you’re like me, you’ll double them all (big family problems). I highly recommend this one if there are gluten or dairy allergies in the family.
Half-Baked Harvest, Super Simple
Tieghan’s recipes explode with flavor and this cookbook has some simple, yet wow-factor kind of meals.
I also take things like fruit Salad (cut up whatever fruit you have on hand and make sure to include an acidic one to preserve it!), bags of chips, kid snacks, breakfast food, plates/silverware/napkins, half gallon of milk, two bottles of beer (or favorite beverage) and ice cream. That way, the family can decide if it’s a dessert worthy dinner treat or not. They can always eat it later!
BEST BREAKFAST QUICHE AKA “Denver Casserole”
1 dozen eggs, beaten
1 lb. monterey jack cheese, grated
1 lb. bacon, cooked and crumbled
1/2 onion, diced
1 jar of diced pimientos
1 small can of diced green chiles
1 small jar of chopped olives (optional)
Mix it all together and put in a greased 9×13 baking dish. Cook at 325 for 30-40 minutes. Voila!
Happy cooking y’all. Go bless a family with your love.