I have been the happy recipient of many a meal delivered by friends in times of need, which for my family has meant mostly new babies and the occasional surgery or broken limb.
Despite my fairly extensive experience in this area–as giver and receiver–I used to find the process of preparing a meal for someone else’s family intimidating. It’s just dinner–right? But dinner is such a personal thing. Food is such a personal thing. What if my friends didn’t like what I made? Or thought I was a bad cook? Or that I had terrible taste? What do people eat for dinner, anyway?
I finally had my lightbulb moment–and realized I needed to put the process on autopilot. So I came up with a go-to meal plan for myself. If someone needs dinner, I know–immediately and with barely a second’s thought–basically what that is going to look like. How many times have I let my good intentions to help another family fall by the wayside because I couldn’t decide what to make? Well, no longer, because I have already decided. Decide today what you will make, and you will be ready when the time comes.
It’s because food is such a personal thing that the gift of a meal means so much to the recipient. It’s just dinner–we all eat dinner–but there is something deeply personal about being involved in someone else’s mealtime preparations. A delivered meal is a token of your friendship–a visual, tangible, edible one! Nevermind that it frees your friend to divert her attention away from the daily demands of life and on to the more pressing concerns of the moment.
Here is my go-to delivery meal:
- Grocery rotisserie chicken
- Mixed baby greens with cranberries, celery, blue cheese and candied pecans
- A loaf of good bread
- Barefoot Contessa Outrageous Brownies
Now let’s review some of the nitty gritty.
When should I take my friend dinner?
It’s a time-honored tradition to bring dinner to a family during times when all their available resources are consumed by the task at hand, such as a new baby, a death in the family, a surgery or other medical hardship, or sometimes, just a really bad day.
What should I make?
It’s always a good idea to ask what the family likes to eat, and if there are any food allergies or dislikes. Beyond that, keep it simple and remember your audience. If there are kids in the family, it’s a good idea to make something kid-friendly (baked ziti, lasagna, barbecue) or to include a dish or two that are kid-pleasing, like macaroni and cheese. Things that reheat or freeze well are preferable over dishes that don’t.
It doesn’t have to be a casserole.
Some of us hate the very idea of casseroles. There are other options! What about grilled chicken, flank steak, pizza, barbecue sandwiches, soup and salad, to name a few? (Once someone brought me grilled bacon-wrapped pork medallions, ready for re-heating….yum.)
What if I’m a terrible cook?
If the thought of actually cooking for another family is terrifying to you, consider take-out. Ask the family for some of their favorite restaurants and pick something up. I still fondly remember my friend pulling up to my house one sunny spring day with a giant bag from California Pizza Kitchen for our newly expanded family. We were delighted, and all my friend did was pick it up on her way home from work and drop it off to us.
How do I present the meal?
First, package the individual items. Disposable pans are a plus so that your friend doesn’t need to wash a dish and keep track of it until she gets it back to you. The next best thing is a sturdy, easy to clean baking dish (like pyrex) marked on the bottom with your name. I frequently package things in inexpensive plastic containers and explicitly tell the recipient I don’t want them returned. Some items (salad greens, rolls) can easily be packaged in gallon-size ziploc bags, while some things (like rolls or brownies) can be wrapped in foil.
Next, gather all the components of the meal together on a tray or in a sturdy bag. An insulated bag can be nice if you have one, but is not necessary in most weather conditions. Finish off your packaging with written instructions for anything that’s not self-explanatory, e.g., “Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until heated through.”
Advance notice is desirable. Ask your friend what is convenient for her and plan a time so she’s not in the shower, nursing the baby or taking a nap. If she’s up for it, it’s great to bring the meal at a time when you both can visit for a bit. A new mom may appreciate some adult conversation during the day if it’s just her and the baby at home.
No time for dinner? You can still help.
Send flowers. Bring by some treats, or a new dvd for the kids. Or chocolate. And coffee! Bring by some magazines, or a new movie. Send a cute (or funny) card. Take your friend’s kids to the park for an hour. One of my friends helped me greatly by having my daughter to play every Thursday morning during the long, cold winter when my last baby was born. The most important thing is to be there for your friend.