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. 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?
I finally realized I needed to put the process on autopilot. So I came up with a go-to meal plan for myself. Now if someone needs dinner, I know–immediately and with barely a second’s thought–what that’s 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’ve already decided.
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 her daily demands to the pressing concerns of the moment.
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 for 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?
Ask what the family likes to eat, and if there are food allergies or strong 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.
It doesn’t have to be a casserole.
If you hate the very idea of casseroles, there are other options! Try grilled chicken, flank steak, pizza, barbecue sandwiches, soup and salad. (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.
How do I present the meal?
Package the individual items. (Disposable pans are easy.) The next best thing is a sturdy, easy-to-clean baking dish 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 tossed in gallon-size ziploc bags; others (like rolls or brownies) can be wrapped in foil.
Next, gather everything on a tray or in a sturdy bag. An insulated bag is nice if you have one, but it’s not necessary. Include 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 best. Plan a time when your friend isn’tin the shower, nursing the baby, or taking a nap. If she’s up for it, 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 treats, or a new dvd for the kids. Or chocolate. And coffee! Bring her 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 invited 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.
What’s your favorite go-to dinner for a friend?