Taking Food

Serving others by taking food to them when they cannot easily provide it for themselves is one of the most basic ways to show care and love. Some may think it unnecessary in our modern time of take-out and delivery and meals-on-wheels, but if you have ever been stranded at home for a week with two or three vomiting preschoolers while you are sick yourself, you know that a Dominoes pepperoni and sausage just is not what is called for.

Taking Food

Single servings are handy to have in the freezer. I often make several at once.

A couple of months after I married and moved away from my hometown, a family in our congregation had a new baby. The day after Mommy and Baby came home from the hospital, I showed up at their house with dinner for that evening. The mom was shocked – she said several times, “I can’t believe you did this. Thank you so much! This is so helpful! Nobody has ever brought us a meal before.” I was taken aback – this was her third baby, as I remember. It was not that the people in the congregation were unkind or uncaring, but apparently nobody ever took food to anybody. The next time there was a need, I spoke to a few of the ladies and suggested we make a little calendar of meals for a week, one night for each of us. They were delighted with the idea. One older lady said, “Oh, I remember some of us used to do this for people years ago!” I wasn’t brave enough to ask why the practice stopped, but I imagine, like many good works, the spear-headers aged and got unable to do it anymore and everybody thought somebody else would take care of it and so nobody did, and probably those old ladies who had cooked countless meals for countless families ended up making do with cheese and crackers.

Taking Food

Making three items fit into two-compartment dishes; Barbecued Meatballs recipe is here.

If you are a human being, it is part of your job description to care for those who cannot care for themselves and that nearly always involves food, so it makes sense to get comfortable preparing and taking food to those who need it.

Taking Food

Putting the green beans, the least dense food, in the center will help microwave heating to be more successful.

To whom should I be taking food?

Basically, any time a family has an incapacitated homemaker, it will be a big help to the household to have food brought in:

  • Pregnancy: Sickness/Bed-rest/Birth
  • Illness/Injury
  • Stress Overload: Bereavement, caring for ill family members, super-busy season
Taking Food

Oatmeal cookies — always a hit!

Two types of food to take:

  1. Stand-alone meal for a family, couple, or individual: For this type of meal, usually they are having what we are having. I simply make more of whatever I am cooking for our own dinner and take their part to them in the afternoon.
  2. “Buffet-type” food to be served along with other food – most often following a death when the family may have a lot of extra people and food may be eaten at odd times
Taking Food

Disposable container stash — I also use large foil “roasters” I get at Sam’s Club

Tips to make sure your food is really helpful and not something to be endured:

  • Take into consideration dietary needs/preferences and re-heat-ability.
  • Rule-of-thumb: sick and grieving people need food that is comforting rather than challenging, while others may enjoy food that is more fun or palate-expanding.
  • Be scrupulously clean! People who are down and out in some way don’t need your family’s germs or pet hair to contend with. ‘Nuff said!
  • Save their sanity! This is one time to be a little non-green. Keep a reasonable stash of obviously-do-not-need-to-be-returned containers on hand. (But you probably don’t need to keep every yogurt tub that comes into your life.) I buy some of those disposable foil pans when they are on sale for casseroles and cakes. If you do need to use regular serve-ware, make sure your name is clearly labeled so it can be returned.
  • Make it easy to serve! Label each food item with the following: what it is, when it was made, how many it serves, if it can be frozen, cooking/reheating instructions, and, optionally, if it meets special dietary needs like gluten-free or low-sodium. I often write with a Sharpie right on the foil I will use to cover the dish. For example: Shepherd’s Pie; 2/13; serves 4; can be frozen; to bake from cold, thawed state: 350 degrees, uncovered, for 30-45 minutes or til heated through; GF
  • Keep it simple! A casserole, a vegetable, and some bread. A meat, a starch, and a salad. Chili and cornbread. Just about everybody loves a pan of brownies or a batch of chocolate chip cookies if you (or the store) have time. If you have a nice fringe dish on hand like a jar of homemade applesauce or preserves, that might be just the appetite brightener someone needs.
  • Keep it yummy! Remember: We eat with our eyes first, our noses second, and our mouths last. Try to make food that appeals to all three senses. When you take food to someone, there are two things that can work against their enjoyment of it: the “fear factor” of the unknown and the way it looks before it is warmed. You know it is good because it is one of your tried and true recipes, but to them it is unfamiliar. They may feel kind of the way many children are nervous about tasting new foods. Plus, if you have ever opened a container of cold chicken soup with bits of onion and carrot and noodles trapped in jiggly, jellied broth, you know what it means to be a little weirded out by something that will actually smell divine and look and taste delicious once it is hot. Those two things are true of most things you might take, but don’t add Strike Three by choosing something with even greater visual or olfactory challenges. Soup made with wild rice looks like congealed vomit when it is chilled. Ingredients like cooked cabbage or sauerkraut are real turn-offs to many people. What makes food more appealing? Top a casserole with cheese or breadcrumbs. Sprinkle things with a little minced fresh parsley. Dishes made with tomato products are usually good. For that ugly cold chicken soup, attach a card: “I’m not too appealing when I’m cold, but just wait until I’m heated up!”
  • Sometimes people get nearly killed with kindness if there is no coordination, so consider a roster of food-bringers.  Perhaps you can volunteer to put one together amongst your neighbors or co-workers or congregation.
Taking Food

Write directly on the cover if you can!

I am a little afraid my list of tips might scare off a food-bringing novice, so know this: the most important thing is to just do it. Just show love. Just serve. You’ll get better with practice, but even your virgin attempt, done with care and concern, is so valuable to someone who needs it.

Taking Food

As absolutely heaven-on-a-plate as southern dumplings are, I would only take them to people who already know and love them. Admit it – they ain’t pretty! Recipe here

And sometimes we choose to ignore our own tips. My mom had an accident several weeks ago and I have been cooking most of their dinners since. Today is the second time I am taking a cabbage dish. It is not beautiful, and it will be especially ugly just out of the fridge, so I would avoid fixing this for someone else, but I know my folks’ tastes and we have a huge cabbage to use up and so cabbage it is.

Taking Food

Sorry, Mom and Dad. Cabbage — it’s what’s for dinner!

Taking Food

I guess it could be worse!

Do you take food to other people? What is your favorite thing to fix?

 

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13 Comments

  1. Posted February 20, 2013 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    I don’t see a link for that cabbage dish — care to share, dear? It looks interesting.
    Bobbie recently posted..Angel BabyMy Profile

    • Posted February 20, 2013 at 11:49 am | Permalink

      It’s one of my infamous clean-out-the-fridge deals, Bobbie! I roughly cut up half of a huge cabbage and mixed in:
      –about 1 c. of leftover mixed corn/carrots/peas
      –1 onion, cut into quarters and sliced
      –a mix of: 12 oz. cream cheese, a scoop of leftover gravy a la gravy ‘n biscuits (it’s a thick béchamel, really), and a few glugs of cream + s&p

      Turned it into two greased casseroles (This made about 1 gallon raw, so 3 qts. for our family and 1 qt. for Mom and Dad, but it cooks down some, natch.) Drizzled with water. Bake, covered, at 350 degrees for one hour. Uncover and bake until top is a little golden and cabbage is fork tender, another 20-30 minutes. I put roasted pork loin on top of Mom’s and Dad’s and they can just reheat it on plates. Ours got topped with kielbasa and will get “re-baked” before serving.
      Lori recently posted..The Thing that Made Me Climb on Top of the Booth at Outback Steakhouse and CheerMy Profile

  2. Posted February 20, 2013 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    Great post! Love all these tips. When I was in less-than-a-year of marriage, and naturally before I had had a baby myself, I took some food to a woman who just had a baby … but it was the type of thing that has some ingredients/spices that I found out later can be somewhat troublesome for pregnant women/new babies. Oops!! I felt very foolish. So it is great to have these tips. I definitely agree, though, that the important thing is just to do it! I know after I had a baby, having meals brought over was SO helpful to me.
    April Starr recently posted..Stay tuned – we’re getting a new Abode!My Profile

    • Posted February 20, 2013 at 11:50 am | Permalink

      I’ve taken gas-producing foods to new moms before without thinking, April, and I’ve had the brought to us. Some babies are bothered and some aren’t. Still, even if I had to eat a sandwich, like you said, it is SO helpful to have a meal brought for the rest of the family.
      Lori recently posted..Taking FoodMy Profile

  3. Barry Fultz
    Posted February 20, 2013 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    Lori,

    If you have a large congregation, there is a website to help coordinate “meal taking”. A user signs up for a specific day and receives an email reminder that their day is coming up.

    http://www.takethemameal.com

    I know my wife has participated in one of these “planned” meals before. She found it quite useful.

    Barry

  4. Sasha
    Posted February 21, 2013 at 5:24 am | Permalink

    My Mom and I have worked together over the years to compile a list of recipes to turn to when we need to to provide hospitality meals. We find that a loaf of homemade bread and a bagged salad complete most meals nicely. We also try to have a few ‘pantry meals’ for which the ingredients are always on hand so when we hear of a need we don’t have to run to the store. And even though I prefer to bake from scratch I always have a few loaves of frozen bread dough in my freezer. Here are some favorites:

    Chicken noodle soup
    Mild chili with cornbread
    Baked beans with sausage/kielbasa
    Italian chicken-rice casserole
    Macaroni & cheese with ham
    Pasta bake

  5. Posted February 21, 2013 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    Great post! Being on the receiving end, I learned the beauty of disposable tins and try to never do anything else now. It is a splurge on my part that gives them the gift of not having to scrub out and return a pan. Definitely worth it! I love to double up recipes so that I prepare half for giving away and half for a meal for our family. That is what I’m doing this week as I gather a few meals to take to a new mom. I try to prepare meals that can be either eaten right away or stashed in the freezer until needed. I also like to take muffins or a loaf of quick bread – they can be either breakfast, snack or dessert. And of all of the recipients, no one has been as grateful as bachelors/widowers. They don’t get home cooking very often, so I try to make it a regular practice to bring them meals when I can.

    • Posted February 21, 2013 at 7:47 am | Permalink

      Church Mouse, I remember the huge number of dishes that had to be washed, sorted, and returned following the death of one of my grandparents — that’s what taught me the beauty of disposables! Even so, the food (and the love behind it) was an enormous help in that difficult time, so if someone can’t afford to buy those foil pans, that should never stop them from taking food, as I know you’d agree. I love the muffin/bread idea — always great to have double duty items on hand.
      Lori recently posted..Life for Lazy People – Defining the Vocabulary of Lazy ProductivityMy Profile

  6. Sheila
    Posted February 21, 2013 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    My mother taught me the value of this type of service at a very young age and I find its a way I can serve while being in the work force. My favorite meal to take to young families is 5 cheese macaroni and cheese, tomato basil soup, bread sticks and a mixed salad. Since the meal is homemade, the flavor is much better than a box of Mac n cheese and a can of soup, but its familiar enough in appearance that children will eat it and it reheats well. I usually include a sweet, but that varies on what i have time to do. This is not a good menu for the flu, but works in many situations.

  7. Posted March 6, 2013 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    What a wonderful and thoughtful post! You should definitely check out http://www.takethemameal.com in the future. It is free and makes coordinating meals for others super simple. The only thing better than bringing someone in need a meal is coordinating a bunch of people to them bring meals 🙂

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