Food is much more than a series of nutrients and calories. Food brings people together to celebrate the good times and helps sustain us during the tough times. Some recipes are infused with memories and help honor important people and times in our lives. Food is at the center of any good get-together: a casual potluck with neighbors, a fancy dinner party or a family pizza night. Strangers gather together at food swaps and leave with baskets full of amazing edible loot and a group of new friends.
When you provide food for others, you aren’t just providing an overdone quiche and day-old bread. (What? Not all of my creations are winners. Ask me about the time I made soup for my grandparents and accidentally left it cooking on the stove for six hours. Not my finest moment, as a cook or as a fire safety proponent.) You are providing a few extra minutes in their day, crossing off one thing on their to-do list and hopefully offering a tiny bit of comfort. We all need to eat. But sometimes, we can’t gather the energy to make dinner or even get to the grocery store. So sneak over to your grandmother’s house or your best friend’s apartment and leave them a dinner. Whether you are helping out new parents by dropping off a ready-to-bake tray of lasagna or bringing soup to a sick family member, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Think casserole. Oh, the casserole. Casseroles have a bad rep and I think it’s time to change that. Maybe you harbor not-so-fond memories of a dry tuna noodle casserole from your childhood. Or maybe you prefer to spend hours in the kitchen fixing your guests a five-course meal. Either way, rethink the casserole. You can assemble everything ahead of time at home and then quietly leave it in your loved one’s refrigerator with directions for warming it up. They are the perfect drop-off meal. And if that casserole is topped with melty cheese, well then that is even better in my opinion.
Think soup. Don’t limit yourself to bringing over chicken noodle soup to your best friend when she’s home with the flu. Consider making a batch to share with an aging relative or a stressed-out colleague. Most soups can be made ahead of time and easily re-heated on the stove or in the microwave. Throw in a loaf of bread or a bag of croutons to the delivery and they’ll have a complete dinner on hand. Soup is one of my favorite comfort foods.
Think long-lasting. Is your loved one is lucky enough to have an entire network of people caring for them and bringing over food? Awesome! But you don’t want your award-winning chicken pot pie to go to waste. Try preparing dishes that can be frozen for later. There’s nothing nicer than realizing you have a complete dinner in the freezer, saving you from a desperate fast-food run during a hectic week. (Check out this comprehensive guide to freezing prepared foods and a list of foods you can freeze from the National Center for Home Food Preservation.)
But don’t overthink it. Remember, the goal isn’t to win yourself a gourmet cooking show on the Food Network. It’s to feed the ones you love. If that means bringing them a frozen pizza, so be it. It may not feel like enough, but know that in a small way, you are helping. You are helping a new mom focus on her baby and not on what to put on the table. You are caring for an ill family member and giving her amazing caretakers a well-deserved break. You are offering your condolences after a death or your prayers during a time of recovery and healing. You are putting your good thoughts into action and giving a life-sustaining and soul-nourishing meal to someone who needs it. Ok, fine, a frozen pizza may not be soul-nourishing but it gets the basic job done. (I’ve been known to drop off a Stouffer’s lasagna when necessary and I haven’t been shunned from my family yet.)
Be a dinner elf. Think of someone who could use a break from meal-planning and cooking, and leave a casserole in their fridge or jar of soup in their freezer. You don’t have to stay and chat. They don’t need to write a thank-you card. The favor will be returned to you someday. When all else fails and you aren’t sure what to do, bring them ice cream. Never underestimate the power of a pint of ice cream to heal broken hearts, broken bones or frazzled nerves.