I will never forget the first meal I made to take to a new mom. I was a senior in college and attending a small church with many young families. When I received the email asking for volunteers to take meals to a new mom and dad, I immediately signed up. Typing my name on that digital sign-up list felt like a rite of passage into being an adult.
I grew up surrounded by a community in which people practically chipped in during seasons of transition and grief. More times than not, that meant preparing and taking meals to families.
As a kid, I would watch my mom make large pots of soup, dozens of cookies, trays of stuffed pasta shells and big salads to deliver to fellow church-goers, homeschooling friends, etc. The occasion may have been the birth of a child, surgery recovery or the loss of a loved one.
I also remember when my family was a recipient of meals. Following the birth of my brother, I have fuzzy memories of friends stopping by to see the new baby and drop off dinner. After my family was in a severe car accident, a friend from homeschooling called us one day and told us she’d be by in the afternoon with dinner. She showed up with a slew of meals and desserts made by her and another friend that we enjoyed for several days.
The Truth Behind Meal Giving
Theology and my experience tell me these meals mean something more than just dropping off a pan of lasagna and brownies. We take meals to others because they testify to what’s at the core of Christian community: giving and caring for one another out of the abundant love we’ve received from Christ.
In her post on why she returned to the church, Rachel Held Evans says one compelling aspect of the church is “the fact that when somebody gets sick or dies or has a baby or loses their job, it’s the church ladies who are the first to show up at the front door with a casserole and a hug.”
We shouldn’t be surprised by her sentiment. But like love, preparing and delivering meals requires time and resources. It’s not always convenient. Sometimes, it’s uncomfortable and requires vulnerability.
What if they don’t like my cooking? How can I scrape another decent meal from our budget this month? When will I make it and deliver it? These are questions I ask myself every time I sign-up on that list.
Taking meals requires getting over ourselves and looking to the needs of others. This habit takes practice. But the rewards are immense. Sharing something of yourself (and your family) in someone’s time of need is a living picture of the Gospel. What could be more life-giving than that?
There are some practical considerations to bear in mind when taking in meals.
If possible, one person should be in charge of coordinating the meals and informing volunteers of the details (drop-off times, allergies, etc.) The web has a plethora of resources to help with this. Check out Take Them A Meal. Google tools (calendar, sheets, docs, etc.) are also a great resource.
The Meal Itself
KISS (keep it simple, stupid) is a fitting acronym to remember when considering what to make. My equation for meal creation is simple:
1 Casserole/Entree + 1 Simple, healthy side (salad, fruit, etc.) + 1 Dessert = A Complete Meal
Leave the pungent, unusual flavors at your home (unless you know the family very well). Make flavorful, crowd-pleasing foods like healthy casseroles, savory pasta bakes and soups and stews like tomato, chicken and rice, and beef vegetable.
I try to avoid the combinations of pasta + red sauce and noodles + poultry. They’re popular choices for obvious reasons, but I want to do my part to make sure the family isn’t eating lasagna and chicken and noodles for three weeks straight.
Some think they can’t or shouldn’t take meals. There are certainly seasons of life where you should feel no guilt if you decide not to sign-up. But if you fear your cooking is inadequate or you don’t have time, take in a pan of frozen lasagna, a bagged salad and grocery store cookies. Chick-fil-a and Chipotle work too. Another great option is restaurant gift cards. Remember that your role is to serve, not make yourself (through your cooking) look good.
Be prepared to grieve. Be prepared to leave.
If possible, I’d encourage you to have a buffer between meal drop-off and the next item on your agenda. Sometimes the new mom is excited to visit and introduce the new baby. Sometimes, the grieving family* wants to talk with someone outside of the situation. Other times, the receivers are exhausted and just need space. Feel the situation out and act accordingly.
Why Meals Matter
Taking meals into others is quiet, unglamorous work. But as is always the case with le Bon Dieu, the ordinary becomes glorious when done for him. He sees all and is delighted when we serve one another in this way. Moreover, the world is watching how we love one another. The practical act of taking a meal to someone shows that the grace we’ve received doesn’t merely penetrate our hearts. It shapes our communities and spurs us to care for another through the joys and brokenness of life.
What about you? Do you have go-to recipes you make to deliver to your friends? Words of wisdom on taking in meals? Any stories about meals you’ve received or given?
*If you’re taking a meal to a grieving family, I’d encourage you to read this series by Molly Piper (John Piper’s daughter-in-law). It’s personal, kind and practical.