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Caring from the Kitchen: Sharing Suppers

by Katie Cullum

helping hands tree
Want to lend a helping hand but aren't sure how?

Have you ever told someone, “Let me know if you need anything!”?  Maybe a friend or acquaintance is going through a rough time – new baby, sickness, job loss, mental health struggles, etc.  You want to be helpful so you tell them “Let me know if you need anything!” Has anyone ever taken you up on that?  I’ve had people tell me that, and I know I’ve said it too. 

While it sounds nice, it puts the burden on the person who really needs less burden. 

So what can we say as an alternative?  

Get more specific. “What can I do for you?” or maybe even “What would help make your day easier?”  You’ll want to offer to do things that you will do, not something that you hope they’ll turn down.  “Would it help if I brought you a meal?” “Could you use a gift card or a meal delivery?”

“Would it help if I came to help with laundry or cleaning?” “Can I come get your kiddos for a playdate with mine?” Dr. Brittany Schrick, Family Life Specialist, suggested that just knowing people are thinking about what you really need takes an emotional burden off and the person can take a deeper breath. 

Whether it’s holding a new baby so the new mom can get a shower or taking the older kids outside, help is always appreciated.  However, keep in mind that a new mom may want to hold the baby and let you help fold laundry.  Some people only want to come “help” if they can hold the baby but many new parents may be hesitant to pass around a newborn.

While helping new families is fun, helping others walk through a dark valley may be more difficult. 

For a grieving family (whether a miscarriage, pregnancy loss, death in the family), you may want to find a point person or organizer to help navigate the needs. This way, the grieving family doesn’t have to answer all the calls, texts, or messages.  A point person could be a relative, close family friend, or faith friend.  If bringing food, you may want to deliver in a cooler so the family doesn’t have to answer the door immediately if they aren’t up for it.  Make sure you pack plenty of ice and place the cooler in the shade if possible, while alerting the family of the delivery.

Sometimes, we want to help older people by bringing food.  They will probably appreciate the food, but they’d probably enjoy some company and conversation almost as much! So you may need to plan a little extra time while delivering food.  If you don’t like to visit, but you know someone who loves to visit, then ask if they can deliver the food and visit.  You’re still helping, even if you don’t deliver.

women taking dish out of oven
Hot meals can't be beat but that's not the only way to help.

Since food is a pretty common way to help, I tend to go that way.  For acute care, for example new babies, a lot of people use something like Meal Train or Sign up Genius.  That gets a week or two of meals easily done!  But for more chronic conditions, like ongoing cancer treatments, it’s a bit more complicated. 

In my circle, hot meals are delivered to families with a new baby.  I usually try to take things that I appreciated as a new mom – fresh fruit salad, a green salad, rolls, and maybe even a little something for breakfast.  But as a new mom, I was also very thankful that I had a freezer full of meals that my mom, sister, and I prepped just a few weeks before Grayson was born.  In fact, I loved the freezer meals so much that I kept making them!  I’ve expanded my freezer food to include not just meals that can be thawed and cooked, but also single ingredients (like shredded chicken and cooked ground beef) that can thaw quickly and be flexible in use (for cooked ground beef, I can make tacos, sloppy joes, homemade helper, soup, etc.).

Freezer meals are a great way to share food.  Yes, a freezer meal can be a bit more work but it is also very flexible.  I can make several meals at once, and then share.  In fact, I’ve had a Freezer Friends day where a group of women get together in a church kitchen.  We each make multiples of one meal – and then we share our meals with each other.  So we each go home with several different meals and we make extra to give away to those who need it. 

Keep in mind that many people in stressful situations may not have the time or energy to clean out space in their freezer. It can be overwhelming.  You could prep half a meal to eat now, and half to be frozen.  Or you could offer a meal this week, and another one to deliver next week.  If you know the person well, you could even offer to clean out the freezer, and then stock it up.

While providing food can be very helpful, it's important to keep that food safe. Many people, including pregnant women, young children, older people, and people with weakened immune systems, are at higher risk for foodborne illness or food poisoning.  Check out our next blog post - Caring from the Kitchen: Food Safety.