Q & A – Sympathy Meals: Do You Give & Receive Them?

Today we’re going to do something a little different, because I’d love to hear from you on an important topic. We’ve had some great discussion on our Facebook page on this subject, and my readers over at Under the High Chair have shared their experiences, and I am now curious as to what my dear Simple Bites readers have to say.

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about cooking for others and the meaning behind the action. I don’t mean carving roast beef and passing around popovers for dinner guests (although that also has its qualities), but hot, nourishing meals that are made with care and delivered to someone in need.

There’s a lot to be said for the benefits of good, home cooked food when you are emotionally and physically low on reserves. A friend of mine,  Alice, recently wrote a moving post over at PBS Parents called Caring for Others. She shares firsthand how her family was recently touched during a particularly difficult time and had this to say about sympathy meals:

“It doesn’t take culinary know-how to bless others through food. It just takes the willingness to do it…Knowing and experiencing the love of others is the best medicine there is for broken hearts. Never underestimate the power of a home-cooked meal made with loving hands during times of crisis.”*

Powerful stuff.

As someone who loves to cook and bake, I often have a pot pie, casserole or tin of cookies banging around in my trunk on its way to a friend’s house. I may not always have the right words to say, or faculties to make a difficult situation easier when a friend is in need, but I can prepare double when I make dinner and send some love over in the form of a hot meal.

Who might need a meal?

You don’t have to look very far to find a recipient. We all know people who are struggling, who have perhaps lost a loved one, or are fighting a long-term illness, or lost their job. The starving college student, the single mother, and pregnant friend on bed rest would all probably be blessed by your thoughtfulness as well.

They’re not just for people are going through a tough time, though; those who are celebrating can also benefit from a prepared meal. Don’t forget about sleep-deprived new parents, new homeowners, or honeymooners!

**UPDATE: A lot of excellent questions have been raised in the comments. These will be addressed in an upcoming post. Thank you for sharing and for asking questions!**

Q & A. Here’s what I want to know: Have you ever received a meal during a difficult time from a well-meaning friend? How did it make you feel? Have you ever brought a hot meal to someone in need? How was it received?

I’m curious to know if this happens regularly in your communities. Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments, and feel free to list favorite dishes to give and receive.

I look forward to hearing if these not-so-random acts of kindness are still alive and well. Thanks for reading.

* Head HERE to read the entire post by Alice on Kitchen Explorers and get her recipe for Chicken Almond Rice Casserole.

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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  1. My mom passed away a couple of months ago after a long, hard battle with cancer that left my family weary in every way possible. During her last couple of months, food had become a battle. What could she eat? How much? Would she eat it?

    When my mom passed, our family gathered and we thought between my sisters and I (all pretty good cooks) that we could handle the food. The day after she passed a neighbor unexpectedly brought us a whole platter of sandwiches and yummy treats. That evening someone else brought us pot roast and hashbrown casserole. It was as if, when they showed up with food in hand, we sighed and could breathe a breath of relief. One extra thing we didn’t have to worry about. And somehow, that pot roast and hashbrown casserole was SO good that we could literally feel the comfort overtake our souls.

    I will never forget people’s kindness during such an extraordinary difficult time.

  2. It’s late I don’t have time to read all the posts but I have been on both ends. The meals I received after the births of my daughters are some of the gifts I will remember forever. Both births were uncomplicated and both my daughters were thankfully healthy babies, but having meals brought to us by friends meant so much. The two best meals of my life were the meals I had after my daughters were born and they were both gifts from friends.

    This winter I’ve been on the other side. We had close friends who miscarried one of their twins and then were hit with a nasty cold bug all while planning a big move. Another neighbor lost her husband quite suddenly. I joked to my husband that I had become the building’s soup fairy because I was always running down the hall with homemade soup for someone. I know those meals meant a lot to our friends and I was so happy that I could do something. It may not have taken the hurt and pain away, but it at least provided nourishment and the knowledge that we cared.

  3. I have been both the provider and recipient of this most meaningful kind of comfort food. I realized how important it was to have someone else think of my needs as well as their own, when people brought a meal when we had our first child. Since then, I have cooked many dinners for those in tough spots, all the while holding them foremost in my heart as my hands prepared their meal. No matter what happens, people have to eat, and to have someone show up with something that will keep your body and your soul together when you just can’t manage that on your own, is an important part of true community.

  4. This is a terrific post!!
    I have been both a giver and receiver of meals. Sometimes I just like to give meals to mom’s I know that are maybe a little stressed out or busy, there doesn’t always have to be a reason. Also, my husband and I pastor a new church and there is a single girl in her mid twenties that offers to cook us dinner sometimes. She’ll bring over dinner and sit and eat it with us…just because. It is a HUGE blessing. No one has ever done anything like that for me before. After both of my kiddos were born, people brought meals after my mom left (because she was cooking while she was there) and that allowed me to have a couple of extra weeks of meals which was amazing! Food is a great way to show love to others and there doesn’t always have to be a certain occasion for it.

  5. I have been the reciever and giver of meals. After my children were born we received several meals from different people. I have never felt so loved and cared for by people of my community then on those occasions. And because of the blessing that was to me and my family, I try to bring a meal to people I know who would rather be holding a newborn than cooking a meal. Once while I was preparing supper I couldn’t stop thinking about a friend and her family, so I called her up and asked if I could bring her their evening meal. She was having an especially hard and busy day, and after I reminded her that it was okay to receive something as a blessing, she was very happy. I’m not a great cook, but the meals I received have meant more to me than any other gift I have received and I am more then happy to use my mother-in-law’s reciepe and cook someone else a blessing.

  6. I have both received a meal, & given them to those in need. I took them with very much appreciation, I was extremely grateful. For those that I have made meals for, they were well appreciated as well, anytime I know of someone who may need a meal, I will be more than happy to make one for them. 🙂

  7. Neat post! Thanks for the reminder of how much this can matter. 🙂

  8. Great question! A friend of mine organized a meal delivery at our baby shower for when our first baby was born and what a gift that was! I am also part of an online community of over 3000 local families in my city and we have a meal delivery system. Usually this is families with new babies but sometimes it’s people who are going through a tough time as well. I’ve been both a grateful recipient and a giver. I really love taking my kids with me to deliver the meal to a new baby family!

  9. Hi Aimee. this is a great topic. I have done sympathy meals for several people in the last couple years, one, a neighbor who was really sick and the other was an employee at our fitness club who has terminal cancer. In both cases it was a very meaningful way to show of my concern. with my neighbor, I had fun decorating a nice basket with a tea towel and then filling it with goodies in ball jars. I had fun explaining to her what was in her meal “basket” and I think she really enjoyed the attention to detail.

    I do want to add that I once heard that a family who recieved a lot of sympathy meals were quite dismayed, because most people brought spaghetti sauce (from a jar) and noodles. It made me sad to realize how few families cook from scratch anymore! So, when I did my sympathy meals I made sure they were wholesome, from scratch recipes.

  10. Thank you- what a touching entry!

    I have realized that as an adult one of the ways I express my love to others is through food- this is definitely something I’ve gotten from my dad. He loves to eat and loves to share and he passed that onto me.

    Like many other comments, I’ve been on both ends and it is such a gift! Even though I love to cook it’s such a relief when you don’t have to think about it for a night. And I always like to pass that feeling onto others.

  11. When my FIL was dying – 7 years ago now – the only way I knew to contribute to the family was to cook. My Hubby and I had effectively moved back to help his mother take care of him. I spent my days cooking and my nights in the hospital. It was the least I could do so my MIL didn’t have to. So I stocked the freezer.

    Then, when he did pass a few weeks later and we returned home I actually started to resent the flowers people were sending. It’s a generous and thoughtful gesture, but rather useless. The largest bouquet paled in comparison to a plate of cookies or loaf of bread.

    It’s the same when a baby is born. You should never show up at someone’s house to visit a new baby without food, even if all you did was stop at the bakery on the way.

    You may eat the food, but those memories last a lot longer than any stuffed animal.

  12. Giving and receiving meals is a big part of our church community. Eight months ago when we had our third child we received three meals a week for a month! It was amazing! Talk about getting a chance to readjust when you don’t constantly have to think about what’s for dinner. And the food…YUM. So much more gratifying (in my opinion) when cooked by someone else! Generally the cell group of whomever is celebrating/grieving takes care of the meals. Last week our dear friends’ first baby died within 23 hours of birth. They are the current recipients of the church meals, and it shouldn’t be any other way!

  13. I was fortunate to receive meals for my family 3 years ago when I was seriously ill. It was one of the greatest gifts my family received. As I recovered my husband could continue to focus on his job and caring for our 2 children and we could continue to sit down to a family dinner via the meals friends and co-workers brought us. Being able to continue to have that routine of family dinner and not have to turn to frozen meals was a huge burden off our shoulders. We give meals to others throughout the year when we hear of someone in need as the gift for us was so appreciated and really reduced stress in our life.

  14. Both. Much like the first poster, my mom recently passed away after a long battle with cancer. Within hours friends, neighbors, and co-workers were showing up with meals large enough to feed my own family as well as my sisters and dad. My co-workers continued to arrive each night, meal in hand, for the next week. It was such a relief to not think about feeding our family during that time.

  15. Thank you for your post on giving and receiving meals in times of need. It’s great being on both ends! However, I always have difficulty figuring out what to make to take to someone’s home. Do you have any suggestions on simple healthy food that’s easy to transport?

  16. We had meals brought to us when we had our daughter and when we adopted a son. It made a world of a difference to know we would have nourishing meals during a time of little sleep or free time. We are thankful to be part of a wonderful community of friends at our church who do this anytime a new baby is born or there is another family hardship like a surgery or something. I love returning the favor by taking others a meal and blessing them in the way we have received.

  17. I wanted to say something to contribute to this but I’m not exactly sure how. I’ve always been a fan of cooking for others but have never exactly been the recipient. Luckily before my daughter was born I was able to make a few freezer meals which helped. I still like to make a batch of chicken soup when someone I care about is sick. I guess the one thing I can say is that I know how much it’s appreciated when you need it. Even if I’m “the cook” for the rest of my life I’m happy to be able to give that to the ones I love.

  18. What a beautiful sharing of experiences. I was truly touched and will definitely remember to give if the occasion should occur.

  19. My grandmother died three weeks after finding out that she hav ovarian cancer. Those three weeks she spent at the hospital were so hard for my family, because we knew she only had a couple weeks we all basically camped out at the hospital and at my families home which was close by. Lots of out of town relatives were also staying with us- and food was never a problem. Our church family and friends kept our refrigerator well stocked, and a few people even brought snacks and bottled water and juice to the hospital for those long days and nights. I cannot tell you how comforting it was to see peoples love displayed in this way, to see people thinking of us without having to even say a word. Many times a little note would be scrawled on the foil covering of a casserol along with the reheating directions. How sweet it is now to do the same for others both in happy times and in sad now that I know how it feels!

  20. My sweetie and I love to share food with people going through any kind of rough time – she likes cooking, and I bake bread every weekend, and it’s just the two of us, so we’re happy to share.

    When some friends of mine have had to mourn the loss of a loved one, I didn’t bring food right away because I knew they’d be deluged with same. What I did was offer gift certificates and menus from places that deliver. Yes, I know it’s not the same as bringing home-cooked food, but later on, when the high intensity support tapers off, those are there for the days when they don’t feel like cooking, and may want to treat the kids to something a bit different.

    Great piece – thanks everyone for sharing your stories.

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