I will show you my exact process for bringing a meal to a friend in need, as well as tons of tips for WHAT to bring (and HOW to bring it), with ideas and suggestions sourced from hundreds of different families. You can do this! Be the human who does this! You can build community and warmth with one simple meal. Find my favorite menu plans on the sister post, 12 Meals to Take to a Friend in Need.
Table of Contents
- Does no one bring meals anymore?
- In defense of bringing a meal
- The “recipe” for bringing someone a meal
- The meals I personally come back to again and again
- Find out what they really need.
- Friends don’t make friends return containers
- Double the meal to feed your family too
- Meal ideas to take to a friend
- Food bloggers who bring meals
- For the kids
- Snack ideas for when your friend has a baby
- Tips and tricks
- Breakfast and lunch
- Special diets
- Groceries or take out
- Vegetarian meal ideas:
- Vegan meal ideas:
- Dairy-free meal ideas:
- Gluten-free and low carb:
- Dairy free, gluten-free, AND vegan meal ideas:
- Meal ideas for picky kids (or adults):
- That’s a wrap
- How to Bring a Meal to a Friend Recipe
I have been a food blogger for nearly 12 years now, and it is really funny to hear some of the things people assume I’m good at. Such as:
- Cake decorating. Just because I photograph my dinner and post it on the internet does NOT mean I can bust out a fancy looking cake; If you ask me to make a princess themed cake for your daughter, she WILL cry at her birthday party.
- Family photography. NOPE, unless you happen to be an inanimate object carefully placed in perfect lighting, I cannot take pictures of you. (It would be the mom of the family crying that time. “What have you done.”)
But I will tell you one thing I HAVE figured out over the years: refining the process of bringing a meal to a friend who needs it most. Food is my love language, and I’m always trying to foist it on other people to prove it. I LOVE YOU HERE’S SOME TACOS is usually how it goes.
Tips for how to bring a meal to a friend in need is one of my top requested posts from friends and family. I’m finally putting it together, with the help of my sister Laura and my best friend Sarah, who cook and bake even more than I do!
We talked to real moms and real families to gather the best tips and tricks for bringing someone a meal.
We scoured different resources and polled tons of different groups to see what they are bringing to friends when disaster (or surgery, or a baby, or the flu) strikes. What we’ve compiled here is the result of hundreds of responses. We’ve condensed and categorized it to make it easier to get through. A lot of the advice is similar; there are a few standard tricks of the trade that you should know.
One of the main reasons that I wanted to create this post was so that I’d have a big list at my fingertips every time I’m taking a friend a meal! (Turns out most of my posts are completely self-serving, ha) I hope this is as helpful for you as it will be for me!
Does no one bring meals anymore?
Before we get into the details, I want to tell you how important I think the tradition of meal-bringing is!
When I do research for a post, I have tools that tell me how many times a month Google-users are searching for a particular term. For example, on average, 201,000 people search for the term “Potato Soup Recipe” every month.
I use this to find out how popular certain recipes are going to be, and also, what the most-used title is (so that I can name my recipe what is most commonly searched for, so people can find it.)
I was astounded at the numbers for today’s post. “Dinner ideas for friends” has about 390 monthly searches. “Meals to take someone” has 320.
I get it, I get it. As a society, we have outsourced a lot of our cooking needs. People eat out a lot. And it’s DEFINITELY a lot easier to toss someone a gift card than it is to make and transport hot food.
In defense of bringing a meal
BUT. There is something special about a meal you made yourself with your own hands. There is something personal there. A homemade meal doesn’t just feed someone. It says, “I care about you. I spent time on you. I thought about your needs and I’m here to help. You are important to me.”
This is something that a pizza cannot do. Anyone can order themselves pizza. But an exhausted new mom — who can’t stand up for more than 10 minutes, hasn’t slept in 3 days, and is still in shock that she now holds a universe in her arms — she doesn’t need a pizza delivery. She needs a home cooked meal, with some vegetables in it. She needs you to hold the baby for 5 minutes while she eats it. She needs you to tell her that she looks great even without that shower. She needs to look a compassionate adult in the eye today.
You can duplicate this scenario 1000 times. A grieving husband, a double knee replacement, a car accident. An old friend once said it best, “I didn’t need meals brought when I had my babies; I need it now when I’m going through a divorce.” Sometimes, you can’t even handle the basic task of feeding yourself, especially when you feel like your life is actually falling apart. Pizza for every meal does not help.
I think the fact that only 390 people a month are searching for ideas about meal-gifting is part of our problem today. You cannot build relationships with an Uber Eats order.
My sister Laura said it this way, “In bringing a meal, you serve others, you humble yourself to be served [when someone brings a meal for you], and you become part of the fabric of each other’s lives. It brings love and community among neighbors and friends.”
I hope, if you’re reading this, we agree about WHY this work is important. So now let’s get into the details of HOW it’s to be done!
The “recipe” for bringing someone a meal
First of all, you can do this! Don’t let the overwhelm get you!
These are general steps; we will go over each one in detail below. These steps are also in a printable “recipe card” at the end of the post, in case you want to print the formula out and tape it to the inside of a cupboard door in your kitchen. I’ve brought meals dozens of times and I still get paralysis thinking about it sometimes. It’s nice to have it written out. Here we go!
- Call your friend and ask them these questions:
- “Do you have any allergies?”
- “Is there anything you hate to eat, or that your kids won’t eat?” Take notes.
- Bonus question, “What do you like?”
- Choose a main dish and decide how you will transport it in disposable packaging.
- Choose a SIMPLE side dish (so you don’t overwhelm yourself). Think garlic bread, bag of salad, frozen veggies steamed. Decide how you will deliver it to them using NO dishes that need to be returned.
- If you’re feeling extra, choose a second SIMPLE side dish.
- If you’re feeling even more extra, choose a dessert.
- Make the meal. Let cool slightly. Package in disposable containers. Ziplocks, aluminum pans, old marinara jars, and more ziplocks. I have all the links below.
- Pack all the food in your car. I usually put as much as I can in grocery bags. Secure sloshy items in between towels.
- Pack paper plates, cups, napkins, plastic forks/spoons/knives, if you can.
- Prepare written instructions ahead of time if your meal requires any prep. (or have a text ready to send off)
- Drive slow enough that the people behind you get irritated. (THEY aren’t going to have to clean up spilled Beef Barley Soup later on, they can deal. No of course this has never happened to me why do you ask?)
- Carefully carry the food to the door, making several trips as necessary, and watching out for sidewalk cracks. One time my mom was carrying a giant load of food and tripped on a tiny step they had right in front of their door. She crashed to her knees, food (and blood 😬) flying everywhere, and the poor neighbor had to bandage her up before sending her home. Noooo
- Deliver the food with warm smiles and hugs. This person is having a hard time. Now is the moment where you get to be human together. It might be awkward; do your best. It is meaningful that you came, no matter how uncomfortable you both may feel.
- Make sure you communicate that no food containers need to be returned.
- And voila! That’s it!
The meals I personally come back to again and again
Before we get into the other ideas on this post, I first want to share with you the recipes that I personally make when bringing a meal to a friend. There are LOTS of other ideas throughout the post, but these are the ones I always come back to.
I separated my own personal menu plans into a whole other post: 12 Meals to Take To a Friend in Need. Today’s post is a general How-to guide, all about ideas and tips and hacks. This other post is a list of exact menu plans so you can just write down what to buy, including planning for how to package and transport everything.
Below are a few of the recipes listed on the other post. Clicking on the recipe title will take you to the recipe page. Visit the post 12 Meals to Take To a Friend in Need for all the menu plans.
- Chicken Tacos or Beef Tacos using my Taco Salad recipe. Incredibly easy to prep, and a meal that is universally liked by all.
- Easy Potato Soup Recipe >> creamy, thick, kids and adults love it, and it’s SO easy to make.
- Crockpot Beef Barley Soup >> when I think of nostalgic, homey recipes, this soup is at the top of the list. Soup goes in ziplocks, or those giant take-along tupperwares.
- The Best Baked Ziti >> I originally titled this recipe “Postpartum Ziti” because it’s such a great meal to take to someone after they have a baby. It feeds an army and is great for nursing mamas.
- Easy Slow Cooker Chicken Stroganoff >> Slow Cooker Chicken Stroganoff is one of my favorite meals to bring to new moms. It’s super easy to put together, easy to double if you want to feed your own family the same meal, and to top it off it’s very kid friendly (leave the noodles separate from the sauce.)
- Creamy White Chicken Chili >> another simple recipe that also freezes beautifully, so you can have it on hand to give away or for friends to tuck away for when they need it most.
- The Best BLT Sandwich >> prep all the ingredients and have them ready to go, and let them assemble when they’re ready to eat. This one is nice because everything can be room temperature.
Remember, this is just the list of recipes, but if you visit my other post 12 Meals to Take to a Friend in Need, I tell you all the side dishes and suggestions for how to package my favorites.
Now that I’ve shared my own personal go-to’s, we’re going to dive into the details of every step I listed above.
Find out what they really need.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to bringing someone a meal. Dropping off a large meaty spaghetti bake might be perfect for a large family who loves pasta, but not at all helpful for a young single mom with a toddler and her gluten-free grandma. Ask yourself (or your friend) the following questions before you even make a shopping list.
- Do you or your family have any special dietary needs?
- Are there any foods you or your family really love?
- Would dinner be helpful, or would breakfast or lunch type foods work better for you?
- Do you have anyone visiting you that will be eating with you?
- What time is best for me to bring food?
- Is food the best way for me to help you right now? (Sometimes a family might have food covered, but what they could really use is a ride to an appointment, babysitting, or a drugstore pickup.)
Friends don’t make friends return containers
This is the MOST common tip that was brought up again and again in our search. Imagine giving a birthday gift to someone and expecting them to return the gift bag and tissue paper you brought it in. No way Jose. Don’t be that guy. Give them the gift of NOT having to return anything as part of the blessing of the meal. Here are some of the exact items I use for taking in meals:
- Aluminum pans: Don’t limit yourself to only baking casseroles in disposable aluminum foil pans. They are a handy size container that you can deliver lots of food items in: chopped salad, taco meat on half and refried beans on the other half, meatballs and rice, pulled pork, a pile of baked potatoes, etc. Unless it’s soup, this is pretty much what I use every time. I buy them in bulk.
- Ziplocks are your best friend. I always deliver soup in ziplocks. I love to keep 1-gallon and 2-gallon size ziplocks on hand. You can fit two loaves of bread in the larger one, or an entire casserole dish. They are great for freezing.
- Soup storage containers. These are handy for smaller amounts. My sister Laura saves tupperware that store bought items come in, just to give away. (Think like the deli meat that comes in tuppers, or sour cream containers. My grandma passed away last year and when we cleaned out her kitchen we found about 5,000 I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter tubs 😂)
- Heavy duty foil is thicker and stronger than regular foil, it’s great for using as a lid if your pans don’t come with lids.
- Metal sheet pans. I often carry a disposable pan into the house on a metal sheet pan. Those aluminum casserole pans are NOT sturdy, especially when full of hot lasagna. Slide the disposable pan onto their table, and take the sheet pan home with you so they don’t have to return it.
Double the meal to feed your family too
Cook once, feed twice as many. This is one of my favorite things to do when making meals for someone else – feed my family the same thing! If they have a small family, you could divide a 9×13 inch casserole between two 8×8 inch pans, one for you, one for them.
Meal ideas to take to a friend
Next is to actually make a choice for what food to make. These are real suggestions from people we know. Skim through and see what resonates with you!
- My sister Laura always makes a big chopped salad. This is a great FRESH option for someone who just does not have the capacity to chop vegetables right now (Heck I lack that capacity on some totally normal days!) She buys a big bag of greens and then chops up and stores in different ziplocks or old sour cream tubs: cubed cheddar, chopped cooked chicken, crumbled bacon, boiled eggs, chopped apples, sliced avocado, cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, thawed corn, and a bag of fried onions or candied pecans from the store. The adults can turn it into a big salad and the kids can eat one item at a time, charcuterie style. She also includes store bought or homemade Honey Mustard dressing. Throw in some garlic bread and fruit and you are good to go!
- “I usually bring a Pasta bake and a dessert, usually cookies in foil containers. I’ll put a sticky note on the casserole with reheating directions. When I was on bed rest, someone brought me a homemade pizza that I loved, mainly because it followed three days of spaghetti! So I never take spaghetti. Although who doesn’t love Spaghetti?”
- “With my second baby, someone brought me an entire Lasagna made from scratch (but the Costco one was good too), bagged salad and dessert. Someone else brought homemade tacos. And someone else brought two dishes of Enchiladas. One to eat now and one frozen to eat later. Those were some of my favorite things!”
- “I always make muffins for the morning. Then I bring either a Ham and macaroni casserole or Mediterranean quinoa salad. Then a veggie tray, and if I have time chocolate chip cookies.”
- “Tater Tot casserole. “It’s easy for kids and adults and I always bring it cooked but not heated up so the person can either freeze it or reheat at their convenience.”
- “I usually bring some sort of casserole that can just be warmed up in the oven, and then some sides. Last one I did was a Mexican pasta skillet with chips and salsa and refried beans. I also make muffins and/or cut up fruit (easy to grab and eat). If there are older siblings, I bring a big brother or sister gift (just something small but makes them feel special). I loved getting anything home cooked after our babies were born.”
- “Pasta salad is a terrific meal option on hot summer days.”
- “Homemade Chicken and Dumplings in a crockpot with bread was my favorite! Delicious comfort food with plenty of leftovers. I also really loved when my mother-in-law brought deli meat, cheese, bread and fresh fruit washed and cut up. So convenient to have on hand.”
- “My friend brought me seven meatloaves. It was the best because for 7 weeks one night a week I had a go-to easy dinner in the freezer.”
- “Chicken and rice or Poppyseed chicken, tacos and all the fixings, Pulled pork sandwiches with buns or Mini cheddar meatloaves, or soup if it’s fall/winter. I always bring some fruit and a dessert and will usually bring a bagged salad and maybe a bag of frozen veggies that can be cooked in the bag, either that or a bag of raw carrots. For dessert I usually bring homemade cookies or bars.”
- “Meatball subs with side salad and cookie bars. I have the buns sliced. Meatballs in marinara in a microwaveable container. Provolone cheese is sliced and in a baggie. I make 8×8 pans of cookie bars using disposable foil pans. The side salads I usually put in one of those disposable bowls with lids — lettuce, any chopped veggies on top, croutons (or other crunchy bits) in a ziplock bag on top of veggies.”
- “BBQ chicken sandwiches with pasta salad and cookie bars. Make sure buns are sliced and BBQ chicken is in a disposable microwavable container.”
- “Our favorite is Taco bar. Everything for tacos plus refried beans, guacamole, chips, white queso dip.”
- “Our go-to is usually Chicken cordon bleu casserole with rice. It’s what someone brought us after having a baby and it was so good! Everyone has loved it and asked for the recipe. I usually throw in some fresh fruit on the side, and some kind of veggies I think the kids will like.”
- “Someone brought me a hibachi meal (grilled chicken, shrimp, veggies) with rice then a side of salad and fruits. I absolutely loved it. They packed the fruits in a zip lock bag, the meal served hot in a disposable serving foil tray, and salad in a plastic container.”
- “Tomato soup and paninis (ready to be grilled). I have even taken my panini press and they make the prepared sandwiches themselves. Always a hit!! Put the prepared sandwiches in wax paper since they are buttery.”
- “I usually make Thai style fried rice with ham and lots of veggies. I’ll often add spring rolls that they can heat up, too. Sometimes I’ll add an Asian salad mix that they can make whenever they want.”
- “One time, some brought us a heaping amount of Hawaiian haystacks with accompanying toppings and it was delicious! And lasted for several meals, which I really appreciated.”
- “My favorite thing to take is Chicken pot pie with fried apples and homemade bread if I have time, plus some kind of dessert like chocolate chip cookies or cupcakes. As soon as it comes out of the oven, I leave right away to deliver the meal and it’s always hot and ready to eat as soon as it’s delivered.”
- “I just made my friend a Fajita kit and put it in a disposable metal tray with a lid! Cooked up chicken, peppers and onions and bagged lettuce, salsa, cheese, Guac, sour cream and tortillas!”
- “Burrito bowls with all the fixings and fresh baked cookies. Some variation of this: rice (cilantro lime or plain), protein (seasoned chicken, steak or shrimp), sides (black beans, peppers & onion, corn, etc.), and toppings (salsa, guac, fresh jalapeños). Can add chips and dip or queso.”
- “I had a meal train a few years ago. One of my most favorite meals someone brought was Roasted chicken with za’atar spices, quinoa, and some grilled veggies, and then she had ideas on what to do with the leftovers which she also added extras. So we had the meal the first night and the second day we shredded some chicken and chopped the veggies and added the Tzatziki sauce and rolled it up in to wraps, and then we did the leftover quinoa and the rest of the chicken mixed with the bagged salad.”
- My friend Ashley says, “I often take chimichangas or Taquitos, because they are family friendly. If I know they are receiving lots of meals then I take them uncooked in a gallon ziplock bag (with cooking instructions) to put in their fridge or freezer and cook when needed. That way it spreads out the meals that come in. I always give fruit and salad in disposable tupperwares. And of course dessert too. I’ll usually add salsa and a bag of chips.”
- My friend Danielle says, “There’s no wrong way to bring a meal to someone. Never suppress a generous thought! When I have the bandwidth, some of my go-to meals are Lasagna Soup, Zuppa Toscana with salad, fruit and bread. In summer months grilled Soyaki chicken with rice, fruit and a salad. I don’t always do dessert, probably because every time I’m postpartum I’m ready to shed the weight. I’ve also done a Pot Roast with mashed Potatoes. Sometimes I text them three options and let them pick, and sometimes Costco to the rescue with pre-made food if I don’t have the bandwidth.”
Food bloggers who bring meals
I have a lot of friends who are food bloggers, and as fellow food-obsessed people, they are pretty expert when it comes to bringing in dinner for someone. I asked for their TOP recipe they bring, here’s what they shared:
- Amy and I go way back, she blogs at House of Nash Eats: “I like Tamale Pie because you can make the filling ahead of time, then assemble and either bake (if you know they will be eating it right away) or take it unbaked so they can bake or freeze for later. Bring toppings like shredded cheese, sour cream, and chopped green onions in separate disposable containers so they don’t have to worry about returning them to you!”
- Kasey from All Things Mama: “I always bring this Creamy Tomato Pasta! I also add some Italian bread and a salad. And then for dessert it’s usually brownies.”
- My girl Amy from Living Locurto says, “I’m planning meals right now for a friend having surgery this Friday on her arm. We asked her what days she wanted meals because it’s too much food to get a meal everyday. She said 2 days a week. They will eat leftovers in between days, then would prefer door dash or Uber eats gift card for weekends. I always make several pans of my Honey Lime Baked Chicken and pack various sides of rice, veggies or homemade mashed potatoes. She has a few teen boys who only eat healthy low carb protein meals.”
- I’ve known and admired Liz for years, from The Skinny Chick Can Bake, “I love to roast a 3-4 pound Rotisserie Style Chicken. It’s great as is the first night, then use leftovers for sandwiches. I made it for a neighbor recently who broke her hip!!! They loved it.”
- My good friend Shinee from Sweet and Savory says, “I like to make Easy Chili. Why it’s a good choice: it easily feeds 6-8 people, easy to freeze, and everyone loves chili! Bonus: add a tub of sour cream, shredded cheese and chips for toppings! Another favorite is breakfast burritos. I’ve shared them with a grieving mama in our community. Sometimes, breakfast is often overlooked. Why it’s a good choice: convenient to serve, can be eaten any time of the day, and can be frozen.”
- Candi from Make Ahead Meal Mom says, “This is one of my favorites to take: Baked Sausage and Cheese Rigatoni, with a green salad and garlic bread. Sometimes it’s chicken noodle soup and a loaf of bread. I think breakfast gets overlooked a lot so sometimes it’s nice to take some muffins for the next morning. I’m not a morning person so sometimes having a breakfast ready to go is a lot more helpful for me than a dinner.
- My friend Lynn from Fresh April Flours says, “I always bring this Easy Baked Ziti assembled and unbaked. It can go into the fridge for later, oven for now, or the freezer for the future!”
- Genevieve from Two Cloves Kitchen: “I have made fully cooked and frozen meals so that the only step needed is to heat. I always ask in advance if the meal sounds good and provide the instructions for reheating (written or printed) with the meal so they don’t have to go searching. If there are toppings that make it better, I ask if they’d like those toppings, too. This is an easy one to just heat and serve: Sausage Spinach Quiche.”
- Taryn from Joy Filled Eats says, “I do tons of meal trains and I’m in charge of setting them up for our faith community. I normally do smoked pulled pork, homemade Mac and Cheese, and cornbread plus a salad. My favorite meal I ever got though was a big tray of grilled chicken and veggie kabobs.”
- Denay from Confetti and Bliss says, “I focus on breakfast, small bites and desserts. It’s usually two types of muffins and/or mini bagels with two types of spreadable cream cheese. For small bites it’s usually pinwheel sandwiches or mini quiches. For dessert I bring two types of cookies: chocolate chip plus either oatmeal or peanut butter. With small bites available they can eat something in front of their guests without feeling awkward heating up and eating a regular-type meal in front of others.”
- My old friend Rachel from Rachel Cooks says, “I bring a main dish (always freezer friendly, sometimes already frozen depending on needs) and then lots of grab and go stuff. Pre-washed and prepped fruit, frozen cookie dough balls with directions, boiled eggs, veggies and dip, snacks. Sometimes I even package things in individual sandwich bags if it fits the situation (in particular if they have school aged children). Another thing I often do is a big bag of frozen pancakes!”
- Ashley has an amazing blog, Recipe Rebel. She says: “Sometimes I prefer not to make a meal but I feel things like breads, muffins, snacks, cookies or things that are components of a meal that can be frozen and eaten at any time, etc. Individually frozen biscuits, meatballs, soups, cooked shredded chicken are a great way to stock someone’s fridge and freezer so that they can eat what they’re craving and at their own pace.”
For the kids
- “If there are older siblings, I bring a big brother or sister gift (just something small but makes them feel special).”
- “Pre pack 1-3 days worth of lunches for toddlers or school age children. Easy to do, and just one less thing for the family to worry about. If the parents aren’t opposed, even Lunchables would work. EASY.”
- “If they have little kids I grab a couple coloring books and crayons, some stickers or some other little thing that keeps them busy.”
- “A fun idea I recently did for a friend with kids was a pizza kit. I got pre-made crusts, sauce, cheese, and their preferred toppings so they could build their own pizzas.”
- “Ask if they would prefer a certain type of meal, have picky eaters, etc. People have brought me meals that my kids wouldn’t eat.”
Snack ideas for when your friend has a baby
Having a newborn SERIOUSLY screws up your eating habits (not to mention sleep). Suddenly it’s 3AM and you’re searching the fridge for something you can eat with one hand because you’re starving and your howling infant is in the other arm. Here’s what our friends loved!
- “After one of my babies, a friend brought a bunch of healthy, quick grab snacks, on top of the dinner she brought over. It was fresh cut veggies and fruit, as well as some cubed cheese and turkey if I remember right. It was such a FANTASTIC help in those early days of baby time because I could grab a handful of something to sustain me while I was (constantly) breastfeeding. I’ve done this a few times for people!”
- Make some meal prep lunch meals for mom in addition to/in lieu of a dinner. Just portion them into 4-5 disposable containers for her to have ready throughout the week. This is a great way to take care of moms so they can care for their family.”
- “For a new baby – my friend brought me homemade granola and it was surprisingly amazing to nibble on while nursing, in those early days when you’re tied to the nursing chair all day everyday it was the perfect thing to keep there. She also brought me scones! Can’t remember a single meal I ate in the first couple weeks but definitely remember my nursing snacking station.”
- “I’ve made mini muffins and other snacky stuff for girlfriends because I am a big snacker and it’s easier to eat that all day then prepare and settle in for a meal.”
- “When I had my first, my friend made me puppy chow and my sister brought me a ton of cut-up fruit with fruit dip. Both were AMAZING to have when I had no energy to cook and wanted all the snacks!”
- “I really loved when my mother-in-law brought deli meat, cheese, bread, and fresh fruit washed and cut up. So convenient to have on hand!”
- “One of my go-to’s is to get them a big bag of groceries instead of doing a dinner meal. I get stuff for simple breakfasts, lunches, and/or snacks (deli meats, cheeses, bread, hummus, baby carrots, etc) – people often cover dinner but forget about the other meals that can be hard to make for yourself when you’re dealing with a new baby or grief or healing from surgery, etc.”
Tips and tricks
Make things easier for your friend by not saddling them with a counter full of unlabeled 13×9 inch pans and a fridge full of 7 different pasta bakes.
- “Bring food in disposable containers. Yes, it can be a bit wasteful, but when someone has enough going on in their life to warrant you bringing them a meal, the last thing they need is to have to bring your prized Pyrex dish back.”
- “Don’t cancel and don’t show up empty-handed.”
- “I ask them how they want the meal – brought over warm, refrigerated, or frozen.”
- “Use Take Them a Meal or Sign Up Genius for meals and also helping out.”
- “When I take soup to people, I try to take it cooled and in a large gallon size freezer-strength Ziplock bag or plastic freezer-safe containers that won’t need to be returned.”
- “When I’m cooking for someone I’ll make double (1 for my family, 1 to share).”
- “My only tip as the receiver of many meals is to at least let them know what you’re bringing by the day before or morning of so they can plan to make something different for their kids (or themselves) before waiting until dinner time to find out it’s something they won’t eat (but will kindly accept either way).”
- “I bring everything in disposable Tupperware so they don’t have to worry about returning the dishes. Sometimes I throw in paper plates and plastic cutlery. If your friend doesn’t need them, she’ll save them for the next picnic. I promise they won’t go to waste.”
- “This goes without saying, but bring food that you’d serve to your family. You don’t have to break the bank, but this is not a time for that box of Hamburger Helper that’s been living in the back of the pantry for five years. Give your friend the good stuff.“
- “Even if you’re pretty sure she won’t mind a switch in meals or a delay of 30 minutes, text her and keep her in the loop.”
- “Label everything and give them cheap containers they can throw away!
- “Have 2-3 seasonal meals you enjoy making that you simply rotate. This takes the decision making out of it and you’re making something you have made before.”
- “Most meals can be delivered early in the day, if that is a better fit for your schedule (and theirs!)”
- “If possible keep in mind a lot of people default to casseroles and not everyone likes casseroles so having something that’s not covered in sauce and rice or noodles is usually a hit.”
- “I find when I’m in life circumstances where people bring me a meal that I’m really bad at getting myself to eat veggies. Lots of people bring casseroles and such, and I LOVE when there’s a side salad as well, even if it’s a bag…doesn’t need to be homemade.”
- “Package whatever food you bring to friends ready for the freezer. Speaking from experience, occasionally there’s a mixup and your recipient has too much food at once, and it is lovely to be able to pop a casserole into the freezer to rescue dinner time another day.”
- “I like to bring a freezer meal. I feel like the family is well taken care of for the first few days or week, but then the help goes away when they probably still need it. So I’ll bring something like a really easy ham and bean soup (with frozen rolls they can warm up too). Or something like a shepherd’s pie they just need to warm up.”
- “I always like to bring things frozen, or that can be frozen, especially in circumstances where they might be getting a lot of food from various people. Having a ton of food that needs to be eaten right away would stress me out. Doing things in smaller portions can be helpful too! I like lasagna roll ups in mini loaf pans instead of a whole lasagna, for example. Or making homemade mac and cheese and portioning it out.”
Breakfast and lunch
- “Someone brought me breakfast burritos. They warmed up great and having something for breakfast when I was up all night with a baby was wonderful.”
- “In addition to dinner, I try to bring bagels or muffins or something for the next morning, too!”
- “I usually do quiche or muffins. Quiche is easy to heat with one hand and nutritious.”
- “Someone brought me a lunch spread – deli meats + cheese, potato salad, pasta salad, cut fruit and cookies. Was a nice switch up from dinner!”
- “Made a berry oatmeal bake to help with mom’s milk!”
- “Most people brought me dinner when I had my first baby, but one of our friends brought breakfast, and that was life changing! Breakfast could be such an easy thing to prep/bring, because you could do some bagels and cream cheese, donuts, a breakfast casserole, even pancakes in a ziplock that could be frozen and thrown in the microwave for a few days. I woke up absolutely famished for a few weeks until my body got used to breastfeeding and increasing my food intake, and it was sooo nice to have easy items available. I always try to bring breakfast now.”
- “So many meal trains ask to bring a dinner, but I like to add breakfast and lunch foods too. Quiche, fresh fruit, orange juice and champagne (especially for new parents), croissants, chicken salad, snack cheeses and crackers, vegetables and a dip. Always homemade cookies, brownies, muffins, or rolls.”
- “An idea I saw someone post recently was a dozen freshly baked bagels and a pound of cream cheese. Sounds divine!”
- “I’ll bring whatever the dinner is (I do stuffed shells a lot, I’ll add a bagged salad and some bread), plus a dessert (usually some cookies from a local bakery) and a breakfast item ESPECIALLY if it’s for a family with a baby – like even a box of cereal, but I usually make frozen egg bites. If I’m bringing the food over around lunch time I’ll offer to stop by Jimmy John’s or Panera or whatever and grab them lunch, too.”
- “When I had my baby, my friend made me a big thing of chicken salad…it was easy to eat with one hand and something I wouldn’t have thought of!”
- “When my mom passed away someone made little sandwiches pre-made and ready to go. A few different kinds and individually wrapped. We had a ton of meals which honestly I couldn’t eat but those were just the right size for a quick bite without being heavy.”
- “Even if they have not mentioned any dietary concerns, I try to steer clear of more polarizing food groups such as fish, mushrooms, peanuts, etc. I come from a family with many picky eaters, so I totally understand those that are not technically allergic, but who don’t branch out much.”
- “Call your friend and see if their diet has changed — some new mothers may avoid dairy while nursing or friends undergoing chemo might want to avoid some foods.”
- My friend Beth from The First Year says, “With having an allergy, sometimes I wish people would ask ‘Is there a specific recipe your family makes and loves? I can make that for you!’ That way I know what we’ll be getting and don’t have to stress about if it’s safe.”
- My friend Averie from Averie Cooks has experience with surgery: “Bring things that are are absolutely easy, mindless, no work, and plain-ish. Post-surgery, one is often nauseous and/or taking meds that make you queasy. So no fire-roasted anything, or foods that are too heavy (like pasta.) Whole, real foods, tasty and natural-ish, with protein and fiber so your body has lots of real food and nutrients to heal is the best thing.”
- “I just had a surgery and some of my favorites were: brown sugar bourbon chicken (or any chicken dishes that were prepped and cut into bite sized pieces). It could go straight to the freezer or slow cooker/pressure cooker to cook in 20 min. It was put in a ziplock that was easy to store and I didn’t have to keep track of a container to return. I also received some prepared salads and homemade dressings, topping separated, but again in containers that I didn’t have to return. This was great because I couldn’t do the prep, but it ensured I was eating fresh veggies. I did get a ton of pasta dishes like chicken parm and Alfredo, sometimes on the same day, so maybe ask ahead of time. Soup is another great idea too, especially right after surgery. I didn’t realize how helpful meals would be, and it was appreciated so much. Anything you decide will be a big help.”
Groceries or take out
I know I emphasized earlier that homemade meals are better than take out, but sometimes you have to be practical. Making the decision about what to eat is just as exhausting as doing the actual work of cooking, can I get an amen? Groceries solve the decision making problem.
- “If you have a crazy schedule, are out of town or extending mobile hospitality is going to be too much, don’t worry! Even a kind note or a DoorDash gift card will be much appreciated by those with changing life circumstances. Providing hospitality through a meal for others should be a service that blesses both of your lives, but not a stressor that is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Give yourself grace if now is not the time and write them a note or give a gift card instead. Any thoughtful outreach is a blessing and can be the highlight of their day.”
- “It doesn’t have to be homemade. Picking up a meal from your favorite restaurant or grocery store is just as welcome. One of my favorite food gifts after the birth of my son was from a friend who had dinner delivered via grocery delivery service because she wasn’t able to make it in person.”
- “A completely store bought meal is GREAT and warmly welcomed. A friend recently brought me this sweet Trader Joe’s meal basket with everything I need to make pasta. Plus a yummy snack. This does not have to take you hours to do, you can bless someone by just showing up!”
- “When I had my first baby I got a beautiful basket filled with Whole Foods grocery items that went together…items like yogurt, granola, and berries. Fresh bread with jam and butter. Farm fresh eggs. And flowers and beer for dad. It was so thoughtful and all items were so delicious and easy to put together.”
- “Offer to knock out their grocery list whenever you go grocery shopping for yourself. P.S. If you go this route, it probably wouldn’t hurt to pick up a couple of easy meal/snack options—such as something prepared from the deli, fresh fruit, or a frozen pizza—even if that’s not on their list.”
- “Just order them groceries. Ask them what they like to have on hand. I did this with a friend who had COVID and couldn’t leave her house. She said they liked to have sandwiches, frozen pizza, apples, bananas, and cookies. So I just ordered those things from Walmart to last her and her teenage son a few days and she loved it so much. Just easy stuff.”
- “When I had my first baby a man from our church called and asked what Chinese takeout we liked. I could have kissed him. Honestly. We were so poor and couldn’t go out to eat so it was incredible.”
- “After my oldest was born, this sweet lady from church brought us two bags full of groceries. Many items were quick and convenient snacks, as well as staples. It was seriously the best present anyone could have gotten us.”
- “We text them a day or so ahead and ask for their favorite restaurant/DoorDash order and then deliver that to them along with breakfast items for the next day (pastries, orange juice, fruit, etc). Everyone in our neighborhood has loved a hot meal of their choosing.”
- “When short on time (usually the case) I pick up a rotisserie chicken, salad kits, container of whatever fruit is in season, and cookies or other baked dessert. If dropping off in the morning, I’ll deliver a frozen lasagna or frozen pot pies and some sides so they can time dinner when they want. Not homemade, but it’s something to show love and ease burdens a little.”
Vegetarian meal ideas:
When someone says “Oh, and I don’t eat meat,” my mind goes completely blank and I forget all the meatless meals I’ve ever made in my life. But there are actually a ton of easy options you probably would serve your family, and might just not think of as vegetarian. Here are some of my favorites (bonus, they’re easy for your friend or family member to reheat):
Vegan meal ideas:
Double check every ingredient! Here are some ideas for your vegan friends:
Dairy-free meal ideas:
Gluten-free and low carb:
It’s honestly not hard to do gluten free right if you stick with meat and veggies.
- Brown Sugar Balsamic Pork Tenderloin use gluten free soy sauce
- Carne Guisada (Tejano Beef) Be sure to check that your bouillon is gluten free, many are not. Or use broth instead of water and bouillon. Use the Carne Guisada in burrito bowls
- The Best Taco Salad Again, if you make your own taco seasoning just be sure to double check that the bouillon you use is gluten free (or that the store bought seasoning is).
- Minestrone (hold the pasta, or use gluten free pasta)
- Shepherd’s Pie this feeds an army. Check or skip the bouillon. This one is gluten free but maybe not so light carb 😂
- Gluten Free Chicken Noodle Soup from my friend Lindsay at Cotter Crunch
- How to make Cauliflower Rice the perfect substitute when someone is avoiding carbs
Dairy free, gluten-free, AND vegan meal ideas:
- Prepare a taco bar: start by including basics like corn tortillas (no flour), canned vegetarian refried beans or seasoned black beans, cilantro lime rice, salsa (mango salsa is a fun choice!), and fresh guac. Bonus if you want to add even more veggies like chopped tomatoes, thinly sliced red onion and/or radishes (you could also do pickled red onions), and shredded lettuce or other greens. Roasted sweet potatoes would also be a nice filling option. If you want to add cheese there are a ton of shredded or crumbly plant-based cheese options available these days. Bring the rice cooked and the guac prepared in disposable dishes; everything else can just be put in ziplocks (or left in the can, in the case of the beans). If you’re making these for a family where some don’t have special dietary needs, you can include a container of taco meat, regular shredded cheese, and/or flour tortillas.
- Assemble a grain bowl: your base will be brown rice, quinoa, white rice, or cauliflower rice. Cook this (remember to cook it in vegetable broth or water, not chicken broth!) and put it in a disposable foil container with foil on top. Then include a protein in a separate container: roasted canned chickpeas, pan-fried tofu, canned black beans, roasted edamame, or a plant-based meat substitute from brands like like Beyond or Impossible. Add, in their own containers, any veggies that go well together–think steamed or roasted broccoli, roasted sweet potatoes, sautéed corn, sautéed greens (like spinach and kale), fresh red or green cabbage, fresh cherry tomatoes, shredded carrots, snow peas, raw or pickled onions–the list goes on. Avoid any recipes that include farro as the grain (it contains gluten) and be aware that if the recipe calls for soy sauce or bouillon, you’ll need to choose a gluten-free option.
- Make soup: as long as it’s not blazing hot, soup is easy for you, and easy to reheat and/or freeze for them. I recommend trying lentil soup, chickpea noodle soup (use gluten-free pasta), minestrone (use gluten-free pasta), butternut squash soup, or mushroom wild rice soup. Vegan soups already won’t contain dairy, since a vegan diet does not include dairy products. Remember that soups are easiest for the person you’re bringing them to if you cool them completely and store them in labeled ziplocks so they can use them now or easily freeze them for later.
Meal ideas for picky kids (or adults):
Sometimes you need to push the easy button.
- Homemade Tomato Soup and ingredients for grilled cheese
- Easy tacos with Homemade Taco Seasoning, flour tortillas and grated cheddar (you can include lettuce, chopped tomatoes, sour cream, and salsa for the less-picky family members)
- Dino nuggets and Kraft mac and cheese. If this is what their kids eat, leave judgement at the door and make life easier for them tonight!
That’s a wrap
No, I’m not suggesting you make wraps, we are just finally done with this monster long post! (Although wraps is actually a great idea, try this Chicken Shawarma 😂)
I hope this post gave you some solid ideas for how to take a meal to a friend! Don’t forget to visit my post 12 Meals to Take to a Friend in Need for my personal favorite menu plans.
We could literally talk about this forever: I would LOVE to hear what your go-to meal is in the comments! I could always use more ideas!
Now go forth and FEED!
How to Bring a Meal to a Friend
- 1 main dish
- 1 side dish
- 1 extra side dish, optional
- 1 dessert, optional
- plastic silverware, optional
- disposable containers, so they don't have to return anything to you
- warm smiles and hugs
- Call your friend and ask them these questions:
- "Do you have any allergies?"
- "Is there anything you hate to eat, or that your kids won't eat?" Take notes. Bonus question, "What do you like?"
- Choose a main dish and decide how you will transport it in disposable packaging. (Check out my post 12 Meals to Take to A Friend in Need for my personal favorites, including all menu items and how I package it.)
- Choose a SIMPLE side dish (so you don't overwhelm yourself). Decide how you will deliver it to them using NO dishes that need to be returned.
- If you're feeling extra, choose a second SIMPLE side dish.
- If you're feeling even more extra, choose a dessert.
- Make the meal. Let cool slightly. Package in disposable containers. Ziplocks, aluminum pans, old marinara jars, and more ziplocks.
- Pack all the food in your car. I usually put as much as I can in grocery bags. Secure sloshy items in between towels. Pack paper plates, cups, napkins, plastic forks/spoons/knives, if you can.
- Prepare written instructions ahead of time if your meal requires any prep. (or have a text ready to send off)
- Drive slow enough that the people behind you get irritated. (THEY aren't going to have to clean up spilled Beef Barley Soup later on, they can deal. No of course this never happened to me why do you ask?)
- Carefully carry the food to the door, making several trips as necessary, and watching out for sidewalk cracks. One time my mom was carrying a giant load of food and tripped on a tiny step they had right before their front door. She crashed to her knees, food flying everywhere, and the poor neighbor had to bandage her up before sending her home. (Tragic right??)
- Deliver the food with warm smiles and hugs. They are having a hard time. This is the part where you get to be human together. It might be awkward; do your best. It is meaningful that you came, no matter how uncomfortable you both may feel.
- Make sure you communicate that no containers need to be returned.
- And voila! That's it! Pat yourself on the back. You're a really nice person.