The gift of food is often the greatest gift to receive.
It doesn’t cause clutter.
It saves the recipient time and money, and lends itself to a nice, peaceful evening.
It (had better) taste great, and palate-pleasing never hurt anyone.
It covers many of the 5 Love Languages: is a gift of service, affords the person more quality time to spend with their loved ones, and is certainly a gift in and of itself, which also allows the regular cook in the house to give a gift to the rest of the family: a good meal. (photo credit)
This month’s Eat Well, Spend Less theme is entertaining and hospitality on a budget, and while other gals will help you throw a great party, I get to share my thoughts on sharing meals.
An Opportunity to Serve
Many moms are too busy to devote time to a regular volunteer project, and moms of very young children may actually be working against their vocation if they try to be involved in too much outside the home. For moms who used to serve their church or society often before they became mothers, though, there can be a feeling of uselessness or emptiness while home raising the littlest ones.
Sharing a meal with another, whether the person is ill, homebound, grief-stricken, or has a newborn baby (would that be “all of the above”?), is a perfect act of service for another mother to undertake. Besides that, delivering the meal gets everybody out of the house and often affords a little face-to-face interaction with another adult, a nice perk.
On the other hand, making a meal to share is something that anyone of any age or status can do, and sharing a homemade meal is truly a gesture of love and kindness.
I’ve been a mom for six years now, and I’m certain I’ve taken dozens of meals (a hundred?) to other new moms and people in need. Our moms’ Bible study always organizes meals for new moms, so that outlet alone can keep me busy. At one point a few years ago, I knew sixteen pregnant women at one time!
I’m definitely in the stage of life where I have the opportunity to serve my God and my friends by sharing the gift of real food.
This post is sponsored by Plan to Eat, an online meal planning system to simplify your cooking and food shopping.
What do I Make When I Share a Meal?
If you often have the opportunity to share a meal, I highly recommend making a master list of your best “meals to share” that fit the “travel-worthy” criteria. It totally helps the brainstorming phase when it’s time to sign up for a list for a new mom or ill friend. Some people I know always bring one of two dishes, which makes the decision-making process easier, too!
If you’re lucky enough to be using an online meal-planning service like Plan to Eat, you can tag meals that are easy to take to others as you think of it or as you enter the recipe, and then when the time comes, just click that tag and you’re presented with a list of dishes from which to choose. Refine by the ingredients you have on hand and what’s in season, which Plan to Eat will also help you do, and you’re in business!
Here’s my personal list of meals to share:
- Chicken Barley Leek Soup – took to a mama just a day or two before she gave birth to twins and a friend with cancer and felt great about nourishing their bodies for a day!
I just uploaded this recipe to the Plan to Eat database – if you have an account, click HERE to save it to your recipe book, or grab the 30-day free trial and use this recipe to see what it’s like. The “bulk ingredient upload” makes adding recipes really, really fast. Just be sure not to copy and paste straight from a website without permission. Write your own directions and take your own photos.
- Salad with Grilled Chicken – a great summer dish, especially for a mama who only has the newborn babe and no other possibly picky children to feed. “Fill the grill” with marinated chicken and bring it cold with as many cut, fresh vegetables as you can muster. Try a new homemade dressing to go with it!
- Buttered Noodles for the picky kids – if you know you’ve got a family whose kids only eat white foods or fast food or pancakes and pasta, go with it. Bring a zippered bag full of cooked pasta, some butter and Parmesan cheese. This isn’t the time to preach nutrition, and at least you can serve Mom and Dad healthy adult food this way.
- Cream of Vegetable Soup – so simple and inexpensive to make, you can use this as a side or main dish. Add cheese (I like sharp cheddar) and ham or chicken to make it a really full meal.
- Tuscan Bean Soup – another super inexpensive meal; pretty much requires grilled cheese sandwiches, though, so be sure your recipient has someone in the house who can grill them (provide bread and sliced cheese plus other fillings like tomatoes or mushrooms).
- Three Bean Soup – one friend asked for this recipe after her bean-hating kids gobbled it up! A hearty side or sandwich fills out the meal, or even tortillas and wrap fillings for make-your-own.
- Turkey Vegetable Chili – heavy on the vegetables, but generally kid-friendly if they’re not too particular.
- Katie’s Healthy Chili – the basic chili; be sure to shoot low on the spices unless you know the family’s tastes.
- Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup – you probably already have your favorite recipe, but make sure you use homemade chicken stock for nourishment and cost savings.
- Garlic Soup – focus on this one for those who are feeling under the weather. Sixteen cloves of garlic will give them a good start on the way to feeling better!
- Katie’s Simple Cabbage Soup with Secret Super Food – not for everyone, but for families with a depth of palate, this soup is a great summer/fall soup with farmer’s market veggies.
- Black Bean Soup - simple and loved by all. Bring a small carton of sour cream and a big old bag of quality tortilla chips for dipping with this one. Quesadillas are another excellent side option.
- Veggie Bean Burritos – an easy meal to take in glass jars and allow the family to assemble. Also a good gluten free option to take with brown rice. Be sure to include assembly instructions.
- Homemade Chicken Nuggets – I brought these to a friend who already had three little ones running around, along with Homemade Baked French Fries and rolls. I wanted everyone to love the food yet have real ingredients coming in the house!
- Sausage, Beans and Kale Soup – I’ve taken this one twice to a friend who I knew wouldn’t be scared of green things floating in her soup!
- Sausage Zucchini Bake – easy to assemble ahead of time and very well-liked by anyone I’ve ever shared it with, including kids. Plus, it’s not a superbly time-intensive meal to make and uses fresh summer ingredients.
- Easy Chicken & Biscuits Casserole – to make ahead, you have to bake the casserole and bring the biscuit dough separately with assembly instructions.
You probably noticed a lot of soups. Because soups are easy to double, usually cost-efficient and so easy to transport and reheat, I bet 80-90% of the meals I share end up being soups, usually with rolls or biscuits and a salad. And yes, even in the summer. Some soups are perfect with fresh summer produce!
Easy side dishes to share:
- Homemade Biscuits (often with soup or a hearty casserole)
- Whole Grain Cornbread (with any chili)
- Our Favorite “Happy” Rolls (so easy with a breadmaker)
- Tomato Basil Pasta Salad (only in the summer, only if the meal will be eaten ASAP; easy to bag and carry though)
- Homemade Baked French Fries (they reheat fine, as long as the person is willing to use the oven and dirty a cookie sheet)
- The following are good sides for wraps, Mexican foods, or sharing summer grilling bounty. I don’t use them very often, but it’s good to have an idea of some side dish options that reheat well or don’t need heating at all.
Sharing Meals Philosophy
My system has refined itself over the years as I’ve transitioned to a healthier “real food” diet and gotten more savvy about meal sharing. I take a few things into account when I gift a meal to another family:
1. How much does the meal cost?
I don’t want to be stingy, but if I can keep the meal within a lower budget, I feel like I can be more generous with quantity, which is more fun on the part of the recipient. I used to take lasagna all the time because it seemed like (a) casseroles should be easiest to reheat and (b) it was a gift to take a meal that takes a lot of preparation, but then I priced it out at over $11 with all those cheeses and started to think better of that one!
Now I try to cut down on the meat, rev up the homemade foods, and generally be conscious of the cost of the meal I’m sharing.
In this light, I opt for things like:
- bean-based dishes
- vegetarian fare
- simple homemade bread or rolls
You can input the cost of each meal in Plan to Eat as you enter it to keep yourself accountable on this one.
2. How easy is the meal to reheat?
I want the dinner to taste as good as it did at my house and have, overall, very little hands-on time.
- more soups!
- simple casseroles that are easily made ahead
- nothing like stir fry or fajitas
- generally not things that require much assembly time
- cold salads
3. Can I include a complete meal, not just a main course?
When we received meals after baby number two, I was always so happy when everything came along, from the salad to the sides. Receiving a main course only is still a wonderful gift, but then having to figure out what else to serve to round out the meal can be tricky if you don’t know what’s coming until late afternoon. I try to include:
- a salad, even if it’s just lettuce, baby carrots, and maybe one other cut raw veggie (I usually hope that the family has dressing on hand but sometimes include some of my own homemade dressings)
- appropriate sides, especially rolls or biscuits if I’m taking soup
- cut fruit when I have some on hand
- dessert is optional – our Bible study always includes dessert, but I’m thinking that the new moms are probably receiving more sweet treats than they (or their husbands) should probably have. I think I’ll skip dessert from now on and hope I’m not the black sheep!
- A nursing nest treat just for mom, occasionally when inspired! I’ve included a small dish of homemade applesauce, a few homemade granola bars or power bars from Healthy Snacks to Go, a pumpkin muffin or even a special bag of cut cucumbers or something, just so mom has a quick snack to grab when baby is already screaming mad. I work with whatever I have on hand as if the person was visiting and I shared a mid-morning snack.
I also make sure that the day before I need to take a meal somewhere, our family’s dinner is that meal. I can just make double and it simplifies menu planning and prep/clean-up. That way I’m also very cognizant of what would complete the main course to finish out the meal since I have to do it in practice at our kitchen table.
4. How can I include nothing that needs to be returned?
I always like to take disposables only to the new moms, since returning dishes is not a task they need to be worrying about when they’re nursing 12 hours a day (or feeling like it). Try using the following to carry the food:
- glass jars for soup (from spaghetti sauce or applesauce so you don’t need them back)
- plastic zippered bags for salads, veggies, breads
- plastic cottage cheese or yogurt tubs for other random foods – although I would hold back from including fatty or liquidy food in plastic. That’s what the jars are for.
- aluminum casserole dishes, even though it goes against my green consciousness. I always just hope that the new mom will wash it and keep it for the next time she has to share a meal!
5. Are there any food allergies or dislikes?
I didn’t used to think of this, but now that I’m entrenched in food, it seems that every time I turn around someone has a food sensitivity or allergy. This question is worth asking, and encourage the recipient to be honest about big food dislikes, because in the end, you both want the meal to go over well.
Who’s Bringing Me a Meal?
This summer I’m probably more likely to be on the receiving end of meals than the giving end. I just missed a sharing a meal for a good friend’s 5th baby because we were so busy selling our house and moving our stuff…then moving in with the in-laws! I’m expecting my own third child in a few weeks, and this will mark my first baby since starting blogging and getting really into the real food thing.
Now that I’m a real food snob, do I put any restrictions on meals or just accept gratefully whatever comes? My husband possibly has a gluten sensitivity, but we’re by no means a gluten-free family. It would be easier, in a lot of ways, to tell people “no gluten, please, for DH’s sake” which would probably result in healthier meals overall – no pasta is a huge step in the right direction! But is it fair to ask others to leave the gluten out when they might catch us grabbing a pizza sometime?
I have been thinking of asking for “no desserts,” but I don’t want to offend anyone or seem hoity-toity. It just feels like that would be one less thing for gift-givers to do, which is always good, and it’s the desserts that will really, really get us with both gluten and sugar, most likely. My husband had terrible triglyceride scores at his physical a few months after baby two was born and we had gift meals three nights a week for almost three months.
Of course, my friends might not even be offering meals this time around since we’re living in a house with 4 adults capable of making dinners…so I might not even have to answer the “allergies/dislikes” question anyway! (Yep, I live with my in-laws temporarily…)
What do you think? Is it worth it to ask for special treatment or just eat and enjoy gift meals in moderation?
Later this week I’ll be sharing some of the quickie meals I’ve relied on during this transition time, and next week I get to share some new companies I’ve been discovering who make real food convenient, when you just don’t have time (or energy) to keep up in the kitchen. Everyone hits a stage in their lives when they need a little help, right?!
Watch for a round-up of all the Eat Well, Spend Less team’s entertaining and hospitality posts for some weekend coffee reading.
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Disclosure: Plan to Eat sponsored this post, but a team of wild horses couldn’t sponsor my opinions. I only work with companies who make quality products that I think would be helpful for my readers. See my full disclosure statement here.