Favorite things to cook for the bereaved/new parents?
July 15, 2020 10:19 AM   Subscribe

There are a lot of families I know with new babies or deaths in the family. I like to bring them food. But I never know what to bring -- help!

I'm thinking vegetarian, to be safe. Some meal/dinner ideas would be great, but also desserts (maybe gluten free to be safe?) One dish amazing. I'm OK with effort, have decent cooking skills, but I want it to be something I could cook fairly easily so that it doesn't become a task I want to put off.

My dream recipe would also be easily transportable with no dishes left behind to awkwardly exchange again later. (Maybe quiche? Muffins in a baggie?) I've even tried to do this with cheap tupperware I've told people to keep and it seemed they wanted to go out of their way to give it back. I don't want the awkardness of -- oh I still have your dish.

Open to other suggestions/criteria!

Any thoughts? Thanks!
posted by caoimhe to Food & Drink (18 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Stuffed shells! Drop them off in a disposable aluminum baking dish so there's no cleanup or dishes to keep track of. It's been our go-to for this type of situation for years and it's always a success.
posted by saladin at 10:31 AM on July 15, 2020 [5 favorites]

This amazing Tex-Mex breakfast casserole is actually good any time of day, is infinitely customizable (see recipe notes-can make this vegetarian with use of plant sausage or mushrooms, can make with corn tortillas OR frozen hash browns), can he assembled the day before and then baked off day of delivery, and can be baked in a disposable aluminum foil 13x 9 inch pan. I like to buy the kind that come with a plastic lid. Recipe also freezes well.
posted by little mouth at 10:35 AM on July 15, 2020 [4 favorites]

Things that can be frozen it at least kept several days are nice, in case of other donations. You have to ask about food restrictions because so many people have allergies/ sensitivities.

Healthy food that is tasty and maybe a pain to cook. Apple pie or crisp can be made with a bit less sugar than some recipes call for and I use a lot of apples. Apple crisp is even healthier. Other fruit pie is a good mix of healthy and immediately appealing

Chicken pot pie from rotisserie chicken and homemade stock with a puff pastry top is often requested.
posted by theora55 at 10:37 AM on July 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

I always appreciate fresh cut fruit and fruit dip. It's helpful for grazing, can be eaten at all times of the day, and makes me feel like I'm making a loving choice even when grieving. The downside is that it does require fridge space.

You could bring the fruit in ziplock bags and put the dip in a cheap clear plastic deli container. I think that would clearly communicate to me that you don't need the dish back :)

Thank you for your thoughtful question.

Creamy Orange Fruit Dip
250 g Philadelphia Cream Cheese (softened, can use lite if you so desire)
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup sour cream
1/3 cup frozen orange juice concentrate
posted by nathaole at 10:42 AM on July 15, 2020 [4 favorites]

I was in the position of needing meals from friends this past year, and so I have a few thoughts:

- Yes to no dish exchange at the end. When I got the meals, I was in a position that washing tupperware was very difficult. I also then had to keep track of whose tupperware was whose, and am not indeed convinced that all pieces got back to their original owners. I was so grateful for those people who brought food in disposable aluminum baking containers, so that I didn't feel the least bit of guilt about not returning things (some people brought it in tupperware and told me not to return it, but even keeping track of which to return and which not to return was overwhelming, and not having to wash the disposables was fantastic).

- Maybe I travel in strange circles, but most people that I know have dietary needs/requirements (vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, keto). It does add work, but I'd encourage you to ask people to be frank with you about what those are. About 1/3-1/2 of the meals we got I couldn't eat. That was okay because my husband could eat them, and I was still very grateful, but it did leave me foraging and I wasn't in great shape to do so.

- I think the best meals of this nature are ones that can be reheated later with little ill effect. When I was getting meals, there were usually leftovers, and it was great to be able to eat those a few nights later or freeze them. I think that stew/pot roast, quiche, and casseroles work particularly well. No-crust veg quiche has in my experience been the most versatile (except for vegan/dairy-free folks), as it's low-carb, gluten-free, filling, full of protein, pretty healthy, tasty, fairly universally palatable, and reasonably cheap to make. I use this recipe (although I omit the crust, ad an extra egg or two, and changing around the veggies - I usually do black olive, spinach, and artichoke, or broccoli and ham/turkey); I have made it for various groups and it has generally had fairly wide appeal.
posted by ClaireBear at 10:44 AM on July 15, 2020 [6 favorites]

As a new parent, here's what I would want:
Pasta bakes in disposable pans and fresh fruit as mentioned above
Bean and cheese burritos or any pockets/wraps
What I would not want: anything easy to spill
posted by entropyiswinning at 11:01 AM on July 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

Baked burritos are my go to for stuff like this. Send in an aluminum pan. I don’t have a recipe per se, I just stir fry some combination of ground beef, black beans, spinach, mushrooms, diced pepper, onion with a packet of taco seasoning. 1lb of ground beef plus 1 16 oz can of black beans and assorted veggies usually gets me 7-8 burritos. I then take a can of refried beans spread some on a tortilla (get the big ones) and a scoop of my filling. Fold into a burrito-ish shape. Pack the burritos into your baking dish. I usually get 4 in 9x9 pan. Top with salsa and shredded cheese. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. These can be frozen and baked later. If there are kids in the picture (older sibling for new babies) sometimes I make kid friendly version, like a scoop of ground beef/beans before I add taco seasoning and put the cheese inside and no salsa so it’s easily distinguishable in the pan.
posted by MadMadam at 11:03 AM on July 15, 2020

On top of disposable dishes, I don't have a specific recommendation other than something that can be broken up into small portions easily.

I am single (now) so when people brought over casseroles after my husband died it meant a lot of wasted food because I'd heat up a whole casserole, eat 5 bites, and leave the rest on the counter because I wasn't with it enough to put it back in the fridge.

Something where I could have taken the small portion out first and only heated that would have helped. Or things that are still good when eaten cold.

And honestly I just wanted easy stuff, even reheating felt like too much work, it was easier to not eat, and so I did that a lot. I didn't really taste anything so ease of eating it was the biggest indicator of if I would ever eat it.
posted by magnetsphere at 11:03 AM on July 15, 2020 [5 favorites]

If you're open to other options, I would wholeheartedly recommend getting takenout!

I've recently been getting Indian food take out for my friend with a new baby. The upside of Indian food in our area is that it can easily be served family style, it comes in containers that can go straight in the fridge and never have to be returned, leftovers keep well, I know my friend and her family already like what they're getting, and it's also a special treat.

Coordinating does involve a bit of back and forth, but it has been great for both of our families. They get something that works for them, and I don't have to put in much effort cooking something they (really, her other kids) may not enjoy.

The downside is that take out is much more expensive than making something from scratch at home, but I don't do it every week and I like to treat my friend!

Also, when I was a new mom someone brought me these huge buckets of soup from Olive Garden. I really needed something tasty, hot and filling. Also easy to prepare. They fit the bill! Leftovers kept for awhile and I could freeze extra for later and reheated was fine too.
posted by stripesandplaid at 12:16 PM on July 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

When we were grieving, people brought soups. One friend made her own and put it in leftover takeout/deli soup containers that she didn't need back. You could also just use a gallon ziploc. Either way, soup can go in the freezer, reheats with no effort, and can be perfect when you know you should eat but don't have much appetite. And if you go with something like tomato or veg (check your broth), it can fit a lot of dietary needs.

I've brought new mom friends homemade granola bars and cut-up fruits and vegetables - anything they can eat one-handed. If they're breastfeeding, they need LOTS of nutrient-dense calories, so yogurt dips and nuts, peanut butter, etc can be great, though be allergy-aware.
posted by writermcwriterson at 12:39 PM on July 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

When we brought a day's worth of meals to a family, the one thing they specifically mentioned having liked was the snack tray - a divided disposable container with various types of nuts, dried fruits, etc. You probably want to actually cook something, but think about adding something like this for the times when people may not even be up to dishing something out of its container and warming it up.

For the thing you cook, maybe something like savory hand pies, where each serving can be individually warmed up.
posted by lakeroon at 12:45 PM on July 15, 2020

I agree with the suggestions above for soups, casseroles, disposable pans, and checking about food restrictions. Some specific vegetarian options that have worked well for me for this purpose: spanakopita, lasagne or other pasta bakes, vegetarian chili, lentil soup, chana masala + rice.

It's also worth considering that, if lots of folks are bringing food, casseroles & soup may eventually get tiresome. One family I was cooking for requested the occasional "salad bar dinner" -- which is to say, ziploc bags of various fresh veggies, greens, and protein options (cheese, chickpeas, etc.), along with fresh bread or garlic bread. YMMV, but an occasional fresh meal might be welcome sometimes. Definitely ask before going this route.
posted by ourobouros at 1:36 PM on July 15, 2020

This is a huge hit for both omnivorous and veggie friends. Kids typically like it, it freezes well, gives a lot of veggies and you can use whatever you have on hand-stacked roasted veggie enchiladas (to make it easier, I use the Trader Joe’s frozen roasted corn and frozen tricolor bell pepper mix).

posted by purenitrous at 2:31 PM on July 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

All I wanted after I had my baby was salad stuff. People who hadn't had babies laughed at me. People who had, said "omg I KNOW." and brought me salad stuff.
posted by teremala at 3:25 PM on July 15, 2020 [4 favorites]

Post-partum a week and a half here- what has been nice has been eating things that I wasn't allowed to eat during pregnancy! Mmm deli meats and soft cheeses. Also nice: healthy food that tastes good- just having veggies without having to peel, chop and cook them has been nice.
posted by freethefeet at 5:16 PM on July 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

Anything that can be picked up and eaten with minimal prep or extra dishes. Wraps and burritos are good, fruits and veggies already peeled and cleaned for easy snacking, etc. Hard boiled eggs are my favorite emergency food.

I remember a widow who had to eat all the casseroles people gave her by herself, because the little kids were in the nothing unfamiliar is safe to eat phase and her teenager had gone vegetarian without warning. The mom was so sick of eating that same cassrole but just could not deal with forcing kids to eat it orthrow it away. So in the case of small kids I would suggest just asking what is the one thing those kids will always eat.
posted by buildmyworld at 10:51 AM on July 16, 2020

This isn't gluten or dairy free, but vegetarian, super tasty, portable and just a bit out of the ordinary: Burst tomato corn zucchini galette. I'd say make two....you can always add ricotta or some other cheese or veg if you want to. So good!
posted by biscuits at 4:51 PM on July 16, 2020

maybe I'm weird, but in my tired and famished post baby state I wanted MAC & CHEESE and STEWED TOMATOES.
posted by WeekendJen at 1:01 PM on July 17, 2020

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