10 Tips for Bringing Meals to a Grieving Friend

May 7, 2008 at 10:16 am 49 comments

How to Help Your Grieving Friend, Part 10

When we lost Felicity, we had a lot of meal help from friends and family. I learned a few things from the people serving me about how to serve others—with food.


It is essential, really. Bringing meals is a profound ministry to the hurting. Your friend’s mind is otherwise engaged and simply cannot sequence the steps for making a meal.

2. Organize the meals so she doesn’t have to.

Ideally, one person (not the griever) is coordinating meals immediately after the loss. If the grieving person has to coordinate what days they’re going to get a meal, who it’s coming from, what time it’s arriving, etc., that’s just as much work as trying to make meals herself. If there is no meal coordinator, volunteer!

3. Stagger the times that you bring meals.

Depending on the size of the family, meals may only be necessary every other day or even every third day. Because of leftovers, one meal often provides for two days of eating.

4. Bring a frozen meal.

As many of you know after a death, there’s often no shortage of food. A frozen meal can be set aside for when it’s most convenient. You can even organize your small group to bring a whole batch of frozen meals if they have an extra freezer (make sure first!). These come in handy a couple months down the road when the organized meals are over, and a particularly hard day/week comes.

5. Make sure everyone doesn’t bring the same thing.

Soup and lasagna are the most common meals to bring because they taste so good, they’re the easiest to make, and they travel well. But make sure they haven’t received a bunch of those already (talk to the meal organizer about that).

6. Should I stay or should I go? Yes.

When you bring a meal, feel the situation out for whether or not you should linger. They might want you to stick around and talk, but if you think not, it’s perfectly acceptable to drop it off and get going.

7. Don’t count on commiserating.

You’re bringing a meal because of their loss, but they might not want to feel that loss with you right then. Just before dinner might not be a good time for “a moment.”

8. Deliver dinner in dishes you don’t need back.

Always provide a meal in containers that don’t need to be returned to you. Having to keep track of 9×13’s and serving bowls is too much work. It requires the organizational effort that we’re trying to avoid.

9. Tell them not to thank you.

Make sure they know that you don’t need a thank you note. You can even go as far as telling them that you’ll actually be bothered if they take the time to write you a note.

10. It’s never too late to bring a meal.

Most of you probably don’t know anyone who lost a loved one so recently that meals are still being organized for them. But you do probably know someone who endured a loss six, seven, twelve months ago. I can almost guarantee that if you called and asked to bring dinner this week, you’d bless their oven mitts off. It’s never too late.

Maybe some of you have been meal organizers or have had meals brought to you–what things have you found helpful? Any other tips you want to share?

(Read other posts in this series.)

Addendum, added 5/15/2008

Many of the comments from this post were so helpful and practical that I just had to put them at the end here so that other readers could more easily access them. So here we go:

  • Gift cards!
  • Take them out to eat (McDonald’s can be a fine option if young kids are involved).
  • The meal coordinator should alert those bringing meals about any dietary restrictions, allergies, and food preferences.
  • Meal coordinators should give a reminder phone call
  • If you don’t have the means or availability to make a whole meal, bring something else, like some tea or a small plate of cookies. It’s about letting them know you’re thinking of them.
  • Take a shipment of paper products and plastic utensils over to them so that clean-up is mindless too.

And one of my favorite quotes came from jamsco, who said, “Meals are a gift from God through the human giver.”  Perfect!


Entry filed under: Food, Grief.

Always On My Mind Sneaky Post for Molly on Mother’s Day

49 Comments Add your own

  • 1. bean  |  May 7, 2008 at 11:05 am

    This is another great post! I could not agree more about the disposable containers. Keeping track of who belongs to what dish is impossible without grief (I’ve had meals provided after healthy deliveries)…I can’t imagine trying to do that when you are smack in the middle of a loss. I also second the frozen meal idea! Thanks for the series – it’s been great!

  • 2. Anna  |  May 7, 2008 at 11:33 am

    These are such wonderful, practical tips. I am going to send them to my mom for our women’s ministry. 🙂

  • 3. amandaginn  |  May 7, 2008 at 11:41 am

    The meal organizer would do well to track any allergies or “unpopular” foods for the family. A family of seven that we know prefer familiar meals rather than “fancy” ones (e.g. lasagna with red sauce rather than a seafood lasagna with white sauce and spinach and artichoke and mushrooms and so on).

    In addition, they have a son with allergies to beef, dairy, and egg. The meal organizer identified these allergies, but also let the meal volunteers know that the family didn’t mind having to prepare a special meal for Jacob. It gave them more control over his allergies and was less stressful than trying to figure out if he could/should eat the meal. They usually have to prepare a separate meal for him anyway.

    Gift cards to a few specific restaurants were also appreciated by the family since they could ALL enjoy the food, without worry of allergies.

    Thanks for this insightful and practical post, Molly!

  • 4. Kelly @ Love Well  |  May 7, 2008 at 12:45 pm

    I second the gift card comment — especially to places that offer take-out or delivery. It’s a great option.

    I also think it’s wise to for the meal coordinator to find out how many people might be in the house for dinner at any particular time. During times of grief or celebration, the home often contains extended family members who are staying to help out. It would be horrible to show up with a lasagna for four, only to find out there are six eaters that night.

    (So now I want to bring you a dinner, Molly, since food is my spiritual gift. Is that wrong?)

  • 5. Jake  |  May 7, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    At our church, the meal ministry kicks in two weeks after the event. I found this especially helpful b/c often there is automatically more than enough to go around in the first two weeks, especially if family is in town. After two weeks, though, visitors tend to disappear and it’s then that you can really appreciate some help.

    Thanks for this… I, too, will be forwarding it to many people
    :-)Melissa [the one whose son will NOT be playing with vintage Little People]

  • 6. Jenn  |  May 7, 2008 at 1:28 pm

    It may be helpful for the meal coordinator to provide directions to those on the list that are bringing the meals. That way, the ‘bringer’ of the meal can just simply coordinate a convenient drop-off time with the ‘receiver’ of the meal!

    And reember that it doesn’t have to be a homemade meal. We had people bring us rotisserie chicken and vegetables from the store and that was still a blessing to us!

  • 7. Sarah  |  May 7, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    I’m a fairly new pastor’s wife, with no clue on how to help those who are grieving…all your posts, and this one especially are priceless…thank you.

  • 8. leanne gilchrist  |  May 7, 2008 at 1:50 pm

    Scour the Goodwill for pretty dishes that don’t cost a mint! You can deliver these meals in the dishes and they have dishes they can keep and not worry about giving them back.

    Also, include dessert too. Especially if the grievers have children, this will let the family know that you were thinking about all of them, not just mom, because we all know how kids love treats.

    And if you cant afford to or don’t have time to make a whole meal, drop of cookies, tea, or chocolates.

    This is my advice, and I’m grieving too.

    Leanne in Longview

  • 9. jamsco  |  May 7, 2008 at 2:18 pm

    After our recent loss, we had people from two churches bringing us meals – we felt very blessed.

    After half a week of meals, I wanted to say “Okay, you can stop bringing lettuce salads – we still have three bags of leftovers”

    But you can’t say that – how can they know? So we just ate as much as we could and threw it when it went bad.

    Meals are a gift from God through the human giver.

  • 10. Steven Lee  |  May 7, 2008 at 2:34 pm

    My mom after having breast cancer surgery and undergoing chemo was blessed by friends bringing meals for one week after each chemo treatment. This was a blessing to our family and helped her to not have to think about what to feed my dad and brother.

    So it’s not always those grieving but other families that are going through some suffering, especially if it happens to be the mom that tends to cook at a lot.

    What do you do when you’re not sure if they could use a meal or not? If a friend had a early miscarriage what is the correct or appropriate way to ask whether they would like a cooked meal?

  • 11. Elizabeth Esther  |  May 7, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    Have the meal organizer give out reminder calls to the food bringers.

    After the birth of our twins, we went through a really awkward stage where people who were signed up to bring meals kept forgetting. I was like, “Um, do I cook or not?” and I felt very strange about calling someone to say—-

    “Hi, are you bringing dinner tonight?”

    I appreciated it when the food bringer called in advance to say 1. I’m bringing dinner and 2. here are your options, pick one.

  • 12. Elizabeth Esther  |  May 7, 2008 at 2:46 pm

    one last remark: after my husband’s stepmom was killed in a car accident; NO ONE brought us dinner.

    except for our mormon neighbors down the street who brought a full ham, 2 different kinds of salads, dessert and dinner rolls.

    say what you want about mormons—i’ll never forget that they were the only ones who stepped up in our time of need.

  • 13. Jenna  |  May 7, 2008 at 3:07 pm

    I think the giving and receiving of food is one of the true hallmarks of a true community. Nothing says that people are thinking of you more than a homecooked (or “home-bought”) meal. It is so nice to have a tangible expression of people’s love.

  • 14. Molly Piper  |  May 7, 2008 at 3:23 pm

    These are all really good suggestions. The gift card idea is wonderful! Even a Papa John’s gift card would be handy–who doesn’t want to order pizza from time to time?

    Steven Lee, I think anyone would be blessed to have a meal, no matter how far along their loss was. Bringing a meal may encourage them in a special way, demonstrating to them that you recognize the legitimacy of losing a child, regardless of developmental stage.

  • 15. Hannah Helder Timmerman  |  May 7, 2008 at 6:10 pm

    Since I have a son with severe peanut, tree nut and dairy allergies, I definitely appreciated the special efforts people made when we received meals after the loss of our daughter. One thing that I would suggest is to include the recipe with the meal (if it is a home-made one), and, if allergies are an issue, to even indicate what name brand of products were used. That way any concerns about allergies can be alleviated (and if the meal is good 😉 it can be made again).
    But I have a question about being on the receiving end of this–is it terrible to not have sent thank you cards for meals received? It’s been three months for us, and I just cannot write those cards…

  • 16. sumijoti  |  May 7, 2008 at 7:30 pm

    We had some friends who took us out for dinner in lieu of a meal. It was a precious time of fellowship and we didn’t have to cook that night either! One couple even took us to McDonalds for the sake of the kids. 😀

    I agree with staggering the meals to every second day. I hate throwing food away but the portions were often more than we would eat for one meal. The food really heaped up after a while!

    Somebody brought us a bunch of frozen pizzas. It was helpful for when we received meals that my (sometimes fussy) boys didn’t want to eat.

    The food ministry was one of the biggest blessings we received during this time. My in-laws were blessed with some meals as well – people realised that they had lost a grandchild and were grieving too.

  • 17. oftherock  |  May 7, 2008 at 8:52 pm

    Thanks for the post. I like the feel and content of your blog. And I have wonderful memories of Orr, Minn during the summer camp when I served as counselor up there.

    I will keep this post handy for our church members to consider as we help our grieving friends.

    God bless

  • 18. proverbs31  |  May 7, 2008 at 11:18 pm

    I was going to say the same thing about allergies and preferences.

    All I know is that it was a huge blessing to have meals brought to us after the births of our second two children. I have never tasted anything so delicious as the hospital food and the meals the ladies brought – I imagine this is because I didn’t have to cook it. 🙂

    I can imagine that meals would be a blessing in number of circumstances, after a birth, a loss, a sickness, a surgery. It made me feel so loved to be taken care of that way.

  • 19. Patricia Filby  |  May 8, 2008 at 2:00 am

    To all you beautiful, caring , and practical people!
    My eyes almost spilled over when I read about your ministry and the sensitivity you show.
    I found this all so helpful to keep in mindand heart for when the need arises – and it will.
    What a great idea to include the recipe for a family with an allergy problem.
    And as for having a meal organizer! Well, you seem to have covered so many things that takes the kinks out of possible awkward, even problem situations that could be unhelpful to the receiver .
    Thank you all so much

  • 20. sugarworks  |  May 8, 2008 at 2:01 am

    You have given great suggestions. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful tips.

  • 21. JessicainFlorida  |  May 8, 2008 at 6:34 am

    I love to see the body of Christ function as it should to care for those who are hurting. Great tips, Molly!

    As for writing thank you notes, I would say you shouldn’t feel obligated (and this from the Southern-bred manners fanatic!) When my mom had breast cancer and both her church and her school were bringing meals, we just made up a very simple post card with a general note of thanks for the care and concern and had copies made. When she felt up to it, she would just sign her name and we dropped them in the mail. It eased her mind about saying thank you, but required almost no thought. When your friends are asking what they can do to help, maybe one of them can make up a card for you.

    I am so proud of you, Molly, for using this platform to bless others with what you have learned. As one who has grieved AND one who loves those who are grieving, I am grateful.

  • 22. robyn  |  May 8, 2008 at 8:04 am

    excellent tips! i especially like the no containers that need to be returned and no thank you note policy.

    good ones!

  • 23. shawnda  |  May 8, 2008 at 2:00 pm

    This is really good too! I have recently learned the “use dishes you don’t have to give back” – that one has served me TREMENDOUSLY when we’ve received meals!!! And I love the tell them not to thank you! I’m definitely applying that one!!! : )

  • 24. jennapants  |  May 8, 2008 at 3:25 pm

    how come everyone has these cute little quilt icons next to their names…will i have one? i will hit submit and see….

  • 25. jennapants  |  May 8, 2008 at 3:26 pm


  • 26. jennapants  |  May 8, 2008 at 3:27 pm

    is it like my personal fingerprint? am i the only one with this quilt block? do we all get our own? oh goodness. as if i needed to have another thing to obsess over. this is so cool.

  • 27. ingrid  |  May 8, 2008 at 8:55 pm

    Hey Molly, I go to Bethlehem but I don’t think I’ve ever officially met you. But I read your blog 🙂 Thanks for sharing this series with us. I have been really encouraged and helped by your thoughts. Thanks for being willing to share your grief and bless others. I just received a call from some friends in Missouri who found out that they lost their baby at 18 weeks yeasterday. They were going in to find out the sex of the baby and instead found out that he/she had died. My friend will be induced to deliver tomorrow. When they called this evening I was able to share some encouragement that I have gleaned from you. I shared with them Psalms 16:11 and a little bit of your story about that verse with Felicity. My friend was aware of what had happend to your family and said that it gave her hope to know that others were experiencing the same thing and finding hope in the Lord. Thanks again.

  • 28. Valerie  |  May 9, 2008 at 6:36 am

    To go along with the disposable food containers, I have often brought along paper plates/plastic forks, etc when I drop off meals so there is minimal clean up afterwards, too!
    I’ve become a big fan of the gift certificate idea after having our most recent baby. I can’t speak for how convenient it is a for a grieving family, but for a busy one with four kids 5 and under and husband working crazy hours, they were a blessing!


  • 29. Stacey  |  May 9, 2008 at 9:04 am

    Now, you know if you lived near me, you would NEVER be starving!!!!! Heck, you would probably never need to cook again! Although I know secretly, that piece of roasted garlic that Aber consumed at my house that one day that was secretly hidden in the bread freaked him out a bit.

  • 30. Kayla Joy  |  May 9, 2008 at 12:31 pm

    Amen! My mother had breast cancer for three years before she died. This took such a toll on us, becasue the chemo treatments absolutely drained her. Our church family blessed us by bringing us meals every night for a year, and then every other night until she passed away. Everything you said rang so true with what we experienced…the variety of meals, when to linger, when to leave…thanks for sharing this so more women will know how to serve their grieving friends!

  • 31. Sunshine  |  May 9, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    One thing that I found through serving someone and also our family being served when I was younger – someone should if at all possible volunteer to bring disposables and drinks – like paper/plastic plates, utensils, cups and paper towells or napkins – or a few different two liters or container of coffee – when we could break out the disposables and not worry about washing dishes when we were done it seemed to somehow lighten the load! Also one thing I took away from your blog that I want to do is make a note three months, six months, nine months and a year after I take the initial meal to bring another – this is SO amazing that you have taken the time to do this! Thank you Sunshine

  • 32. Ginger  |  May 15, 2008 at 5:45 am

    When my father was murdered, one friend thoughtfully dropped by a trunkful of paper products—plates, napkins, utensils, paper towels and toilet paper and…. Kleenex!!
    I still say that this was such a HUGE gift for us, not having to worry about clean up. Meals are often thought of first, but the work after the food is always a load, especially in grief

  • 33. How to Help Your Grieving Friend « The Pipers  |  May 19, 2008 at 7:20 pm

    […] 10 Tips for Bringing Meals to a Grieving Friend […]

  • 34. Lisa  |  June 4, 2008 at 12:44 am

    Over the last several years between friends and family with pregnancies or with health issues I have organized a lot of meal schedules and been a food bringer for others who have organized the schedule. I was doing this so often for people, and organizing is a tedious process, my husband and a friend of his took the time to solve our need for simplifying the process. They designed a website that we have used dozens of times already that helps make the process of organizing people to bring meals so much easier than having to make lot’s of extra phone calls and send a ton of emails. It’s a website called http://www.foodtidings.com and it’s free for anyone to use. It’s so simple to use and it turns out others have benefitted from this site in ways we didn’t expect. We have received stories from people all over the country that this service has helped. I hope this will be a help for all of you who are giving the awesome gift of meals to people you love…well, back to feeding my 5 week old baby boy.

  • 35. Felicity  |  June 15, 2008 at 10:23 pm

    Thank you so much for this series, it has been so insightful for me, so many great practical ideas on helping those who grieve and also some insight into what’s going on inside. Thank you for sharing this.

  • 36. Katy  |  June 21, 2008 at 8:59 am

    These are helpful tips, but I would like to point out (as crazy as this may sound) that not all grieving (or otherwise challenged) people desire or feel best served by the typical meal ministry.

    I found myself and my family were best served by a few frozen meals (or even a prepared, but uncooked meal), at most 3 per week, delivered early in the day. What I struggled with most was the delivery of hot meals at “dinner” time (the timing of which is usually challenging for both the giver and receiver) and the accompanying desire (or expectation) of the deliverer to visit along with their meal. One person I know had a friend ask to bring a turkey dinner over a few days after the birth of a child. What the recipient did not expect (but did experience) was the friend showing up at her door with five children in tow and an uncooked turkey and all the ingredients for dinner. Said friend went on to cook an entire meal and unleash her unruly children on very tired new parents over the next four or five hours. Yikes!

    We are the best blessings to others, I think, when we can truly bless without imposing our own expectations and ASK the recipient how they can actually be best served (not assuming that what serves us best will always serve others best).

  • 37. vijay swamidass  |  June 29, 2008 at 7:34 pm

    Interesting Topic – I created a website called CaringMeals.com to help people coordinate meals for people in times of need. It has helped numerous people organize meals, and is freely available to all.

  • 38. Macy  |  July 17, 2008 at 6:10 am

    When my mom died unexpectedly after a knee surgery, we were blessed to have lots of members of our Mormon congregation bring not only meals, but treats and snacks and all kinds of wonderful things to eat. The house felt like it was full of food. But, we ran out of milk and eggs and cereal and a few staples. No one felt like lasagna for breakfast the next morning, so we ended up having to go to the grocery store at 11:00 that night. It felt weird being there and I didn’t like running such a After that experience, I take a bag of groceries – milk, eggs, butter, and a couple boxes of cereal. I love the idea of taking plastic dishes and paper towels as well. And bringing a meal or continuing to make contact a few months later is so important.

  • 39. 10 Great Tips On Bringing Meals To A Grieving Friend «  |  July 17, 2008 at 3:48 pm

    […] 10 Great Tips On Bringing Meals To A Grieving Friend Jump to Comments Check out this post! […]

  • 40. lorijo  |  July 17, 2008 at 7:29 pm

    also be sensitive to the families health or food choices. my dad died of stomach cancer in april and it frustrated me to no end that it seemed like no one thought about What they brought to us. I would have rather they have given money than half of the crap they brought to our house that I could not eat. (honey baked ham, sams club or costco foods with so much sodium and just a lot of junk) when i told our pastor that i preferred healthy, natural, food, and food with no or low preservatives he tried to be funny and say that preservatives are good for you and it made me so angry, preservatives preserve your food…not you. thank you for this, i hope to read the rest of your series.

  • 41. Ellie  |  July 19, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    I wonder, at times, if it would be appropriate for a family to take the kids of a grieving family out for dinner, like McDonald’s with a play land, and bring over food for the adults to eat quietly at home. My son was still very small when my daughter died, and I was still nursing him, so he could not go far, but I did appreciate it when one of my friends would show up and take him out for a walk to the park. There were days I was tired of trying to smile for one small baby while grieving for another one. Yet the poor little guy did not know what was going on and deserved to have someone play with him who could smile without breaking into tears once in awhile.

  • 42. Fran  |  August 14, 2008 at 7:04 am

    http://www.WhatFriendsDo.com is a website to coordinate support for friends going through grief, illness, job chane, any life-changing event. The Help Schedule is a calendar to organize meals, help with children or transportation, or any other help that is needed. The coordinator can indicate food restrictions, and each person bringing a meal can indicate what they are fixing, so others can see what meals are being taken each day. The site is FREE, and easy to use.

    Fran (co-founder of WhatFriendsDo.com)

  • 43. Marisa  |  October 7, 2008 at 10:41 am

    I have organized meals for my moms group for some time now. A friend came across a site http://www.foodtidings.com and mentioned to me. I can’t tell you how helpful this site has been. I highly recommend it to those who organize meals for friends in need.

  • 44. Sara  |  November 19, 2008 at 11:08 am

    If I can add one more voice, I would suggest to offer meals to those who have had miscarriages in early pregnancy. When this happened to us, it kind of felt like people should know we needed this ministry… but no one offered. I can understand that people who haven’t experienced that may not know the grief it brings, so I certainly wouldn’t want to condemn anyone. Just an encouragement to care for this category of grieving friend also. (Forgive me if someone else already wrote this, I didn’t read all the comments!)

  • 45. MBS  |  March 10, 2009 at 7:15 pm

    I didn’t read all of the comments, so I’m not sure if this was already suggested….
    Have one or two close friends who are already familiar with the situation deliver ALL of the meals. This way, the mother doesn’t have to put on a smile or feel like she has to re-hash the whole scenario over and over again with many different people. Especially since she probably doesn’t even want to see people at first. A friend and I did this a few weeks ago for another friend, and she said it, “WAS THE BEST THING EVER.” I would have never thought about doing it, so I’m SO glad our other friend was smart enough to think about it.

  • 46. Crystal  |  July 23, 2009 at 2:18 pm


    I came across your blog and while reading noticed this entry and wanted to tell you all that if you’re doing a church-wide or organized group meal arrangement, my church uses foodtidings.com – It is really easy! The way I have seen it work is you have an organizer that signs up and the site will let you list on there the schedule to prevent duplications of meals, alerts everyone to allergies, the families likes and dislikes of certain foods and other specific instructions. Our organizer just posts it on there, shoots out an email to the members of the church with the name of the family above the link and voila! Oragnized family dinner at the click of your keys! 🙂 Enjoy!


  • 47. Crystal  |  July 23, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    Annnnnd apparently I need to do a better job of reading all the comments before making comments myself…HAHA, I just noticed somebody had already suggested this site. Oh well!! Have a blessed day!

  • 48. Carolyn  |  January 18, 2015 at 12:00 am

    I’m not only a grief counselor at the church, I am also known as the toilet paper lady when someone dies. I always take paper products to the house immediately whenever I hear of a death and in the bag of paper products is a package of toilet paper…the one thing you never seem to have on hand when unexpected guest fill your home. I have been thanked over and over again for the unusual gesture months after the mourning period has passed.

  • 49. Helping Others Grieve – Afflictions eclipsed by glory  |  February 17, 2019 at 3:13 pm

    […] They brought meals. This was a little hard for me especially after having the recent experience of finding out what it’s like when there is a new baby in the home. But while it was such a blessing not to have to cook or figure out what to have for dinner, it was difficult because there was no baby to show off when people dropped by and sometimes I wanted to talk and sometimes I didn’t. Mostly I didn’t. Also, Dan and I had requested healthy meals as we were trying to eat better.. but we found out really fast we wanted comfort foods as well! It was nice to have a balance of casseroles that were so amazing and fresh foods that were great for us. Here is a MUST READ when it comes to bringing meals to friends! […]


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