Food doesn’t just meet our physical need for energy and nutrients; it’s also a source of comfort. That’s why there is something so powerful and community-building about meal ministry. When someone is ill, has a new baby, or experiences a loss, friends who show up to nurture and comfort the family with wholesome and delicious meals go a long way toward reducing stress. On the flip side, a friend who shows up unexpectedly with mystery foods the family can’t eat and who expects her dishes to be washed and returned right away actually increase stress! Keeping your friend’s needs in mind and having a humble attitude of service will steer you clear of most blunders. Here are a few simple things to avoid.
- Don’t Go At It Alone: Chances are if a friend is in a situation where meals would be a blessing, you’re not the only one who is bringing in food. Find out if a friend, family member, or someone at church is coordinating the meal ministry and get in contact with that person to sign up for a day when food is needed, get the info on any food preferences or allergies, get the address and directions, etc. That way your friend can relax and recover without the phone ringing off the hook, and she doesn’t have to worry about duplicate meals, giving directions, or getting conflicting information from different sources.
- Know Your Audience: When you get in touch with the person coordinating meals, or if you are the one doing the coordinating, find out what the family’s food preferences and food allergies are. If someone is vegetarian, gluten intolerant, or allergic to something, you need to provide a meal that won’t increase the suffering! Likewise, be sensitive to the issues created by the condition that drove the meal ministry. A new mom trying to nurse can’t eat a lot of garlic or gas-inducing veggies like broccoli. Someone dealing with stomach problems won’t be able to eat spicy or acidic things. If you know what your friend is dealing with, a quick internet search will give you advice on foods to avoid for her condition. Also, know what time your friend serves dinner. A family used to eating at 5:00 will not be very relaxed trying to placate fussy kids until dinner shows up at 8:00. You eat dinner whenever you like, but meal ministry is about blessing someone else, not about putting them on your schedule.
- No Surprises: I love sneaking extra veggies into my son’s food, and my own for that matter. Tiny cubes of squash soften beautifully in chili and no one knows the difference. It’s the only way I can get my husband or son to eat the stuff. But a meal ministry meal is not the place for sneaky veggies, mystery ingredients, and family secret recipes. Provide the recipe with each item you bring, and stick to what you put on the card. Your friend and her family will know exactly what they’re getting, and they can make it again another day. Obviously they’re going to love it and want the recipe anyway, right? I still make homemade chicken potpie from the recipe a friend brought for dinner when our son was born fourteen years ago.
- Keep It Simple: Elaborate dishes don’t travel well, and when you’re not feeling well, you just want the familiar and comfortable anyway. I had a friend thoughtfully bring me a casserole once that was a new recipe she was trying on us for the first time. Unfortunately she thought the word “clove” meant the entire head of garlic. I couldn’t eat garlic, so I couldn’t have any, and my house stunk for a week. Stick to things you know you make well. Someone coming home from hospitalization won’t care that it’s simple; she is just going to be thrilled to eat something that isn’t hospital food… Save your tricky, fancy dishes for when your friend is feeling better, then have her over for a celebration dinner! Likewise, while disposable bakeware isn’t the best for the environment, it is the best for ministry meals. Your friend can wash and reuse it herself or she can toss it. It’s a lot less work than scrubbing all the pans and keeping track of who to return them to. Remember that your goal is to help your friend relax and recover, not to give her more chores!
- If All Else Fails: Pizza delivery and restaurant gift cards are perfectly valid ways to bless a friend in need. This is especially true if you live too far away to deliver a homemade meal, when your schedule doesn’t match up to the meal delivery rotation, or in situations where a family member is hospitalized for a while. When my nephew was born prematurely and 300 miles away, I used Google Maps to find out what restaurants were near the hospital where he spent his first weeks. My sister and her husband were back and forth between home and the hospital, spending as much time as possible with their tiny baby, not eating at home. The gift cards we sent helped keep their costs down during that crazy and expensive time, and I felt good because it allowed me to bless them when I couldn’t be there in person.
Here is one of my favorite meal ministry recipes. It’s vegetarian, mild, forgiving, easy, and generally pleases even kids and picky eaters.
Three Cheese Stuffed Shells:
12 jumbo pasta shells, boiled until tender
1 16 oz. package cottage cheese, drain off some of the liquid
½ cup shredded mozzarella
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Garlic salt to taste
Combine the egg, salt, and cheeses in a large bowl and fill each softened shell with the mixture. Arrange shells in a baking dish and pour a jar of pasta sauce over them. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
That’s it! Super simple, warm, and comforting. The recipe serves 4, and can easily be doubled for larger families. I deliver it (in a disposable aluminum pan, of course) with some bread, a fruit or veggie, and a treat like cookies for dessert.
At the bottom of this post is a free printable – some cute Meal Ministry labels and matching recipe cards. Feel free to print and share (they’ll work best on medium weight white cardstock). I pinned a bunch of blog posts and recipes about Meal Ministry to the Food Shelf Friday Pinterest account. Click HERE for those links, including more printable labels.
Above all an attitude of service and sensitivity are the keys to successfully blessing others with meal ministry. Now go out there and be a blessing! Remember if you have other ideas to add to this topic, or a great meal ministry recipe, share it in the comments!