As you may already know, our attitudes toward funerals have become less formal. You can see this by the switch to more casual funeral attire. You probably notice popular songs at visitations and services. You can even see it by how people choose to dress the deceased. You may even feel as if you don’t know what to expect at a funeral anymore.
One time-honored tradition that hopefully will never go away is providing meals for a grieving family. People have been doing this for centuries and across many cultures.
This simple action tells a family that you know they are hurting so much that they couldn’t even possibly think about preparing a simple meal.
COVID-19 Tip: You might not be able to hand-deliver a comforting meal to your loved ones in person. You might even be attending or hosting a virtual funeral using a service like GatheringUs, where you're not physically together with the grieving family. But you can still often send comforting food as a gift using meal delivery services or through the mail.
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Providing a meal for a family says that you love them and support them during their dark times. Preparing a meal for others is so much more meaningful than offering “thoughts and prayers” on Facebook.
Here are some ideas for meals to give to a grieving family. Before you decide on what to prepare, think about what you know regarding the diet of the family. Does anyone have food allergies? Do they keep kosher? Do they avoid pork for religious reasons? Are they diabetic or on dialysis? Take all of these facts into consideration when choosing an appropriate menu.
Ideas for Meals and Food You Can Order
Maybe you have many gifts, but cooking isn’t one of them. Luckily, you can order just about anything online or at a local restaurant or deli. Here are some meals you may consider delivering to a family who recently lost a beloved family member.
Don’t apologize for bringing such a simple dish to those in mourning. Everyone loves pizza. You can also include a meatless pizza to appeal to vegetarians and a gluten-free pizza for those on a restricted diet.
Pick up the pizza and deliver it yourself or have it delivered to the family. Make sure you include a tip to the driver if you are not there during the delivery.
2. Chinese food
Chinese food is a meal that is easy for a large family to share. Most restaurants allow you to order family-sized portions of several entrees that come with containers of rice or noodles. Include quarts of egg-drop soup as well.
3. Meat and cheese platters
Most grocery stores or delis prepare meat and cheese platters for people to use to build their own sandwiches. Ask that the plates come with slices of lettuce, onion, and tomatoes. Purchase mayonnaise, mustard, and bread to accompany the trays.
These easy meals can feed dozens of people, and you can purchase kosher deli trays for families sitting shiva.
If you don't feel like driving the store, you can quickly send a meat and cheese platter from Amazon, like the one pictured above.
4. Fruit and vegetable platters
You may consider pairing the meat and cheese trays with trays of fruits and vegetables. Or you can deliver these as stand-alone items.
Although they wouldn’t necessarily act as a meal for a family, they are healthy alternatives to junk food that many give to families in mourning.
It might be nice to send a nut and dried fruit gift basket from Amazon, like the one pictured above, if you're short on time.
5. Sandwich trays
You may consider simplifying the sandwich-making process for the family and purchase trays of pre-made sandwiches.
Many national chains allow you to purchase trays of their food, and they usually throw in condiments and plates as well. Purchase large bags of chips to accompany the sandwiches.
6. Fried chicken
Go to your favorite fried chicken restaurant to buy a meal for a family in mourning. Of course, purchase several sides and rolls to complete the meal.
If you’re lucky enough to live in an area known for barbecue, this would be the perfect thing to purchase for a family in mourning. Barbecue restaurants are usually excellent caterers.
They provide everything the mourners would need to feed a large group of people, including paper goods and wet wipes.
Your favorite coffee shop will sell their high-octane formula in large, recyclable containers. Consider purchasing bulk coffee to deliver to a family planning a funeral.
Don’t forget to include bottles of sugary flavored creamers for those who won’t drink coffee without it.
You can find high-quality beans, like these Real Good Coffee Co. Whole Beans from Seattle, on Amazon.
9. Sweet treats
Of course, you can bake your own cookies and brownies to provide for a family, but you can also order trays of treats from your favorite bakery or supermarket.
Although this isn’t technically a meal, most people find solace from eating cookies.
Try sending a big assortment, like these Cookie Gift Basket, pictured above, on Amazon.
10. Gift cards
Perhaps the family will have to travel to get to the funeral. If this is the case, bringing a tray of sandwiches may be more of a burden than a help.
Instead, consider purchasing a gift card that the family can redeem in the area near the funeral.
Sometimes, it's hard to tell what gift card a family will appreciate. Try to go with somewhere you can buy anything, like an Amazon Gift Card
Ideas for Meals You Can Make at Home
If you receive compliments on your cooking, and you take great care when preparing meals, you may want to make a meal in your own kitchen. Here are some ideas of things you can make at home and deliver to the family.
11. Lasagna or baked pasta
Unless members of the family have issues with gluten or dairy, consider making a lasagna or some other type of baked pasta. These dishes are warm and comforting. Even the pickiest eaters usually enjoy eating pasta. They can freeze easily, and it can be easily prepared by putting it in the oven for an hour.
Accompany this meal with a bag of prepared salad and garlic bread.
12. Chicken and noodles
This starchy meal is also a favorite comfort food, especially if you pair it with homemade mashed potatoes. Like lasagna, this meal freezes well and can be reheated when needed.
It’s bland enough to appeal to even the pickiest eater and can be accompanied by a salad.
13. Chicken pot pie
No need to make your own pie crust for this classic American dish. Buy pre-made crusts at your grocery store, and cook the chicken with carrots, peas, and onions.
Deliver the food ready to be baked or piping hot from the oven. Just make sure to tell the family what to expect.
14. Shepherd’s pie
Similar to chicken pot pie, a crustless shepherd’s pie usually has a mixture of ground beef and vegetables on the bottom.
The top is covered with peaks of creamy mashed potatoes. If you take care, you can prepare this meal gluten-free. It also can be thrown in the freezer.
Every American has a favorite chili recipe. If you have received compliments on yours, consider sharing it with a family in mourning. Include crackers, cheese, sour cream, Fritos, green onions, or any other toppings you usually enjoy.
You can bring the chili ready to be eaten in a slow cooker, or you can bring it frozen so the family can put it in their crockpot when they are ready to eat it.
16. Chicken noodle soup
If you live in a cold climate, and you need to provide a meal to a grieving family, consider making homemade chicken and noodle soup. It’s the ultimate in comfort food and is easy to prepare.
Purchasing a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken to include in the soup will allow you to make the meal within minutes.
Whether the family eats it for breakfast or dinner, a quiche is a simple meal that will provide comfort for any grieving family. Since some vegetarians eat eggs, you may consider not adding any additional meat to this dish to appeal to a broader range of eaters.
Also bring fruit, such as strawberries and blueberries, and bagels to accompany this meal.
18. Egg casserole
Egg casseroles are other meal options that can be used for breakfast or dinner. This is a particularly good idea to bring to families who are hosting others overnight. Add a bag of apples, oranges, or grapefruits.
Whether you make your own or buy them frozen, meatballs can be the perfect meal to bring to a family who recently lost a loved one.
You can prepare them with a variety of sauces, either barbecue, hot and spicy jelly, or brown gravy. You can also pair them with mashed potatoes or another favorite starchy side.
Create an assembly line in your kitchen and make dozens of burritos. Most of the time, burritos can freeze well, especially if they are individually wrapped in waxed paper.
They can be warmed up separately as needed and can be accompanied with pico de gallo, avocados, and sour cream. You can also create a breakfast variety for those who have overnight guests.
Bring Comforting Food in a Time of Grief
Maybe you feel awkward bringing food or a sympathy gift to a family who recently lost someone. Perhaps you don’t have confidence in your cooking abilities, and maybe you are uncomfortable thinking about interacting with someone sad.
Do it anyway. Life is full of awkward, painful moments. Don’t let this tradition die away. Whether you make the food yourself or purchase a meal from a restaurant, take meals to families who are grieving and attach a nice sympathy note while you’re at it, too.