Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Food as Comfort

This holiday season was a bit different for our family as it was the first Christmas without my dad. After a long illness, my father passed away in September. We spent months setting aside our everyday lives to focus on our remaining time with him. And just as everyone who has lost a loved one knows, the business of dying isn’t as simple as just passing on. There are preparations and decisions and plans to be made; financial matters and documents to handle; grief to process; all while handling our own busy lives. It’s a stressful time and most things fall by the wayside as we get a bit of perspective on what’s truly important during the process. The last thing on my mind was figuring out what to feed my family.

But the great thing about community is that people gather around us when we go through tragedy. People inherently know that if comforting words fail them, comforting food won’t. And so the home baked dishes come rolling in. It’s a way of saying, “I’m so sorry for your loss. I care about you. You’re not alone.” All those sentiments can be conveyed through one 9 x 13 casserole dish filled with a home cooked meal. And for the people that are grieving, it’s one less task to worry about. So here are some things to keep in mind if you decide to take a meal to a grieving family.

  • It’s best to use dishes that you don’t need back. Disposable is always a great option or you can purchase a dish especially for your food and include it in the gift. If you have to use a dish that you need back, make sure to put a label on the bottom with your name and address on it. Chances are they will have received lots of meals and it will be easier for them to remember who it belongs to.
  • When delivering the meal, don’t linger. In the midst of grief we don’t really want to have to relive all the painful details. Privacy is precious as we process all that we are going through. Make it a quick and pleasant drop off with a minimum of chit chat.
  • Give selflessly. Don’t expect a thank you card in the mail and then be disappointed if you don’t’ get one. Don’t expect a lot of fanfare for your thoughtfulness. Don’t expect the favor to be returned. Just give. Sometimes after the tragedy has passed we forgot some of the details of what happened and who helped. Just know that it was appreciated more than you can realize.

Classic Baked Macaroni and Cheese

From Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking School Cookbook, 1946

  • 8 ounces elbow macaroni
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs , buttered

Preheat oven to 400°F. Cook and drain macaroni according to package directions; set aside. In a large saucepan melt butter. Add flour mixed with salt and pepper, using a whisk to stir until well blended. Pour milk and cream in gradually; stirring constantly. Bring to boiling point and boil 2 minutes (stirring constantly). Reduce heat and cook (stirring constantly) 10 minutes. Add shredded cheddar little by little and simmer an additional 5 minutes, or until cheese melts. Turn off flame. Add macaroni to the saucepan and toss to coat with the cheese sauce. Transfer macaroni to a buttered baking dish. Sprinkle with buttered breadcrumbs. Bake 20 minutes until the top is golden brown.

Italian Chicken Casserole


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 cup chicken, cooked and chopped
  • 2 (14 1/2 ounce) cans diced tomatoes with garlic, basil and oregano
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 (3 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • 2 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1 (8 ounce) package angel hair pasta, cooked and kept warm

Preheat oven to 350 degrees; lightly spray a 9x13-inch baking dish with nonstick spray. In large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic; cook 3 minutes, or until tender. Stir in chicken, tomatoes and cream. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes, or until slightly thickened. Add cream cheese and 1 cup mozzarella cheese; cook, stirring constantly until cheeses are melted. Add pasta, tossing gently to coat. Spoon into prepared baking dish. Sprinkle evenly with remaining cheese. Bake 30 minutes.

California Style Chicken

From the American Diabetes Association

  • 3 lb. (about 8 pieces) of chicken (thighs, breasts, drumsticks)
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 40 garlic cloves, separated, peeled
  • 4 celery ribs, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 375°F. Prepare a medium baking dish with olive oil flavored nonstick pan spray. Place chicken in dish and brush with oil. Sprinkle basil, oregano, salt & pepper over the chicken. Spread the garlic, celery, onion & parsley over and around the chicken. Pour the wine and lemon juice into the baking dish. Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Uncover and bake for an additional 30 minutes.


{ MELBOURNE ROAD } said...

excellent advice about how to drop off the food and with what to expect..nothing, but the good feeling in your heart. Grief does take away the memories during the time it is there. The timeframe the kids dad left I cant remember a thing for about a year because of grief and lifes transitions. I love it when the kids can tell me something good that happened in that timeframe.
I call it the time I lived in my head..toooo many thoughts and emotions in there.
love you Gayle

Roxie700 said...

Good advice. When I lost my father a few years ago it was super difficult to keep up with 'who brought what' etc. Not only did family and friends bring food, the companies that my brothers and sisters work for sent food; also even though my father had been retied several years his OLD work friends came with food etc. We did put a book by the door and ask people who dropped things off to please list it for us. We were dealing with not only the loss of our father but our mother was (still is) a stroke victim and she was in very bad shape too.
The food made things a lot better for us till after the funeral. No one had to worry about getting something for mother to eat etc. We were just there for her doing what we could.
When I can get dishes for cheap, tag sales, thrift shops, etc. I do give the dish as a gift too. I also try to keep meals frozen in the freezer that are ready to go when the need does arise.

Anonymous said...

I have come to realize I'm an emotional eater at times and definitely an emotional cook...I love to nurture and minister with food. Great advice for all of us - whether we are giving OR receiving. Thanks for your honest insight.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. I so agree with the disposable dishes and not expecting a Thank you card. The only other advice I would give is when giving a meal, provide one meal and not 10 at one time. I had this happen to me and we did not have the freezer space to store the food and even after giving a good amount of the food to other family members, six meal portions of food spoiled before we could get to it. If you want to help as much as possible, sign up to bring a meal on several different dates.