When my dad passed away recently, I was shocked at the outpouring of not only sympathy, love, and flowers, but also food! I’d always read in the paper the part about “In lieu of flowers, please..” but never did I see a direction to bring casseroles, hams, bagels, family packs, and sweet tea by the gallon to the grieving.
Chicken Enchilada Casserole
Credit: Jennifer Causey; Styling: Lindsey Lower

Sure, I knew people brought food when a death occurred in a family. Casseroles, at least in the South, cure more than hunger; they convey support and care, and keep the family going during times when they couldn’t make it through the Wal-Mart express line for the basics. I knew receiving food would be wonderful, but I had no idea how helpful it would be. Family friends rallied, organizing which group would bring dinner which night, who would provide lunch, and, most importantly, what kind of pie everyone in the family likes.

Of the food we got, and, believe you me, we had enough to feed our gathering of 30+ for an entire week, the most helpful items included a platter of chicken tenders and a tray of macaroni and cheese (to take care of the six kiddos under the age of five), a few large hams (perfect for dinner, lunch, or a snack), and the amazing number of dishes that are just as delicious cold as they are hot.

In part to pay my gratitude forward, I wanted to list a few hints and tips for preparing food for a grieving family.

The Ultimate Salted Chocolate Chunk Cookie
Credit: Sara Tane

Sara Tane

1. All food, visits, hugs, smiles, and memories are welcome. If you need to bake your famous chocolate chip cookies to bring along on the visit to feel you aren’t imposing, then by all means! But know you’re welcome, regardless.

2. Pick dishes that reheat easily or are delicious served warm or cold. A few of our favorites were the fresh vegetables (green beans, summer squash), cold salads, hams, sandwich meat & cheese platters, and barbecue family packs. No one ever had to “fix” lunch– we just set out the spread and let people eat as they wanted.

3. Tuck a card into your food gift that gives the recipient a hint what you brought, like “I hope the kids enjoyed the nuggets and turkey sandwiches.” At one point, we received four grocery bags of food from four different friends in a matter of 15 minutes. I know we’d love to personally thank these warm-hearted friends later, but we might have trouble remembering who brought what!

4. Bring the basics. We were so happy to look in the fridge and find cokes or iced tea, discover a bag of chips in the pantry, or a basket of bagels, cream cheese, and orange juice on the front porch in the morning. Our friends became our thinking caps, always moving one step ahead of us.

5. Think about who you’re feeding. So many friends brought kid-friendly items, including applesauce and animal crackers, which made snack time much easier.

King Ranch Chicken and Quinoa Casserole
Credit: Jennifer Causey Styling: Lindsey Lower

When feeding a family that has experienced a death, simply know that whatever you bring or send will be oh-so appreciated. Afterall, what you’re really sending is love and support, and everyone could use a second helping of that.

By Ashley Kappel and Ashley Kappel