A Complete Guide to Sympathy Meals: Basics Part II and Final Thoughts
See the Intro to the series and Basics 1-6. Today, we’re talking about the tough topics…how long to stay and how to choose what to bring. I wrap up the series with a few last tips and hints for what to do if you can’t/don’t cook.
7) I mentioned last time that I’m particularly passionate about how long someone should visit while dropping off a sympathy meal. I don’t remember any offenders of this rule after I had a baby, but I’m hoping to offer guidelines to those who may be new to this practice. In my opinion, you need to get in and get out. A good rule of thumb is…don’t stay more than 15 minutes. This is a taxing time (that’s why you’re here), and you don’t want to be an added burden. Remember, you are not there to eat their food or make a bigger mess. You are not there to hold the baby unless mom is napping or showering and she OFFERS for you to hold the baby. In and out!
Unless you are absolutely sure you’re welcome to stay. In some cases, the person may be lonely or really hoping to talk to someone…or really needing help. You’re just going to have to very carefully read the situation. Ask profusely whether they’re sure you should stay, and your max time should be an hour. Wear a watch or check your phone. If you think you might get carried away in conversation, set a timer and pretend like it’s a text alert.
Pay close attention to what they’re saying and take your cues accordingly. For a new mom, that means stuff like “the baby needs to eat soon” or “we haven’t been getting much sleep. I think we all need a nap around here.” A new mom (or anyone else with their life flipped upside down) can go from “I’d really like some company and someone to talk to” to “get the heck out” in 5 seconds flat…and she might not even realize she’s getting irritated about playing host. It’s not personal…it’s just a hard time with a lot to balance. You can give lots of outs by saying stuff like, “Do you need to rest?” “I’m sure you’re ready for me to get out of your hair.” “Enjoy your meal. Bye!”
Here’s a counterpoint that the closest friends tend to follow my advice and stay away, which might lead to loneliness at a hard time. I like the notion of firefighter vs. builder. Which are you? (h/t A Cup of Jo)
8) Another basic that is pretty major: Make sure they’re going to like what you bring.
Time for a confession: I threw away some gifted food when my son was born.
Yikes! It wasn’t something we liked, and it just didn’t work for us. At another point in our lives, we might have been crafty enough to rework the recipe or donate it to those in need, but when you’re living in survival mode, some not-so-delicious casseroles pay the price. Don’t let your sympathy meal fall in that category.
Ask for a favorite family recipe (make spaghetti just like mom would if she weren’t resting; ask for the recipe, preferably before the baby comes)
Recreate a meal that was enjoyed by the family at your home (so you already know they like it)
If the family has a food blog (well, aren’t you lucky), make one of their own recipes
Knock off a restaurant favorite
Cater to food preferences of everyone in the family, find out the pickiest eater’s preferences and go from there
Don’t forget breakfast and snacks
Be especially careful of food allergies
Buy a loaf of bread and several packs of deli meats and cheeses so that sandwiches can be at the ready
A few last tips…
+ This is not a time to question or criticize their diet. If you don’t personally give your kids Cheetos and Coke, but that is what is asked for — buy it, drop it off, and move on with your life. If you don’t know anything about being vegan or Paleo or diabetic or whatever, then listen very carefully and follow instructions. Ask a friend that knows that diet or find a food blog that covers it.
+ Wait a while – everyone wants to help at first. Wait until mom (or dad) goes back to work and offer to bring a meal then. Wait a couple of weeks and then plan a longer visit to check in on how they’re doing. Staying longer may be appropriate then with their permission.
+ And remember: Just say no to the thank you note – make it clear when you drop the meal off that you don’t expect a note or any dishes back
If you can’t cook (or reeeeeally don’t like to), you can still help out:
Preparing a full meal for a family can be not only expensive, but overwhelming, if you don’t typically do this kind of things. Pick up rolls and drinks, and leave the veggies and entree to a couple of friends. Or go in with someone else (you give them money and they handle everything else).
Get take out from their favorite restaurant (ask them what to order and then pay, pick up, and deliver the meal)
Offer to coordinate or set up a planning service (like Meal Train). You set up the service and keep an eye on it. Everyone else brings food.
Provide a gift card to a restaurant or grocery store
Or do the dirty work:
– Do the grocery shopping (Get a list and prepare to pay. Some people/families might insist on paying for their own groceries, and then your gift will be the act of doing the shopping. I’m ok with both scenarios, but I think if you’re going to offer, you should be prepared to pay. Now, let’s hope they don’t ask for a million things, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.)
– One idea is to stock their freezer full of whatever they ask for — pizza, chicken breasts, veggies…items that will help them easily and quickly prepare a meal later.
– Prep the produce (I did a lot of freezer cooking before my baby was born, but I still craved fresh produce like fruit and lettuce for salad. Wash and chop fresh produce so it’s ready at a moment’s notice for cooking or snacking)
– Do the dishes (slip in like a silent cleaning torpedo and then get the heck out – leaving only a clean shiny kitchen in your wake)
Do you have any other questions about how sympathy meals work? Do you disagree with me about how long the visit should last? Are you worried I threw away the casserole you brought when my son was born (of course not!). Let’s talk!