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!
Last time, we kicked off the Complete Guide to Sympathy Meals Series, and I wanted to start off with some basics. Of course, you can always just bring over a cake, but if you’re aiming to assemble a full meal, here’s a very short checklist of what you should plan for
- A main entree with protein
- A side or two (with at least one veggie)
It’s also nice to include
- Bread or rolls
- Beverages (2-liters or a pitcher of tea) and ice, if needed
1) You don’t have to go it alone…go in with someone else. Stay tuned for a post on what to do if you can’t/don’t cook. You can still help out!
2) Ask when you should drop the meal off. If 2 p.m. is when they say, try to make it happen. Prepare your meal for storage and further preparation accordingly. Sometimes you’ll be able to whip in at 5:59 to put dinner for that night on the table at 6, but sometimes you won’t. Bonus points: If there is a new baby in the house, ask how you should announce your arrival. Banging on the door or ringing the bell are probably not good options…especially if there is a dog in the house.
3) Find out preferences
Plain (Please bring over 24 baked potatoes. Ring the doorbell, and leave them on the stoop.)
Healthy (Rabbit food only please)
Comfort food (Mac & Cheese & Eat my feelings & Please & Thank you)
Time of day (I’ve got 12 dinners lined up in a row, but I like to eat breakfast, too.)
4) Use dishware you don’t expect to get back (use disposable or thrifted)
Go the extra mile and bring disposable dishware and silverware to eat your meal on so that there is virtually no clean up.
However, you should know your recipient. If they’re a green-friendly-recycle-only-tree-hugging bunch, it’s probably best to stick to the thrifted casserole dish that you don’t care to get back and let them use their own real dishes and silverware.
5) Make it freezer friendly
Assemble the main dish with a note that says how to bake (today or tomorrow) or freeze for later
Bonus points if you make homemade freezer meals (well-balanced, single meal portions for one or two)
Next time, we’ll talk about how long you should stay. I have some pretty strong feelings about this, and I look forward to hearing what you think!
While we’re talking about things to do in Nashville, I recently came across a few good posts with great Nashville eat/make/do round ups…well, mostly eat (this is a food blog, after all). If you’re looking to plan an adventure in Nashville this summer…check ’em out:
Planning a Bachelorette Weekend in Nashville and The Ultimate Nashville Vacation by Kristin / Camels & Chocolate
It doesn’t matter if you’re not actually a bachelorette or traveling to Nashville. Maybe it’s your birthday, and you live here. Kristin’s got you covered with all of the best places to go.
Best Breakfast In Nashville by Nashville Guru
And where to find Brunch on Saturday by Jessyly
12 Dishes That Define the New Nashville by Steve Cavendish / The Nashville Scene
Must Try Cooking Classes by Nashville Lifestyles
I was super bummed when I learned that Viking had closed. I have taken several classes there (even more than I’ve written about because hello, I had a baby), and I always enjoyed it. These look like great recommendations, and I hope I can check them out soon.
If you find yourself in need of some men’s fashion in Nashville. You have to check out Haymakers & Co. My friend Miranda has been busier than usual (she always goes at mach speed) working with a great team to make this new concept come to life. I’m so proud of her!
Have a great week!
What is a sympathy meal? People usually bring the word sympathy out around funeral time, but if you look it up, its meaning is a little more broad:
1. feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.
I’m sorry you are sick or mourning the loss of a loved one. Here’s some chicken noodle soup or a full BBQ spread to make you feel better.
2. understanding between people; common feeling.
I too know what it’s like to push a small human from one’s nethers. Please accept this casserole and all of my love.
Are sympathy meals only a Southern thing? It feels like it to me, but I’m Southern so who knows? It’s definitely not a Norwegian thing. What do you think?
I’ve been ruminating on a sympathy meal post for a while. I’m not really sure what put it on my mind, but once I started writing out my thoughts I had several pages worth of information and decided it would be better to spread it over a few posts…a series, if you will.
You may have already read some good tips out there for preparing this type of meal. Here is a great post about it. And another. I’ve gathered up the definition, the basics, a few extensions on those guidelines, and a few more things you might not have thought of. Thanks for allowing me to define the art of the sympathy meal for you. Stay tuned for the rest of the tips…coming soon!