While there are several ways to show sympathy and offer condolences after someone you know loses a loved one, one of the most popular ways is to send food—commonly referred to as a sympathy meal.
Mealtimes are often one of the hardest parts of the day for someone who lost the one they shared them with, leading to poor nutritional health. Sympathy meals are a great way to show support, love and solidarity with a bereaved family.
Sympathy meals give the family assurance that they are in your thoughts, and it relieves them of the burden of shopping for and preparing food, all while grieving their loss.
If you’re making, delivering or organizing sympathy meals after a loss, here are seven considerations to keep in mind to help you keep things simple, genuine and efficient.
1. Number of People in the Household
First things first, you need to know how many people are staying with the bereaved family. Oftentimes, extended family or family from out of town will be staying in the same household, so check to see how many individuals you will be feeding.
Even if you prepare more food than they need, leftovers are always helpful for the family as well. Consider preparing freezer-friendly meals, so the family can store leftovers or entire dishes if they receive an abundance of gifts at one time.
2. Food Preferences and Allergies
Everyone has preferences. After you know the number of people to provide food for, it’s important to consider the types of food they like— some may not care for spicy food or a certain type of ethnic meal.
That’s not to say you can’t prepare the meal everyone knows you for, but you do want to avoid foods the family specifically stays away from.
On the same note, food allergies are of high importance. You do not want to make or order foods that may cause an allergic reaction. We recommend learning of any food preferences and/or allergies before setting any sympathy meal plans in stone.
Keep in mind, you are trying to make the lives of those who are receiving the meals easier. It is counterproductive to provide meals they can’t or won’t eat.
3. Timing of Meals
Dinner is the most common time people think to drop off sympathy meals. However, most don’t consider that the family may still be in need of meals for breakfast and/or lunch.
While keeping this in mind, you also want to have the food dropped off at a time that is convenient for the family and works with their meal schedules—morning, afternoon and evening.
4. Make It a Main Meal
While delicious treats like cookies and muffins are wonderful, in most situations, what is really needed are nourishing, full-course meals.
Snacks can only go so far, especially when there is a large group of people staying in one household. A nutritious casserole or a comforting pasta bake are the dishes that will benefit the bereaved family most.
5. Order Takeout
Not everyone wants to cook an entire meal for a large group of people. Ordering takeout shows your support to a family that is grieving in the same way. There are several places to order food as an expression of sympathy. Some of the most popular national online retailers are:
Each of these companies carries a variety of options, giving you the opportunity to find something for just about any taste and price range.
6. Organize a Meal Train
It’s important to keep in mind that you may not be the only person who thought to send food to the grieving family. That said, it may be worth organizing a group of cooks to conduct a “meal train.”
A meal train is where friends of the family rally together to develop a schedule of sympathy meals for delivery on given days.
This approach helps ensure a variety of meals are included, is a great way to provide meals over an extended period and to make sure there aren’t three dinners being delivered on one night.
7. Prepare an Easy Dish
Ideally, sympathy meals are easy to transport, eat and hold, and freeze well.
They should require little to no assembly, shouldn’t be overly complicated to eat and need to hold up during the trip there. Types of meals could include:
- Soups & stews. Chili of all types, hot soups, hearty stews and chowders.
- Crockpot/Slow Cooker meals. Spaghetti sauce, pulled pork, butter chicken.
- Pies. Quebec meat pie, chicken pot pie, quiche, steak pie.
- Casseroles. Lasagna, macaroni & cheese, tuna noodle casserole.
- Meats. Chicken parmesan, meatballs and sauce, ribs, meatloaf.
Also, consider what the lost loved one was known for cooking. If the family gathered at their house every Sunday for a warm plate of spaghetti and meatballs, or they were known for their famous Thanksgiving stuffing, consider recreating that recipe to bring the family comfort.
Bonus Tips for Preparing
- Make enough, so there are leftovers and some for additional guests.
- Make something easy to store and reheat.
- Include preparation instructions with your meal.
- Include a sympathy note.
- Include drinks and a dessert.
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The grieving process has no set timeline—some days may feel worse than others. If you or someone you know is experiencing the grief of losing a loved one, we encourage you to subscribe to our weekly grief support newsletter for useful information to use throughout the grief journey.