Have you ever asked a friend for the recipe of a delicious meal she brought to you, only to cook it yourself and it not be near as tasty as the first time?
I’ve been fortunate to have a caring group of women over the years who have brought days worth of meals during different times of our lives: the births of our children, the death of my father-in-law, when my son broke his leg, and when I had surgery. Leave it to southern church ladies to make sure when times are tough you don’t have to worry about dinner.
Many of these times I enjoyed the meal so much I asked for the recipe. In several of those instances, those recipes became mainstays of our table–for a while. But they never quite had the taste bud pop they had the first time.
Prepared in Love
Even though I know I’m not a great cook, I’m convinced that it’s not my cooking that brought a 5-star meal down to a 3. Food simply tastes better when it’s prepared for you in love. There’s something that makes plain old pot roast the most delicious pot roast you’ve ever eaten. That basic Pinterest lasagna totally trumps your own lasagna recipe. And where did my friend find that to-die-for salad dressing? (Turns out, she couldn’t remember!)
There’s just something about knowing a friend took the time out of her busy schedule to prepare a meal for you. Even if that beautifully arranged salad had been poured from a bag. Even if the biscuits were popped from a can.
So this is where I found my epiphany. For those of you who don’t feel all that gifted in the kitchen, those of you who worry that you don’t have a go-to meal that will knock their socks off, I want to encourage you.
A meal made in love for someone going through a tough time may be the most tasty meal they’ve ever eaten.
Don’t let your own culinary insecurities get in the way of blessing a friend. As the saying goes, it truly is the thought that counts.
If you’re like me, you might be wanting some basic tips to help you in your “ministry of a meal.” Here’s what I’ve found helpful:
- Freeze half (or double and freeze the extra) of your casserole or lasagna when you’re making it for your own family. We pretty much know when babies are coming, but some crises don’t announce their arrival. By having an extra dish of lasagna in the freezer, all you have to do when a crisis comes is pop it out, defrost, and cook. Tip: Cover with aluminum foil and write with Sharpie the heating instructions. It’s quicker than looking up the recipe again!)
- Enlist the assistance of a friend. When I had surgery, many of my meals came from two busy mommas at a time. One would make the main dish and the other would make sides or a dessert. It’s even better if you can both visit together – double the love!
- Keep basics on hand. If it’s winter and you cook chili, keep beans, canned tomatoes, and frozen veggies, and meat (frozen), in “stock.” That way you can quickly put together a slow cooker meal as needed.
- Keep your eye out for portable meal recipes and try them out for your family first. Whether you’re browsing Pinterest or the latest cooking magazine, look for meals that would be easy to tote. Most of my family’s favorite meals aren’t transport-friendly, so I began trying more casserole-type and slow-cooker meals. Those recipes that were good, I kept in my arsenal to take to others.
- Make a dessert that doubles as breakfast. Most people bring dinner, which can be used as leftover lunch. Breakfast is the only meal missing. So you might consider simply bringing a dessert that can also be saved for breakfast. My friend Jennifer brought an Italian Cream cake that was delicious with a cup of coffee the next morning. Other ideas: pumpkin bread, zucchini bread, coffee cake, even brownies!
- As a last resort, bring take-out. Since we live out of town, where not even pizza delivery is an option, meals from local restaurants brought to us were a real help. So if a need arises and you simply can’t come up with a homemade meal, take-out is okay! Again, it’s the thought that counts. When my friend Sara brought us McAlister’s after my surgery, it was the best meal McAlister’s ever prepared.
Some of the most meaningful parts of receiving meals came with the most simple of details. Here are a few that make basic meals come with a personal touch that shows you care.
- Basket of extras. My friend Kim brought a taco soup to me after Alyssa was born, and she stocked a pretty basket with fritos, cheese, and other extras. Just putting sides and condiments in a pretty package was probably so simple yet a thoughtful touch.
- Copy of the recipe. Attached to that basket, Kim had written down her taco soup recipe. That way I didn’t have to ask her for it! So if you have a recipe that you know is to-die-for, save the recipient the time and include a copy of the recipe. If you’re crafty, dress it up a bit.
- The extras in the salad. My friend Reba brought us a whole meal after my surgery, and included in the salad were fresh avocados. Since avocados don’t stay fresh long, I knew she had just cut them and added it to the salad. I was so touched by such a simple detail! Purchase that pre-bagged salad to save time, and add some extras. Those little details go a long way!
- Just paper. I’ll never forget when my father-in-law passed away, a co-worker of his brought paper plates, cups, and plastic utensils. My in-laws’ church family showered us with meals, but not having to worry about washing endless dishes was a huge help. This would be an idea if you’re too busy to make food and/or know others will be bringing plenty of food.
- Do it When It’s Not Convenient. I’ll never forget when we were building our house and were doing much of the labor ourselves. I was working full-time and Drew was 2. My friend Tiffany brought us a meal during that hectic time (which we ate on the floor in our in-progress home). What made that chicken dinner so special was that she was in a very hectic time in her life herself. She had a 3-year-old, a baby, preschoolers she babysat during the day, and a husband who was taking rigorous CPA classes that kept him gone all day and every evening. Yet she made me a meal. The most meaningful times I’ve been served were when I knew it took great sacrifice.
Taking a meal is a ministry of its own, and even if you don’t feel fully capable, you can still share love with someone going through a difficult time. I hope some of these suggestions are helpful. What can you add? What do you do or what has been done for you that was meaningful?