You can never underestimate the comforting power of preparing a meal for a family who is dealing with crisis or grieving the loss of a loved one.

A couple weeks ago my father passed away unexpectedly.  The days and weeks which have followed have been filled with long days and nights working on my father’s estate and caring for my mother, who is adjusting to life without my father after 45 years of marriage.

My love affair with food has dwindled to the way side as I have settled for the take-out and fast-food variety type meals usually found in the drive-thru lane and consumed minutes later during the drive to my next appointment.  Is it ideal?  No, but I’m not living in ideal circumstances at the moment.

A fellow food writing friend, Rebekah, emailed me last week and asked if she could bring a meal.  Being emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted I replied to her days later to accept her offer.  I wrote:  “Yes, we would love a home cooked meal.”  When she arrived we sat down in my living room and I shared with her some of the details of what I had been going through the last couple weeks.  I confessed that I had lost count of how many times we ate fast-food hamburgers and French-fries the last couple weeks and that I couldn’t stomach the idea of eating more of it.  She listened with compassion and without judgment.

After she left, I opened up the cooler she brought and read the note attached.  “Made with loving hands,” the note said.  I was home alone and heated up one bowl of Rebekah’s beef stew in the microwave.  I wasn’t even hungry when I did this, but I knew I needed to eat.   The taste of the first spoonful in my mouth instantly comforted me.  I’ve been so busy trying to take care of my own family and my mother that I hadn’t even realized how much I also needed to be comforted. At that very moment my appetite began to return and I started eating more.  It wasn’t hard to do because the stew was so good, flavorful, and hearty.

Also in the container were grayish-brown short bread cookies.  I could tell by looking at them they were rolled, refrigerated, sliced, and each baked with a sprinkling of turbinado sugar.  I have an appreciation for these types of details.  The shape of the cookies weren’t perfectly round – but they were perfectly homemade; evidence of loving hands taking the time to care for me.   The cookies made me think of the note my friend sent, which ministered to my grieving and tired soul.  I envisioned in my mind the time and heart that went into preparing that meal.  Words cannot express how deeply touched I was.  Later that evening my mother and the rest of the family also enjoyed Rebekah’s stew and cookies.  Without saying anything to my mom, she commented on how good the stew was.  The stew was powerfully special in so many ways.  Mom ate two bowls.

In years past I have prepared similar types of meals for other families experiencing similar ordeals.  However, being on the receiving end is more foreign to me.  What I’ve learned is this: it doesn’t take culinary know-how to bless others through food.  It just takes the willingness to do it.  When families are dealing with crisis, cooking is the last thing on their minds.  Having someone else bring a meal helps alleviate the burden.  Knowing and experiencing the love of others is the best medicine there is for broken hearts.  Never underestimate the power of a home cooked meal made with loving hands during times of crisis.

Here’s one of my favorite casserole recipes I often bring for dinner for families during times of hardship.

Recipe: Chicken Almond Rice Casserole

Bring this heart-warming casserole to a friend or relative who's suffered a loss.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup almonds, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 pound chicken breast, cubed into bite sized pieces
  • 1 med onion, chopped
  • 2 cups celery, chopped
  • 3 cups cooked rice (approx. 1.5 cups of uncooked rice)
  • 1 1/4 cup mayonnaise * what I do is use the same amount as the soup
  • 1 (10.75 ounce) can condensed cream of chicken soup
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1 box (5oz) of Stove Top stuffing mix
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. 
  2. In a medium size saute/frying pan toast almonds for approximately 3 minutes on medium-high heat. 
  3. Remove almonds from pan into large bowl. 
  4. Add 2 tablespoons of butter to frying pan and saute chicken pieces until no longer pink. 
  5. Remove chicken and add to the bowl with almonds. 
  6. Saute onions and celery for 3 minutes. Add mixture to the chicken/almond. 
  7. Add rice, mayonnaise, condensed cream of chicken soup, and a little salt and pepper (to taste) to the bowl and mix everything until well combined. 
  8. Add mixture to a greased 9x13 baking casserole dish.
  9. Microwave 3 tablespoons of butter until melted.  Open the bag of Stove Top Stuffing and add melted butter to it. 
  10. Fold the bag at the seam and shake the mixture for half a minute.  Sprinkle the stuffing mixture on top of the casserole dish and bake for 25 minutes or until the top is golden brown.

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  • http://www.vinolucistyle.com Barbara Kiebel

    I only wish I could bring a meal to your family table but distance won’t allow that so it’s heartwarming to read of this visit and hear of how it nourished you in more ways than one.

    My heartfelt condolences to you, your Mom and all of your family members dealing with this unexpected tragedy.

  • http://www.cookincanuck.com Cookin’ Canuck

    Alice, this is such a beautiful and heartfelt post. There really is nothing like the healing qualities of good food made by caring hands. I am tucking your chicken casserole away for times when I may need to provide a meal to a friend in need.

  • Miz booshay

    I have a few ideas…
    1. Have a go to dish. This makes deciding and prep so easy.
    I make chicken noodle soup, Rees chicken
    Spaghetti, or a dairyland casserole.
    Recently a friend brought me a chicken pie. It was so delicious and indeed brought comfort to my soul.
    Harry & David sells a chicken pie…so it can even be delivered in the mail!!!!
    This may be my favorite idea of all for those friends far away.
    Thinking of you and praying for comfort for you all

    • Karen

      I’m on our “Meals Ministry” team at our church . . . I think there is nothing more comforting than a roasted chicken, hot buttered noodles and green salad. It’s my go to meal when I am called at the last minute. Love to you and your family Alice!

  • http://mamameglutenfree.blogspot.com Caneel

    Thank you for this beautiful post and your sharing. I sometimes wonder what else I can do when I provide meals like this, other than pray for the family. I love the note, and will use that.

  • http://www.healthygreenkitchen.com Winnie

    This is beautiful Alice. We are all thinking of you during this difficult time.

  • http://www.thescramble.com Aviva Goldfarb

    Alice, we are all sending you virtual homemade dinners and lots of hugs from afar. It’s such a good idea to have a go-to meal that you can bring a friend in need of some comfort and nourishment. Mine is usually baked apricot chicken. I wish I could drive it over tonight!

  • CarolinaGirl

    How true and touching this post is. I usually take a chicken spaghetti casserole or sometimes it may be whatever I can throw together with on hand ingredients for bereavement meals. And from past experience, those friends truly appreciate it. But, you never know just how special it is until you are on the receiving end. I’ll definitely save this recipe for the next time I need to take a friend a dinner. Thank you for sharing.

  • http://www.simplebites.net/ Aimee @ Simple Bites

    Alice, I wish I could drop by with food! I’m always cooking extra for friends with new babies, or those experiencing a loss in the family, or a recent move.

    I’ve also been on the receiving end, and, I agree, the impact that home cooked meal has is immeasurable.

    {{hugs}}

  • Kate

    You don’t know me, Alice, but I’ve been reading your blogs for a while and just wanted to send my condolences and let you know that my prayers are with you, your mom and your whole family.

  • Jenna

    A very thoughtful article and I’m so glad I read this today. My friend has gone through a similar loss with her father and I was just trying to think of something to do for her. Thank you so much.

  • Delishhh

    Alice what an amazing post. Very touching. Again sorry for your loss. After reading his I just want to say what is your address I will come over with some food.

  • TXgirl

    Alice, having lived in a more rural area near Fort Worth, TX, comfort and filling food is quite often the same, beans and cornbread. Several of us have tried through the years to provide this during the time the family is shocked and in the sad fog so they might be sustained. We note that the fellas in the family are often the ones who go to this as a first choice food.

  • Jody

    Thanks so much for publishing this. ‘Bereavement food’ was something I never even thought about until I needed it. About six months ago, my mother was seriously injured and my grandmother killed in a car accident. People kept offering to make myself and my father food, but I didn’t really think it was necessary – my position at the time was that there were more important things in life than food. But a few weeks later, a visiting friend brought over a meal for my father and I, and I realized…

  • Jody

    it’s not about the food, it’s about the caring, and that having a really nice, well-made meal already prepared for you GIVES you more time to focus on the things in life that are more important than food. I didn’t realize before those cheese enchiladas (which were delicious) that the intention wasn’t so much to feed me, it was to help me manage my life in a very small way.

  • Jody

    Again, thanks so much for getting this out there. Grief, unfortunately, is something we all go through, and I think it’s great that you’ve written about people caring for others with food, so people who think the way I did can accept others’ offers of food and home-cooked meals and realize how it actually CAN help them. Best wishes to you and your family during your times of grief.

  • http://savorysweetlife.com alice

    Thank you everyone for your kind words and great recipe ideas for bereavement meals.

    Jody: It’s funny, food is something we need each day to sustain our bodies but it’s the last thing we think about when grieving. My experience with the few meals we received (some unsolicited and left on my doorstep by wonderful friends) has been truly humbling. These meals are really healing and helpful in so many ways.

  • SeattleMommy

    Another wonderful post, Alice. You are always so heartfelt and genuine. Thanks for sharing.

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  • Ginny Chapman

    Dear Alice, loved your comforting words, your ability to simply say what is on your heart is a wonderful gift. I have been thinking of you daily and am so glad to see you back here. Hugs, Ginny

  • Joanne Weeter

    Food nourishes the stomach and the soul. When you are hurting these small things count. One suggestion is to keep the food low calorie and light because so many others will bring rich, high-calorie comfort food. Another suggestion is to mark on the container that the food item can be frozen. That way if too much food arrives at one time it can be stored for later.

  • Liz

    This post was under the perfect timing category. I actually had just returned from visiting a friend with cancer. During the past few weeks I have been bringing her food – some homemade, some store bought (yogurt helps mouth sores). I wondered whether she would like what I made. It doesn’t matter what I bring. It’s brought with love – and she knows that. That’s what counts.

    • Matt G.

      My mother-in-law passed away this year, and friends and neighbors brought mountains of food, most of it very good. But the most memorable meal was actually terrible – inedible actually (maniccotti can be that bad!). I’ll never forget the ten of us at the dinner table all trying to politely choke this stuff down. The big, shared laugh that followed gave us a wonderful respite from our grief, and reminded us that life goes on and our dearly departed would want us to keep on laughing.

  • Betsy

    Thanks for sharing this. I also feel like these kind of meals make a big difference when families are experiencing other challenges. In recent years my young daughter and my husband have had surgeries. Friends and families from our preschool coordinated meal deliveries that were a huge help and relief to us.

  • Kathy

    I’m in love with the opportunity I have as a consultant with The Pampered Chef to help others learn the ‘love of cooking’ – whether they share with family members around the table, or others in times of needs…it’s so important. I love these posts!!

  • Jackie Wheeler

    A friend of mine found your article and posted it on the Funky Freezer Girls page on facebook. This message completely speaks to how we look at blessing other families each month with the extra meal our group makes beyond the meals we exchange. You have expressed it so beautifully. Thank you for sharing your heart. You and your family are in my prayers.

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