The Gift of Food: What to Give to Those Who Have Lost Loved Ones

The tradition of taking food to those who have lost a loved one is old and widespread; people instinctively know to take care of the bereaved. Here are a few tips from Cooking Light‘s Copy Director Susan Roberts McWilliams. Read Susan’s essay about the power of food in the wake of the loss of a loved one.


Illustration: Mark Hoffmann


FREEZABLE ITEMS STAND ABOVE ALL ELSE. It’s great for the recipient to have food she can put away for later, when she isn’t having as many visitors, when she’s trying to get back to work, or when she’s just having a bad day and doesn’t feel like cooking or leaving the house. (See our Best Freezable Casseroles.)

STRIVE FOR EASE. This is why casseroles are perfect—they are freezable, easy, and comforting. If the dish is something you can preportion according to the recipient’s particular situation, that’s also helpful.

DON’T SKIP BREAKFAST. A number of friends gave me breakfast foods, such as muffins and quick breads. These are great to have on hand when people stop by. Many are also freezable.

OFFER LEAVE-BEHINDS. When I take food to people, I usually try to use disposable containers. However, Alan Wolfelt, director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition in Fort Collins, Colorado, offers a different idea: He recommends delivering food on your best dishes. He says, “The nice plates provide you with a reason to go back several weeks later, retrieve your plates,” and spend more time visiting when things are less hectic.

KEEP IT COMING. Rhonda Rutledge, a friend I met in a spousal-loss support group, mentioned something I heard from several people: A lot of food shows up early on, but then it drops off. “In two months, either take someone to dinner, or don’t just drop a casserole off but take it and ask if you could eat together,” she says. It isn’t just a matter of having food but also of having someone to eat with.

AIM FOR HEALTHY. Convenient, comforting food is important, but if you can get the grieving person to eat something healthful, so much the better. People tend to eat wildly irregular diets when grieving. A fresh fruit salad or crudités with dip could be a nice change from the usual heavier fare.

JUST GIVE. My favorite piece of advice from Wolfelt: Don’t be too logical. Don’t worry about taking something the bereaved might have already received, or about taking too much food. “It is not about whether they can logically eat all the food. It is about them looking around and seeing how so many people want to support them at this difficult time,” he says. That’s the bottom line.

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