On a chilly Monday afternoon, I paced the hallways of my home with my colicky, three-week-old baby. I checked the clock again: 4:06 p.m. I was sure the battery was dead. How could it only have been one minute since I last checked?
I was deep in the turbulent waters of brand new motherhood. My husband was away on a business trip, and I was lost in a cycle of nursing, bouncing, and changing diapers. My coffee sat cold on a counter, next to a handful of crackers I had poured out onto a plate with one hand that morning. My stomach grumbled, yet I had no idea how I would be able to put my baby down long enough to make dinner for myself.
Then, like magic, the doorbell rang. A friend of mine from church stood at the door with her two girls, carrying a casserole and a bag full of food. If she was surprised to see me in my pajamas in the middle of the afternoon, she didn’t show it. Instead, she marched in, put the casserole in my oven to warm, and asked if she could hold my baby.
She stood there, in my living room—her girls playing with blocks at her feet—and began to sway with my baby, telling me how beautiful she was, asking how I was doing. She warmed up my coffee and told me to sit on the couch. Within 10 minutes, this experienced mom had put my inconsolable baby girl to sleep, and as I sat with my feet up, drinking a warm cup of coffee, I felt, for the first time that day, like everything was going to be OK.
Those colicky newborn days passed, and over time, I grew more confident as a mother. But I never forgot what it felt like for this friend to show up that afternoon with dinner and open arms. I don’t remember what was in that casserole, but I do remember the way it made me feel to have dinner already made for the rest of the week when my husband was gone.
Now that I have two little girls of my own, I know that making an extra meal for someone and delivering it in the late afternoon isn’t always the easiest task. But I’ll never forget what an encouragement it was to be on the receiving end of it.
Made for Community
The early days of motherhood can be isolating and confusing. When I look back on those first weeks, I think it was the meals that got me through. And I don’t mean just the food itself. My husband, when he’s home, is an amazing cook and made plenty of delicious dishes during that season. But every time that front door opened and another friend walked in with a steaming hot plate, a baked oatmeal for the next morning, or a loaf of warm sourdough bread, I was reminded that I wasn’t doing this alone.
Depending on the community you live in, meal-bringing may or may not be a common practice. I’ve been so fortunate to be in a community where taking a meal to a friend is as common as making one for your own family. Just a few weeks ago, a friend dropped off breakfast, simply because she knew I had company in town.
There are several online tools to organize meal-taking for a community, such as Meal Train, which has been used by 2 million people in 40 different countries. Through this site, friends and family can coordinate meal-taking and care for someone who has just had a baby or is recovering from surgery. A friend of mine recently went through chemotherapy, and she said it was such a gift to be able to check the online forum and know who was taking care of dinner each night.
This past year, I’ve been drawn over and over to brand new mothers, navigating parenthood alone because of the pandemic. In those early days of the lockdowns, when I couldn’t offer my time, when I couldn’t rock their baby for them or babysit so they could get a few more hours of sleep, meal-taking became the most tangible avenue to demonstrate care. I couldn’t sit in their living rooms and talk about the ups and downs of parenthood, but I could make a homemade chicken noodle soup and drop it on a doorstep with a bouquet of flowers. I couldn’t have them over for coffee, but I could leave a plate of cookies and a hot latte outside. It was the most practical way I could show these friends that they weren’t alone.
When we think about bringing a meal, it’s so easy for us to think about all the reasons why we can’t: We don’t have time, we don’t know what to cook, we have work or small children, or we have too much to do at home. But meal bringing isn’t about how well we cook. Often, delivering take-out is just as welcome as a home-cooked meal.
When we choose to nourish another person through food, we give them the invaluable reminder that we aren’t meant to walk through life’s joys and challenges alone. When we sacrifice a bit of our time to show our care and support, we also receive a gift: a reminder that we’re made for community.
After all, meal-taking is about so much more than the meal.
Tips for Taking a Meal
Use disposable containers. This relieves the burden of the recipient having to remember to get the containers back to you, and keeps you from missing your favorite dish. It also makes clean up easy for the friend who receives the meal.
You can’t go wrong with soup. No matter the time of year, I love to bring soup, since it’s what I craved non-stop after each baby. My go-to recipes are chicken noodle soup and a loaf of sourdough bread.
Add breakfast if you can. When I have the time, I love to throw in some muffins or scones for the person to eat for breakfast in the morning. If I’m strapped for time, sometimes I’ll buy a box of granola bars to deliver alongside dinner.
Avoid anything too spicy. When a person is recovering from surgery, illness, or a baby, nourishing, blander foods are often better for digestion. Save the extra spicy chili for another time!
Rachael Dymski is an author, florist, and mom to two little girls. She is currently writing a novel about the German occupation of the Channel Islands and blogs on her website, RachaelDymski.com