When we hear someone say, “comfort food” thoughts drift to dinners from childhood imagining something warm, full of carbs, or sweetly satisfying. We dream of flavors and textures to feed our emotional funk or exhaustive schedule to quench and satisfy. The focus is inward, self-gratifying.
What if our focus shifted outward instead?
This is not intended to make you feel guilty about surrounding yourself with good food or savoring a favorite meal, simply to think about comfort food differently. Food not only soothes our moods and maladies, it brings comfort to those hurting, recovering, or overwhelmed. Of course, it fills a practical need, but so do restaurants and pizza delivery. Taking a meal to someone invests in community with a personal touch that goes far beyond the food itself.
When someone notices our need and offers to lift our burden for a moment we feel valued, encouraged, and less alone.
Our family has been the beneficiary of meals arriving at our door after a major car accident, sudden illness, and crisis. The concern and kindness of friends, as well as others we didn’t even know, created emotional margin and physical relief when doctor appointments, decision-making, and grief consumed daily routine. They were life-givers, every one, with encouraging words and reassurance they were there to do whatever they could … taking care of one of the basic needs like dinner or groceries was a vital part of the help we needed.
According to 1 Peter 4:10 (NIV) Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. When we serve others, it is a blessing no matter how big or small the gesture. It doesn’t have to be a whole meal, if you bake amazing bread, make an extra loaf to give away. I believe good food is one of the various forms of God’s grace we can use to meet someone’s need—real comfort food.
So what does that really look like?
You can start by responding to needs in your own sphere of influence at church, school, work, club, or neighborhood. It doesn’t have to be someone in crisis, it can be a single mom with a maxed schedule, a college student missing home, or a co-worker trying to finish a big project who would be grateful to know you care. Yes, it might feel weird to be the first one to do something like this, but caring for others is worth feeling a little awkward.
10 Tips for Stirring a Pot and Feeding a Soul:
1. Simple food is best. Make what you know and do well; this is not the time to try new recipes. Check for allergies and strong dislikes. For food sensitivities and allergies, think outside the casserole. Casseroles are great comfort food for many, but are more apt to contain common food allergens like corn, wheat, milk, or soy. Braised meats, steamed vegetables, soups, and salads easily accommodate those with food restrictions or strong dislikes of certain foods.
2. Use disposable containers. Unless it is a neighbor or someone you see regularly, deliver meals in containers that do not need to be returned. Keep it as simple as possible for those you are trying to bless.
3. Deliver the meal at dinnertime, if possible. If not, make it as close to ready with clear instructions. If delivering food to a family with a new baby, don’t ring the door bell. Arrange a specific time and arrive with a gentle knock at the door in case the baby is sleeping.
4. Consider everyone in a family. Crisis, surgery, new babies, grief, affects everyone within a family. Try to include at least one thing everyone will like with the meal. If the family has small children, make sure you show up with ice cream or something specifically for them if you can.
5. Customize the meal for the event/purpose. Bereavement, nursing mothers, recovering from surgery or illness can each pose a different need.
New moms, especially nursing moms, eat often so snacks and easy breakfast foods are great too. Avoiding spicy, acidic food is helpful to prevent adverse reactions from the baby.
Surgery is hard on the body, when someone undergoes general anesthesia the entire digestive system shuts down. Provide a gentle and nourishing meal like chicken soup made from homemade bone broth. Consider foods that are soft, nourishing, and easy to digest. If you know they like smoothies, provide a few pre-packaged frozen smoothies easily assembled at home.
6. Offer to coordinate the meals. Major crisis, trauma, accidents can be overwhelming and having an infant with the phone constantly ringing is no picnic either. Having one person collect primary information and receive questions regarding meals is truly helpful. Organizing a handful of suppers for a friend is pretty straight forward, but when a larger group or longer-term need is part of the equation, there are services to help.
7. Providing a meal is not the time to impose your nutritional agenda on someone else or “teach” them how to eat. Try to understand what would bring comfort to them, even well-meaning advice can be overwhelming when someone is stressed.
8. Include the recipe. This can be especially helpful for those with food sensitivities or allergies too—they can have a little more confidence when they can review the recipe.
9. Include a note of encouragement, which mentions what you brought. This is helpful when a number of meals are provided. It can be difficult to remember and sort out who brought what when writing thank you cards. (Yes, I know, you didn’t do it to be thanked.)
10. Even if you don’t cook or have time to prepare a meal, you can help. Offer to run errands, clean, babysit, carpool kids, or provide a gift card for take-out.
What is comfort food to you?
Have you comforted others with food or received this kind of comfort food from someone? If so, what was your experience?
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