“For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. . . When you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!”
(Matthew 25:35, 40, NLT)
Providing meals to someone going through difficult times is one of the best ways that Christians can love one another. Jesus said, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35, NLT). Organizing, cooking, and delivering meals for people going through difficult times is an important element of every small group. Meals can be organized for a specific member of the group, a family member of someone in your group, or even a friend that might not have a connection to your church or any church at all. There are three basic steps for showing love through meals: organize, cook, and deliver.
How to Organize Meals for Someone in Difficult Times
Appoint someone in your group to organize the food list.
Find someone in the group that is reliable and doesn’t already have a specified role in your group.
Avoid using the “Meal Train” apps, websites, or other electronic ways of organizing the meal list.
A piece of paper, a pen, and a person to organize the list is the best way to coordinate meals for a family. I’ll explain why you need to avoid electronic sign up lists later.
Ask a few basic questions. . .
- How many people are in the family and should be cooked for?
- Does the family have any food allergies or any foods they really dislike?
- How many meals per week would the family like? (Usually four meals a week is plenty.)
- What days would the family like to have meals delivered, what time, and are there any delivery instructions? Such as a code for an entry gate, directions for an apartment complex, etc.
- If mom is breastfeeding, are there certain foods she needs to eat or to avoid? (Be sensitive when asking this question, and if you don’t know the family well, then don’t ask it.)
Aim for long-term help.
There often is an initial outpour of help given to someone going through a difficult time. But after two or three weeks people go back to their busy lives and easily forget that someone who has lost a family member is still grieving and struggling. If possible, try to provide help for the person in need for a month or longer.
Make a “double portion” for your family and the family you are providing a meal for.
This is the best and easiest way to help a family in need because it requires only a little extra time and effort. Simply double the recipe!
Freeze some of the food and deliver it to the family.
Maybe you don’t have time to cook on the day the family needs food, so freeze what you made for them in advance and take it to them the day of.
Use disposable dishware.
It’s best to give the family dishes that they can either throw away or that you don’t want returned. But be sure to tell them you don’t want them back. Aluminum pans, paper plates, and plastic silverware are a blessing!
Provide some easy to follow recipes.
Someone in your group might enjoy cooking and suggest some easy to follow recipes that the entire group can use for the family that meets their dietary needs.
Prep and deliver crock pot meal ingredients.
If the family has a crock pot, a final idea is that you can prep all of the ingredients for a meal and place them in a bag to deliver. That way the family can just throw the crock pot mix into the cooker and enjoy the meal in the evening.
Communicate directly with the family.
Once the food delivery dates have been set, communicate directly with the family about what meal you are delivering and when you will be delivering it.
Contact the family and let them know you are on your way to deliver the meal.
It’s easy for the family receiving the meal to forget who is bringing meals, on what days, and when. So send a reminder text message the day before you bring the meal and then send them a message when you are on your way.
Be brief when you deliver the meal.
Don’t expect to see the newborn baby and enjoy playtime. Offer to just leave the meal on the doorstep. They don’t want to be seen in their pajamas nor do they want to be embarrassed by a messy home. Don’t go inside unless specifically invited!
Let the family know that you care for them and that you are praying for them.
When you bring a meal you are delivering physical nourishment to the family, but you also are providing spiritual encouragement. Tell the family you and others from your small group are praying for them. Ask if there is anything specific you can pray for them.
A FEW RANDOM “DON’TS”
Here are a few things you don’t want to do when organizing meals for a family.
- Don’t deliver ingredients that have to be cooked. The purpose of delivering meals is to help a family who has no time or energy to cook their own meals nor to do dishes. While it might seem appealing to simply deliver groceries that the family can use to cook their own meals, be sure to deliver pre-made meals they can easily enjoy.
- Don’t give gift cards. It is easy for a busy person to say that he doesn’t have time to cook but he wants to still help by giving a gift card. A gift card to a restaurant can sometimes be more of a burden than a help. The family has to look up the menu online, decide what they want, call and order it, drive down to pick it up, find parking, wait in line for the food, grab it, and take it back home. Often the most stressful time for a new mom is being home alone, and now her husband has just been out for forty-five minutes picking up dinner.
- Don’t use an app or email to organize the list. A soon-to-be dad passed around a list so that people on our staff could provide meals to his family when their first-born baby arrived. I saw fifteen people write their names on the list. But when he emailed everyone asking for them to choose a day and time on the Meal Train app, only three people signed up to bring a meal. What a discouragement to him and his wife! A piece of paper, a pen, and personal interaction are the best tools to organize meals for a family.
- Don’t give the family an option if they want meals delivered. The American mindset is that we can do things on our own and don’t need help from others. And first-time parents often are unprepared for the stress and time a newborn baby requires (especially after the first two weeks of excitement wears off). Likewise, what might seem like a simple medical operation can be more difficult to recover from than originally anticipated. Don’t offer to bring meals to a family; tell them you are organizing meals for them.
Delivering a meal to someone who has had a new born baby, lost a family member, or is having personal health issues is a blessing that people never forget. When he or she was in the darkest and lowest of time someone was there to provide some food, prayer, and encouragement. Paul told Timothy, “Take care of any widow who has no one else to take care of her” (1 Timothy 5:3, NLT). And James wrote, “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for widows in their distress and refusing to let the world to corrupt you” (James 1:27, NLT). While these verses are directed to widows, the principle applies to all Christians: we care for people who don’t have anyone to care for them. This is a vital ministry of small groups, and I hope that you can get your group involved to provide meals to families that need it.