menu monday: tips for taking meals to others

I was in Denver this past weekend where my parents and sister both live with their families. My sister recently had an adorable little boy. With a toddler at home already, cooking isn’t something she has a ton of time to do right now so my mom and I put together a week of meals for their family. Having recently been both the recipient of meals and the maker of meals, I thought I’d share my tips for making meals for others and a few recipes that work well.

Tips for Making Meals for Others

  • If available, sign up on a shared calendar. It’s really helpful to know what nights dinner will be provided and to keep from having multiple meals provided on the same night.
  • Plan to drop off food and make a quick exit unless invited to stay. We loved seeing friends for a bit after Paige was born when they dropped off a meal. It made us feel plugged into our old life and gave us a chance to socialize without all the effort of getting her out of the house. In some cases though people might be too exhausted or not ready to see family and friends. A front door drop off followed by a text message is not rude, it might be exactly what they are hoping for!
  • Use disposable containers or packaging you don’t care about being returned.
  • Write instructions (baking, freezing, etc.) directly on the packaging. The new mama or friend recovering from a surgery will be thankful they don’t have to go dig up the email in which you sent the instructions.
  • Don’t kill yourself, but try to respect the food choices of the family, especially if there are real allergies. My sister’s son can only eat a little bit of dairy so we made all the meals dairy free with the exception of providing cheese to top one of them.
  • Provide something that can be eaten with no or easy prep if you know they are going to eat the meal that day; if you’re unsure, try to provide something that can be eaten the same day or popped in the freezer to save for a later time.
  • Think about breakfast. If you have the time, it’s nice to include breakfast for the next day when you drop off a dinner.

Meals That Work Well

For my sister’s family we decided to go with four dinner meals and two breakfasts. I picked meals that would include enough for lunch leftovers (there are two adults and a toddler eating). Because we were providing many meals at once, I also picked meals that could easily be frozen and prepared or reheated later. If you’re looking for more freezer meal ideas, back in January I shared a few posts (here and here) around what I prepared for our freezer before the baby arrived.

If you’re curious about time and cost, here are the details: My mom and I made the following in about three hours, while also wrangling a two month old, a two year old, a four year old, a six year old, and a 12 week old puppy. My dad did the grocery shopping for us the night before and bought all of the ingredients needed to make the recipes below (with the exclusion of all the spices as my mom had those on hand) for $112. He had a mix of quality, for example getting grass fed lamb and pastured eggs, but regular chicken and non-organic produce. (Note: I had meant to provide a few bags of frozen veggies to make one with each meal, but I completely forgot about that until writing this post now.)

These meals are all Whole30 compliant, with the exception of the shelf stable goods we provided with a few of them.

  • Chocolate Chili and Rice. There is something about a bowl of chili and rice that is really filling and comforting. This meal can be provided two ways: hot and ready to eat or cooked, cooled, and packaged (ready to reheat or throw in the freezer). We gave them a bag of white rice to cook with the chili, but if you know they are planning to eat it the same day or soon, provide already cooked rice and maybe even a salad. Trader Joe’s has great frozen microwavable rice that is perfect to pair with this.
  • Merguez Meatballs and Sweet Potato Soup. I paired these together for a meal as both have great Middle Eastern flavors. If you don’t want to provide this as a hot meal, you can cook the meatballs and flash freeze them on a cookie tray (that way they don’t stick together), then store in a freezer ziplock. The soup can be cooled then packaged for the freezer. A note on the soup: because we were serving it with the meatballs, I skipped the bacon. A salad or a veggie is a great addition, but the soup and meatballs alone are pretty filling.
  • Salsa Verde ChickenThis chicken is incredibly versatile. Typically we eat it on it’s own, topped with avocado. For my sister, we included some shelf and fridge stable taco fixings – shells, a jar of salsa, and cheese. I know that she has a crockpot, so I provided this uncooked in a freezer bag. She can throw it in the freezer, then thaw overnight and toss it in the crockpot on a day when she’s ready to make it. If you are providing this to eat the same day, I would cook it for them and maybe provide a few other fresh taco fixings, like mango salsa, chopped tomatoes, and/or lettuce.
  • Spaghetti Squash Pizza Casserole It’s the paleo version of dropping off a casserole for your neighbor. If you are taking it around dinner time, you can bake it and bring it hot. Otherwise you can skip baking and let the recipient bake when convenient (perhaps mention it takes an hour so they aren’t caught off guard). If you use a disposable aluminum container, it’s very easy to go from freezer to fridge to oven. We gave them a bag of salad mix to eat with this meal (or whatever meal they decided to go with first). Frozen veggies are a great alternative if the casserole is going in the freezer.
  • Southwest Frittata. I’ve linked to this recipe so many times because we eat it often. Once it’s baked you can provide the frittata in full or slice and wrap individual servings in foil (this is a good option for a single friend who won’t eat it as fast as a family will). Send along a few avocados for topping the casserole to make it extra filling. To make it slightly easier, I skip the jalapeño and add a can of diced green chilies.
  • Buffalo Chicken Egg Muffins. Egg muffins are a really easy, on the go breakfast option and freeze well. The recipe only makes six muffins (but leaves leftover chicken). If I were to make it again I might use slightly more chicken and double the rest of the recipe to make a full dozen. Our muffins turned out really spicy, so keep that in mind when selecting your hot sauce.

I forgot to take pictures of our cooking session, but my sister and her husband carried several handfuls of food out to the car. For around $100 and three hours of our time, we gave them a week of food, allowing them to focus on their newborn and toddler. Hopefully this helps anyone looking to take meals to a friend or stock up their own freezer with tasty, healthy meals.

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