When someone is sick, grieving a loss or quarantining because of COVID-19 illness or exposure, nothing shows you care like a warm, hearty meal delivered to their doorstep.
During difficult times, friends, relatives or neighbors may feel isolated and dropping off a meal can be a way to provide comfort and connection.
You can cook up one meal, or if someone is facing a long-term challenge, help organize more regular food deliveries. Sometimes called a meal train, the idea is to organize a scheduled delivery of planned meals (usually dinners) over the course of a few days, a week or even longer for someone who needs it.
Typically one person takes the lead on planning (websites like Take Them A Meal and Meal Train make it easy), sharing with participants any dietary restrictions or preferences and offering slots for signup. Then it’s up to you to decide what to cook for the person in need.
Making a meal? Consider these tips:
• Ask about food allergies or preferences before planning a meal.
• Pack food in containers that don’t need to be returned. When possible, opt for containers that are easy to eat from, for convenience, and that can be reused.
• Ask if meals should be left on the porch in a cooler or if someone will answer the door to receive them. Sometimes people aren’t up to seeing visitors.
• If you're planning the meal train, schedule meals every other day, since leftovers often stack up.
• Make a big batch of whatever you’re cooking and freeze extras for someone else, or your own family.
Whether you’re organizing a meal train or taking part in one, keep a few things in mind. First, don’t feel pressured to make the “perfect” meal.
“When we are supporting someone through grief, it can feel like we have to say, do and, in this case, cook the right things,” says grief consultant Alica Forneret, executive director of PAUSE, a service that supports communities of color through grief. A dish should be a “reminder that there are people willing to put in the effort to support them.”
Then think about dishes that don’t take a lot of time to make. Some foods can be made in batches and frozen (think tamales, energy bars or smoothie cups), Forneret says.
“My number one tip is to take a meal that you like to make and is easy,” says Adina E. Bailey, cofounder of the free meal-scheduling service Take Them A Meal.
Consider adding store-bought elements to the delivery to lighten your load, like a nice loaf of crusty bread or a warm rotisserie chicken, Bailey says. “The love behind the gesture is what counts,” she says.
Ready to get cooking? Read on for seafood, vegetarian, chicken and beef dishes that will provide comfort, but aren’t complicated.
A seafood frittata for breakfast or dinner
It’s hard to beat the versatility of this dish, which can be served with fresh berries and toast for breakfast or mixed greens and French bread for dinner.
“Casseroles make a great meal train food because they are portable and easy to reheat whenever the recipient is ready to eat,” says food and nutrition expert Rima Kleiner of National Fisheries Institute blog, Dish on Fish.
This frittata contains nutrient-rich veggies and crab, which provides protein for muscle-building, as well as omega-3s and vitamin B2 for brain health, Kleiner says.
Crab Frittata Squares
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 2 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs
- 8 eggs
- 6 ounces milk
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 red bell pepper, finely diced
- 2 cups chopped kale
- 8 ounces pasteurized lump crabmeat
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons shredded cheddar cheese
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Hot sauce for garnish (optional)
- Nonstick cooking spray
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit and coat a 10- by 10-inch baking pan with nonstick spray.
2. Sprinkle panko onto bottom of pan.
3. In medium bowl, whisk eggs, milk and oregano.
4. Mix in bell pepper, kale and 1/4 cup cheese to bowl; stir until mixed well.
5. Gently fold crab into the mixture. Add salt and pepper, to taste.
6. Pour frittata mixture into prepared baking pan. Top with remaining 2 tablespoons of cheese.
7. Bake mixture for 25-30 minutes, or until the eggs set. Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes before cutting frittata into squares. Drizzle hot sauce on top before serving (or deliver with a bottle on the side).
A hearty vegetarian soup, with optional meat
At Vista Verde Ranch near Steamboat Springs, Colorado, nourishing meals get guests ready for adventure activities like ice fishing or backcountry skiing (or just relaxing in a hot tub).
The ranch’s rich vegetarian stew is a house favorite that transcends seasons (so be sure to make extra to freeze for yourself).
“It’s a great hearty stew for anytime of the year and delicious as is,” says Vista Verde’s food and beverage director, Chol McGlynn.
Meat lovers can add ground turkey to punch up the protein a bit, he adds.
Butternut, Sweet Potato and Lentil Stew
- 2 tablespoons pure olive oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 4 large garlic cloves, minced
- 3 cups peeled, seeded and diced butternut squash
- 1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced
- 3 cups vegetable broth
- 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
- 1 14-ounce can coconut milk
- 1/2 cup dried red lentils, rinsed
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or more if you like heat
- Kosher salt, to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 3 teaspoons apple cider vinegar, or to taste
- 1 bunch kale, stemmed and finely chopped
1. To a large pot, add the oil, onion and garlic. Stir to combine. Increase the heat to medium and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes, until the onion is softened.
2. Add the squash and sweet potato and stir to combine. Add a pinch of salt and continue sautéing for a few minutes.
3. Add the broth, diced tomatoes (with juices), coconut milk, lentils, tomato paste, turmeric, cumin, chili powder, cayenne, salt and pepper. Stir well to combine.
4. Increase heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, stir again and simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the squash and potato are fork-tender. Reduce the heat if necessary.
5. Add the apple cider vinegar, to taste. Adjust the other seasonings if desired.
6. Stir in the kale and cook for another couple of minutes until the greens are wilted.
A Southern-inspired beef and rice stew
Bay leaf, sage and celery are among the ingredients that add layers of aroma, flavor and depth to this South Carolina-inspired recipe from Chef Brandon Velie of farm-to-table restaurant Juniper in Ridge Spring, South Carolina.
“With meal trains, you always want stuff that’s good for leftovers as well,” he says. “It’s where a meal train dish goes from good to great.”
Beef and Vegetable Pirlou
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups chopped onions
- 2/3 cup chopped carrot
- 2/3 cup chopped celery
- 2/3 cup chopped kale
- 1/2 cup fresh corn kernels
- 1/2 cup diced butternut squash
- 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
- 2 tablespoons chopped sage
- 2 cups beef stock
- 1 pound diced beef
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 large tomato, seeded, peeled, chopped (or 1 can diced tomatoes)
- 1 cup rice, cooked
- 1/2 cup cornstarch slurry
- Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Heat olive oil in pot over medium flame.
2. Add beef and cook for approximately four minutes. Add onions, carrot, celery. Saute till vegetables are tender.
3. Add garlic and rest of vegetables and cook for one more minute.
4. Add stock, beans, tomato, sage, bay leaves and bring to a simmer.
5. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes stirring occasionally.
6. Mix in cooked rice and cook about 3 more minutes.
7. Add salt and pepper to taste.
8. Ladle into soup bowls and enjoy. Use slurry if needed to thicken.
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A classic chicken casserole
Familiar foods can bring comfort during hard times, and you might even have most of the ingredients for this casserole recipe on hand.
“One bite of this warm and hearty casserole feels like all is well with the world,” says Rob Lesley, owner of Romie’s Grocery in Tupelo, Mississippi, who said the recipe was a family staple when he was growing up. "Our kids love it and it freezes well.”
Chicken and Wild Rice Casserole
- 3 cups cooked, diced chicken
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 cup Hellmann’s mayonnaise
- 2 cans French style beans, drained
- 1 can cream of celery soup
- 1 medium pimento (pepper), chopped
- 1 6-ounce package white and wild rice
- 1 small can water chestnuts, sliced and drained
1. Cook rice according to directions.
2. Mix all ingredients well.
3. Place in casserole dish.
4. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes.
Terry Ward is a contributing writer who covers food, drink and travel. Her work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, The Washington Post and on CNN.