Bringing meals to a bereaved family

4 min read

How to support a family in grief with food, to offer sustenance and support

  • Grief often robs people of their appetite and the energy they would need to cook their own meals.

  • Not surprisingly, food is a major part of grieving traditions around the world, in part as a way to help those in mourning.

  • There are no set rules for what to offer, but consider your loved one’s cultural background and any mourning traditions when choosing a dish.

  • Leaving food at the door with a note is appropriate if the family is not up for visitors.

  • Offer meals in a dish you don’t need back, so the family doesn’t have to keep up with returning them.

When someone has just experienced the loss of someone close to them, eating can often be the last thing on their mind. Grief sends you into a whirlwind, a state in which hunger may not register.

Especially if it involves preparing a meal for themselves, grievers may not even be able to motivate themselves to eat. But of course, they must eat something, even if just a little, to have the strength to go on.

For these reasons, many cultures have developed traditions of eating after funerals or bringing meals to a household in mourning. Even if there is no such formal custom in your community, you may want to bring food to your friends to comfort and support them in this challenging time.

The history of food and grief

The association of food and eating with death and dying has a long history. Buddhist funerals, for example, involve feeding a symbolic last meal to the person who has died. In addition, cultures around the world have held a meal either as part of the ceremony or right before or afterward.

Funeral meals are generally thought to serve both as a celebration of the person who had passed and to provide nourishment for those who may have traveled a long way to pay their respects.

In more recent years, the after-services meal has become a tradition even in many secular communities, as has the preparation of funeral cakes or other delicacies for the family to take home. These practices nod to customs of the past, while offering comfort and support to those who are grieving.

What foods to offer

In the United States, casseroles are a common gift to those who are mourning, in part because they can serve a lot of people and are easy to reheat. Different foods are traditional in various cultures, however, and while there are no set rules for what you should offer, researching appropriate dishes is a good way to honor their loved one’s background.

In South America, for example, depending on the region, tamales, soup, and mole are regarded as comfort foods, and thus these may be good options to bring to a family with South American roots.

Different foods are traditional in various cultures, but there are no set rules for what you should offer as a gesture of love and support.

Northern Italians often bring bread and wine, those from more southern regions, like Naples and Sicily, traditionally bring coffee and homemade marzipan to a grieving family. And those of Indian descent will often bring baskets of fruit and vegetable samosas.

Tips for bringing meals

When contributing food to a family in mourning, there are some things to keep in mind in order not to place any extra burden on them during this extremely difficult time.

  • It’s OK to leave food at the door. If you are very close with the family, knocking on the door to verbally share your condolences while giving them a meal is perfectly fine. If you’re not that close to the family but want to let them know you’re thinking about them, then leaving the meal at the front door with a note is the most appropriate route.

  • Use a container or dish you don’t want back. It’s important to understand that the grieving family is probably getting many meals brought to them, and they can’t be expected to keep track of which container belongs to what friend. With this in mind, bring the meal in a container you don’t need or want back. Their grief trumps your glass casserole dish.

  • Consider the whole family. In addition to sticking to the family’s culture, also consider who lives in the home. If there are kids, sweets and cookies could be a good idea. If you know some members of the family are vegetarian or have dietary restrictions, cut vegetable plates or salads are a good option.

  • Don’t expect a thank you note. For a family in mourning, etiquette does not demand sending personal thank yous for gifted meals. While the family is undoubtedly grateful for your kindness, writing thank you notes isn’t a priority for them right now. Besides, we give to others during these times not to be thanked, but because we care about them and want to support them.

While there are many ways to show your condolences, a gift of food is always appreciated. Even if they do not want to think about eating right now, your contribution will help sustain them and give them strength as they weather these difficult days ●