September 30, 2013

A Moveable Feast

In-home hospitality gives me some control. I choose the guest list for maximum fellowship and interaction. I decorate the table with my best things. I garnish the piping hot entree with parsley right before it leaves the kitchen.  And, except for the prerequisite cleaning frenzy that my house always needs, hospitality at home can be mostly effortless and rewarding.

However, there are times when people cannot come to my house because of surgery, illness, bereavement or a new baby in the family. But, they need to eat. In these cases, taking meals to others requires more flexibility. This moveable feast is a different style of hospitality, but it still is satisfying. And, I don't have to clean my house!

Organizing church volunteers to make and take meals to someone in need is a big job. After trying many methods, my church now uses online technology called Take Them a Meal, which can be accessed by the meal requester, the cook and the deliverer. It is not entirely self-sustaining because church volunteers must educate people in using the system, to check with individuals to see if they need meals and to oversee the process.

If your church is struggling in organizing this hospitality/mercy ministry, and you have gifts in that area, you may want to consider becoming the meal coordinator. Those who can't be coordinators can be cooks. 

Before cooking, find out if there are any allergies or food preferences to be considered. (Take Them a Meal does this for you.)

If you are able, put the meal in disposable pan or another container that you don't need to get back. If you are using reusable items that you want to have returned, label them clearly. A Sharpie works nicely on the bottom of metal or glass. Also, you could offer to retrieve your dishes after a week or so.

Consider the family's demographics and size. For example, small children are notoriously picky eaters (Include plenty of dinner rolls for them.), and some senior citizens have trouble chewing and digesting certain foods (Avoid tough meat and strong spices.). In addition, a single person may appreciate one plate of hot food more than a frozen 9"x 13" casserole.

Try to provide nutritious food without attempting to transform the family's current diet from hot dogs and chips to tofu and quinoa in one meal. Dessert is not necessary. The family may be overwhelmed by the amount of baked goods they already received.

Please make something that doesn't necessitate extra work on the part of the recipient. Also, this is not the time to make that exotic "Artichoke Heart and Truffle Oil Venison Confit" recipe you really want to try. On the other hand, don't cook the dish that everyone else will bring nine out of ten days. In New England, that would be lasagna.

Find out from the family when it is convenient to deliver the meal. Ideally, you or someone else can take the food at dinner time. This requires some skill in timing, and the food won't be as hot as it would be in your home dining room. In some cases, church members leave meals in the church freezer. They are picked up by families that need them the following Sunday.

If the meal is delivered frozen, uncooked or in need of reheating, please include very specific cooking directions. What is second nature to you may not be to a 14-year-old whose mom did all the cooking until this point in time. Should it be covered while heating? Is it best in an oven, on a stove top or in a microwave? Do you need to preheat the oven? It is helpful to give an estimate of the total time it takes from preheating to serving for the inexperienced cook's sake.

Add any items you think might make life easier for the recipient. For example, paper goods and plastic silverware save on dishwashing.

Handwritten notes or greeting cards of get well wishes, condolences, or congratulations, appropriate to the situation, are welcome and make the meal more personal. In addition, your children could include a drawing to cheer the recipient. Unless asked to do otherwise, don't stay too long when delivering the meal.

If you have the funds, include some extras with the meal to make it more festive. Some ideas: an appetizer, a small seasonal decoration, after dinner mints, colorful paper napkins, a CD of soothing music or that sprig of parsley you would put on the plates at your house.

This hospitality is moveable, but it can be a feast.


  1. Especially when families have a new baby with older children already in the home, a kid-friendly meal is a way to ease the transition to life as a big brother or big sister. And it doesn't take much to please--my too-picky children have been delighted simply by those "extra dinner rolls" you mentioned!

  2. Two things I loved about this post. First, you consider this hospitality. Often we just see hospitality as bringing someone into our homes....thanks for the reminder that it includes more than just opening our homes. Second, the tips were great--all of them! While our church's meal ministry wouldn't work online, maybe I can point our coordinator to it in order to get some ideas. Thanks again for a practical post.


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