I'm sharing this from our family blog to offer ideas on how we can serve a family experiencing a high risk pregnancy, having an infant in the NICU, or helping any family welcoming home a new baby. I hope this will help you get inspired on how you can care for another family. Maybe they are struggling with postpartum depression, maybe they don't have a strong network, maybe you just know a mom is struggling. I'm so grateful for the care we received and I love having these ideas to help me pay it forward!
We have been unbelievably blessed with help throughout our pregnancies and postpartum stages. We've had loving friends and family bring meals over when I was too sick in the first trimester to cook, when I was on bedrest, and postpartum when I was struggling with PPD or just exhaustion and throughout Bennett's entire NICU stay. Our church calls it compassionate service and there is usually someone in each congregation called to oversee that program and coordinate the help but much of our help came from very, very thoughtful people that helped us out because they are that wonderful and kind and always serving others. (And I hope and strive to be that thoughtful!) When I went flat with Bennett at 10 weeks gestation friends started to bring over meals and they continued throughout the three months of bedrest, c-section and homecoming, and his entire four month stay in the hospital right until he came home and then they still kept bringing meals. They were incredible. Help came from family, friends, complete strangers at church when we were in new wards - we've been very, very blessed! And we've also gleaned some brilliant ideas from these meals over the years so here are some ideas if you have the chance to bless others! These are not my ideas, I claim no credit - these were things we were fortunate to receive. 🙂
- Disposable dishes or anything you don't need back, like soup in mason jars or the cheap tupperware dishes.
- Ask if there are any food allergies or sensitivity. Some moms postpartum cannot tolerate dairy or spicy things, always nice to check.
- Find out what time they eat, it was so sweet when people would bring a dish when our kids were ready for dinner. We still appreciated the meals that came late but we had some meals arrive literally at our bedtime and that was tricky. 🙂
- Drop something off earlier in the day and they can heat it up whenever is convenient for them.
- Meals often come in the first few weeks after a new baby but at 3 or 4 weeks postpartum when the exhaustion is peaking and the other sources of help are fading, a meal delivered is such a nice treat.
- Kid friendly dishes. Sometimes they would bring a back up dish for the kids (like a microwaveable meal) or separate out some of the dish so it wasn't spicy for the kids. Noodles without the sauce mixed in, easy to chew meats, raw veggies instead of cooked.
- One friend came over with bags and bags of groceries, tons of fresh produce and healthy foods I could snack on while nursing after Emy. It was so nice.
- In the first trimester, nutrition suffers. 🙂 My sister has brought me meals in the first trimester and always something mild/comfort food that I could keep down and feel less guilty that I couldn't cook for family.
- Things that can be easily frozen and reheated, if they have other meals already. Some friends brought a meal for that night that was hot and ready and a second meal marked with instructions for baking that could go straight into the freezer.
- Fresh fruits and veggies, bagged salads, cut up fruit I could eat while laying down and snack on while nursing.
- One sweet friend took our kids every week for months and months so we could visit Bennett in the NICU and when we returned to pick up our older kids she had a dinner ready to send home with us. It was such a blessing to be able to stay longer at the hospital and have a nutritious meal to feed the kids after an emotionally and physically exhausting day.
- Many people brought a meal and something for the next day. A coffee cake for breakfast or muffins, soup and rolls for lunch, little things I could snack on while on bedrest.
- A couple times people called and asked us our favorite chinese dish or pizza topping and brought us take out, which was fun!
- If okay, come and share the meal with them. I loved that, it was so nice to have company when I was trapped at home. With a new baby that's probably not as wise since they're probably exhausted and trying to keep the baby isolated (or is that just me?) but for postpartum friends if you can leave your older ones at home and visit with the new mom a bit she'll probably love you for it. It's isolating postpartum and a friendly face and chance to share your birth story is nice.
- Some friends came over with a meal and flowers for our table. That was a beautiful touch. I still remember the presentation of a friend that brought a meal after Christopher was born with a big, beautiful sunflower and a present for him wrapped up on this tray with dinner. I was so impressed!
- Some friends invited us over for a meal after asking if I was up for getting out of the house (during NICU stay.)
- My sister would come watch my kids one day a week for many long months (bedrest and NICU) and would make all of us lunch or bring a meal, I loved the company most but the meal was always nice. (My sisters are good cooks, I get lots of recipes from them!)
- The New Year's party in a bag a friend brought, complete with sparkling apple cider, crackers & cheese ball, soda, candy, chips & dip, and cookies. It was so much fun while I was trapped in bed.
- During the really bad depression after C's birth, a family (knowing I was not up for leaving the house) brought us an entire Thanksgiving meal with all the trimmings. And a pie from Marie Callendar's (the restaurant, not the frozen ones! I miss those pies...)
- If you cannot bring a meal, dropping off muffins or bread or some treat is always thoughtful. A family in California dropped off a loaf of bread and homemade jam for us after C was born. Another friend brought us flowers and a card to celebrate the first time we held Bennett. A friend came to talk with me one night before I had to move into the hospital on bedrest and brought me a huge drink, saying I needed to stay hydrated. When packing postpartum for our move in California a friend brought me a yummy drink and stayed to help pack and visit. A friend went grocery shopping for me while I was on bedrest and talked me through the store on her cell phone, telling me what my options were. Knowing she would be out of town, my visiting teacher brought me a frozen dinner to keep for postpartum. Another visiting teacher after C, knowing I was struggling with weight loss because of the depression, brought me an enormous bag filled with stuff for milkshakes - ice cream, whole milk, whipped cream, strawberries, hot fudge... and it was Hagan Daaz! 🙂 A sweet friend, knowing we had been too frantic with NICU stuff to focus on Mo's birthday, brought by a birthday cake personalized for Moira. Another friend threw Christopher a birthday party at our house and provided all the games and food while I lay on the couch (newly on bedrest.)
Wow, as I type this out I realize how thankful I am for these countless acts of service we've received. We've been blessed by these amazing friends and sometimes by complete strangers. I will be spending the rest of my life trying to pay that service forward. 🙂
I've not touched on other ways to help, like childcare or housecleaning - though we were very, very blessed with help in those ways, too. But hopefully this will give you (and remind me of) some ways we can help serve others with food.
Update: I was thinking mostly about pregnancy but for a parent with a hospitalized child, here are some ways people helped. My brother-in-law brought down some foods we could snack on while we made the commute back and forth to the NICU and he and my sister gave us gift cards for restaurants close to the hospital. A friend brought me dinner (in disposable dishes) while Bennett was in the PICU so I could have something to eat besides hospital food. That same friend gave us a gift card for a store near the hospital that I was able to stock up on some food for our hospital locker like granola bars for the kids when they came to visit. (She was also the one that brought Mo's birthday cake. Wow, we have good friends!) Bennett was in the hospital on my birthday and my friends, after asking if it was okay with me to take some time away from the NICU, took me out to dinner that night to celebrate. It meant so much to me that they cared and that I had that little bit of time away from the hospital to be with loving and supportive friends and family.
Food is a way we can help and serve others, I think it nourishes our souls as much as it nourishes our bodies to be blessed by a meal from a friend.