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"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." ~Aristotle

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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Even Less Sugar #1: Feeding the Hurting

As always, please remember: This is my own, personal blog. I am writing from the heart and from my own experience. My intention is to share with you openly and honestly and I hope that some of this material is of use. This post is not "this is how to do a thing," but rather "these are some things to consider." 

We love with food.

It's a universal language. Feeling down? Have a doughnut. Had a fantastic week at work? Let's go out for drinks. Got canned? Same bar, same drink, different mood. What's a birthday party without a cake? New baby? Here's a lasagna!

When you hear of someone in crisis, you want to spring into action to help. Sometimes that means reaching out to them directly: "Is there anything I can do?" Sometimes it's letting them know via social media that you are fervently praying for them. And sometimes you want to gift them in some way. Sometimes anonymously, sometimes in person. Sometimes by mail or via other people.

Sometimes with food.

(Again, I feel I must reiterate that this is NOT A CRITICISM OF ANYONE WHO HAS BROUGHT/BOUGHT THE MAIZE FAMILY ANY TYPE OF CONSUMABLE. Rather it is a way for me to publicly share what might benefit recipients most the next time you're called to love on someone in this way.) Please re-acquaint yourself with my impassioned disclaimer HERE.

1. Meal Train and other such software: i.e.: coordinating meals. This is a great way of keeping things organized. Depending on the situation, there could be a lot for the family to juggle. In the case of a new baby, it's staying awake long enough to make sure the baby gets fed, mostly, but add to that a few other siblings and a working spouse, home maintenance and a few outside obligations, and things can quickly turn into a logistical nightmare. Enter the coordinated, digital way to manage meals.

The great thing about this program (and other types, or simply a friend with a calendar with whom arrangements can be made manually) is that not only does it enable the family to share their actual needs ("we need dinners about twice a week"), but it avoids placing a BURDEN on that family from too many well-meaning folks stuffing their fridge with yummy deliciousness that is destined to go bad while they make 400 trips to doctor appointments and scarf down dining hall meals and vending machine chips.

Instead of "dropping by" and leaving a full meal on the doorstep, do try to see if there's a coordinated effort to track such donations, and if not, perhaps that can be your gifting to the family.

2. Dessert: not all of us eat it, or find it comforting. THIS IS A TOUCHY SUBJECT. I'm sorry about that. If it seems that I'm being nit-picky and not appreciative, please refer to previous disclaimers. I fully realize that people love one another via food. I get it.

In three weeks, my family of four has received the following:
1 apple pie
1 banana cream pie
1 coconut cream pie
1 chocolate sheet cake
1 plate homemade fudge
1 large box doughnuts
1 large box pastries
1 large bag cinnamon-sugar bagels
2 boxes kolaches
1 half-sheet carrot cake
1 dozen mini-cupcakes
1 dozen patriotic sugar cookies
1 box specialty cookies, mail-ordered
1 box snacks and candies
1 bag goodie bag of snacks and sweets

I may have omitted something here (feel free to pipe up if your sweet treat hasn't been mentioned!). I point this out to illustrate: it's not the items themselves. It's the sheer volume. This does not include the meals we have had delivered to us. This is just the dessert.

Three weeks. Four people. For one of those weeks, (and the coming one as well) the dessert-eater in the family has been at camp (she'd eat cake for breakfast every day if she could). The other little doesn't actually like dessert, and the adults rarely eat it in the first place.

None of the sweet treats have gone to waste. We've nibbled, and I've been able to bless others who've come to visit or deliver things or -- God bless them -- clean up my yard with the overflow. I've frozen a few things. (Truth: I'm pretty sure Audrey ate the entire apple pie.)

My advice:

  • Find out if the receiving family digs dessert. It might seem foreign to those of you who eat dessert at least once a day. But ask me and I'll tell you - we don't really eat it. If Audrey's home, I'd say - "Audrey would love something chocolate. But something small." 
  • It's not always possible to determine likes/dislikes, or you might not want to announce you're going to bless someone by bringing something by. You don't want this to be all "sign up to do something good" and ruin the gift aspect. I TOTALLY GET THIS. In this case, might I suggest bringing ONE [sweet treat]. One. Put it in a baggie with a ribbon and a card. Done. It says, "I'm thinking of you, this sucks/this is awesome/congratulations and here's something I love that I'm sharing with you." I promise, no one in the home will feel slighted you didn't bring a DOZEN bear claws. While your four cinnamon-raisin-banana-nut muffins might not amount to overkill, I'm adding them to the tower of baked goods taking over my counters.
  • Do YOU know what your friends' go-to comfort food(s) might be? Perhaps now would be a good time to ask!  

3.  Fruits and veggies are refreshing and essential. Think about how difficult it is sometimes to get the vegetable side dishes to your own table. The lettuce rots in the back of your fridge, because you meant well in buying it to make salads but it got shoved back there and chopping lettuce takes for-evah. You were going to roast that sweet potato like in the Pinterest recipe but you always forget to turn on the oven. Now consider how much more difficult it would be for someone juggling a newborn or dealing with an illness to get the peas onto the plate with the chicken nuggets. Are ya with me?

Add to this that a growing, or healing, or stressed body needs extra good things to keep it on track. In our own situation, meds can ... ahem ... slow things, internally. So we need the fiber. A nursing mom needs good stuff to make all that milk and keep her eyes propped open. Someone healing from a surgery needs nutritious sustenance.

My advice:

  • Include veggies. A bagged salad and some dressing is great (again, don't go overboard; think in terms of fridge space and longevity). One of those steam-in-bag fresh or frozen veggie selections are SUPER easy. Consider one of those veggie platters (or if you have time, save the cash and recreate it yourself, in bags. Perhaps include some dip.). Or include vegetables in the main dish you bring, such as lasagnas/pastas, enchiladas, etc. Don't worry about the receiving family not liking your particular selected veggie (in our house, Ian doesn't like corn but we all love Brussels sprouts - go figure!); just include something YOU like and chances are someone in the house will appreciate and benefit from it.
  • Edible Arrangements are beautiful and quite useful. Obviously your own version of cut-up fruit would also be an economical and welcomed choice. 

4. Think portion sizes and freezable options. Again, a 9x13 pan is a thing of beauty, but a bit overkill in some cases (especially if there are other eager meal-bringers in the bull-pen; see #1 above). If I'm getting several large meals in a week, there's no way I'm going to be able to finish any of them. (Obviously take into account the number of family members or potential out-of-town guests). I really, REALLY dislike to waste food. If it looks like the somethingsomething isn't going to get eaten before the next few meals roll in, I'll package it up and freeze it. You can also consider contributing pre-frozen meals, as long as the recipient has space in the freezer for said items. Check with the coordinator (see #1 again). 

5. Consider disposables. I'm not a big disposable-items-user. I try to bring my own bags to the store, we recycle, we re-use whenever possible. When we eat on the porch, we use the regular dishes. But I can make exceptions at Only-the-Essential-Things-Like-Keeping-Us-Alive-Matter-Right-Now times.

My advice: 
  • Present food in disposable containers whenever possible. Even Hefty-brand plastic containers created for this purpose need to be washed (yes, I know they COULD be tossed, but I'm thinking most do not do this). Consider foil baking pans and Ziploc bags
  • Include some disposable dishes and cutlery with your meal. This is something I NEVER would thought to do as the giver, but when this last round of drama coincided with a lack of hot water at our home for two days, I realized, "Wow, I could use some paper plates right now!" I can only imagine it would be a help in a number of situations when meals are being provided.
  • Label your meal and date it. It might be difficult to recall who brought the pulled pork, and if that was this week or two weeks ago. As I said ... things get hazy in times of distress. Post-It Tape is my favorite way of labeling food (and lots of other things). (Also remember the person receiving the meal at the door may not be the person searching through the fridge for something to eat.)
  • If you DO use a non-disposable dish and you want it back, figure out a way to label it and make arrangements to retrieve the dish in the coming days, such as "leave it on your porch in this paper bag with my name and phone number already on it, and I'll come by and get it next week. If it's still there next month, call me!" Have I mentioned that storing and keeping track of things can be a burden? This removes that burden.
6. Consider gift cards for groceries or restaurants. No, a gift card is not an unfeeling, plastic "I only sorta care about your situation" insult. It's a practical, considerate means to contribute without the additional need to coordinate and store. It might not be the best idea, say, for a mom with a nursing newborn, but it just might provide the excuse for a patient or caregiver to get out of the house for a few hours to shop or grab a taco. It can also be used to send OTHERS out for groceries.

In closing: being fed in a time of upheaval is an absolute blessing. Even if none of the above suggestions are heeded, the love and the food itself remain a blessing. Please take these suggestions in the spirit they were intended: to help us care for one another well.


  1. I love this! I'm going to share the link with our meal ministry folks at church. So many great details here I never really considered when helping out other families. (I do ask about food allergies and preferences but never think about all this other stuff.)

    I am so glad you are able to be forthright about the things you're going through. I hope that you can see that, even while others are blessing you, you're being such a blessing in return!

  2. Well said. The one thing that I would add is that if you are using something like MealTrain, take the time to read the family's preferences as to types of meals, food allergies/preferences, etc. When the baby was born we got a lot of meals -- which was great -- but a number of them included ingredients we had specifically asked people not to include. It was frustrating to have meals that only one or the other of us could eat because people hadn't read or remembered our listed food needs.