How to Use Food to Comfort Others

Americans receive a lot of criticism for our eating habits and food culture, but to give credit where credit is due, there are aspects of our food culture that–while not wholly unique, are particularly American, and, in my view, lovely and worth encouraging and emphasizing.

So without further ado, here are 6 ways to connect with and comfort others through food and drink in the Spirit of the Living Bread:

6. Participate in Potluck Meals

Many of us may not have the time or the energy to host multi-course dinner parties, especially for large groups of people. Potlucks are a time-honored tradition, and a particularly good opportunity to make diverse people feel welcome as members of a group. As an alternative to the more hierarchically structured “soup kitchen,” invitations to potlucks can be extended beyond the church family to include those in the community who may not get enough to eat in a way that embodies the inclusive table fellowship of Jesus.5. Visit Old People with Coffee and Treats

Let’s face it. Visiting ‘Old People’ (however you define that) can be awkward for some of us. Some of us have a real aversion to institutional care homes. But through cooking for Mr. and Mrs. S, I’ve discovered something: it’s easier with food. Maybe that’s because it takes a little of the conversational pressure off. Maybe it’s because the care you can sometimes can’t put in words goes into the food? I don’t know what it is, exactly. It doesn’t have to be a multi-course meal. Last week I dropped by the nursing home with coffees and donuts for Mr. and Mrs. S, and they were received with such thanks that I wondered if I should just bring donuts and coffee every time, instead of a meal (this week it was organic hot dogs on homemade rolls, brownies, and coleslaw made with cabbage from the end of the garden.)


4. Bring Dinner to Someone Else’s House

This is a good one for busy folks (um, most of us!) because it means that only 1 person or family has to clean while the other does most of the cooking. It also works well when, for example, friends who have kids who go to bed early have friends without kids. Friends without kids bring dinner and the grownups can have a grownup dinner party sans enfants.

3. Take Your School Child Out to Lunch

I have no idea if this one is even practical anymore, but I urge you–find out if it is and DO it if you can! When I was in kindergarten and first grade, my mom worked part time nearby to my school, and from time to time she’d pick me up from school to take me to the pizza place for lunch, where I’d have a slice and then an Italian ice…but I was only allowed to get a lemon ice, which wouldn’t stain my dress for the rest of the day. I’m 30 years old now, and this is still a very, very sweet memory for me. While kids can actually go home for lunch some places, in many others, that’s not quite feasible. But if there’s a good place to eat near the school, you could take your child there to eat, or else bring some kind of picnic. You never know! It might mean the world.2. Bring Soup and Popsicles to Sick People

Is this a no-brainer? Maybe. I don’t know. But I do know that when my mother, father, and I all got influenza at the exact.same.time in 1994 someone brought some chicken soup and some popsicles to us and that kind of kept us alive. There are a few tricks to making a really great chicken soup, and I, for one, believe wholeheartedly in its curative powers! Learn to make a great one and bring it to sick people!

(I recommend you check out Ina Garten’s recipe. I think she’s actually Jewish, which probably matters for this recipe. It’s not called Jewish Penicillin for nothing.)

1. Plan meals for families with new babies and other crises

When I lived in beautiful St. Andrews, Scotland, it seemed like everyone in our little graduate-student community was always having babies. Because we were. Because it was “that time” for many of us and, yeah, because having a baby on the NHS is free. Imagine, no bills or “explanation of benefits” or co-pays or pre-approvals or referrals! But, you know, having a baby is still a big deal! It wipes you out big time. One of the coolest things our little community of expatriate student-families did to help one another was create “meal rotas” for each pregnant mom. We’d collect volunteers for 14 meals, to be given every other evening for a month, according to a schedule arranged with the family. I was at the receiving end of this incredible ministry when I had my son Graeme in 2008, and it’s truly amazing how knowing that dinner is coming frees you up from the many anxieties and stresses of those early baby days, letting you have a little babymoon while letting your friends love you in such a tangible way.

But this doesn’t need to be just for babies. Meal ‘rotas’–a schedule of turn-taking, basically–are great for people who’ve had major surgery, miscarriages, deaths in the family, or other disrupting and upsetting events. You meet a practical need while expressing your concern in a tangible, delicious way.

What other ideas do you have for using food to minister to others?