Yes, you heard that right. There are so many ways you can organise (or prepare) the perfect sympathy meal without actually having to cook something from scratch (or cook anything with your own bare hands).
So, what is a sympathy meal?
It’s exactly what it sounds like. A sympathy meal is a thoughtful way to show someone you’re thinking of them, that you care about them, and that you’re invested in making things a little easier for them while they’re going through a tough time.
Typically, a sympathy meal is prepared for the loved ones of someone who has just passed away. This often makes self-care a little easier for the bereaved; the idea is for them to have access to hearty meals that warm their hearts and fill up their grumbling bellies.
Here are our top 10 tips on preparing a sympathy meal for friends and their families:
1. Create a meal roster online.
There are so many incredible free online tools you can use to plan out a lengthy meal roster. Search ‘Online Meal Rosters’ online and set one up, inviting the deceased’s friends, colleagues and loved ones (and anyone else who might be interested in taking part) to it.
This is a great way to ensure the bereaved are catered for over a set period of time (sometimes even up to 1 or 2 months post-death), and also means that nobody doubles up (because three separate people rocking up with hot meals for dinner, on the same day, isn’t exactly ideal).
2. Chat to the family before getting started on organising the meal roster.
Call those you’re catering for, asking them if they have any allergies or dietary requirements. You can also ask them if there are certain foods they do and don’t like – for example, some kids are fussy eaters! This minimises the risk of you (or anyone else) preparing food that won’t be eaten or enjoyed by the family.
If you’ve organised an online meal roster, we’d recommend noting these dietary requirements and preferences so everyone can cater to the needs of the grieving.
3. Find out what time best suits for meal drop-off
Different families eat at different times, and when a family is grieving, there are likely certain times they’d prefer to eat and other times where they’d rather rest undisturbed. Before you start cooking, contact the bereaved to find a time that best suits them for their meal delivery. Let them know it’s okay if they don’t want to chat or say hello – you can simply leave the meal at the front door for them. It’s just important for them to be home in case food needs to be kept in the fridge or freezer.
4. Write a note so they know who the meal is from
If you’re not handing the meal over to them in person (and just leaving it at their door), it can be nice to write a condolence card or note, letting them know you’re thinking of them. We’ve compiled a list of things you can say when someone dies, in case you need some help in this area.
5. Include instructions on how to prepare and/or store the meal
How will they know how long to put your lasagne in the oven for if you don’t tell them? We’d recommend leaving detailed instructions on how to prepare, heat or freeze the meal so that the bereaved don’t have to do any googling, text messaging, or assumption-making when trying to put their dinner together. Make food prep as easy as possible for them.
6. Try and prepare enough food for leftovers
Dropping off enough food for dinner and lunch (the next day) can be really helpful for those grieving. It means they have one less meal they have to worry about, and can be a lovely way to make life a little easier when things feel so hard. Just make sure you let them know how to refrigerate or freeze the food so it’s still just as tasty the next day. Yum.
7. Ensure you prepare a complete meal for them
Baking them a lasagna from scratch? Why not include a simple leafy side salad, too? Often one dish isn’t quite enough to satisfy hungry tummies, so making sure you deliver a complete meal to their door is the best way to approach the task. You can also always drop off a few extra items – like a loaf of sourdough or tub of ice cream – even if it doesn’t necessarily ‘go’ with the main meal. Food is always so appreciated, especially if it’s delicious.
8. Use containers they can keep
When someone passes away, there’s so much to think about, and we often find ourselves forgetting or misremembering things we ordinarily wouldn’t. The purpose of sending a sympathy meal to someone is – yes – to provide them with hearty food, but it’s also to reduce the burden on the bereaved.
By giving them containers they can keep or dispose of, you’re making sure they don’t have to remember to return your fancy Tupperware once things have calmed down. It’s thoughtful, helpful, and also means you won’t lose your expensive glass container with the matching lid. A win-win for all.
9. Meal-prep with a group of people if you aren’t confident cooking on your own
There’s no harm in inviting a group of friends over to chip in! Host a cooking party at your place and then elect someone to drop the food off at the bereaved later that day. This can be a great way to lighten your own load, while also finding a way to enjoy the process.
10. Don’t feel the pressure to cook if it’s not your thing
Sure, cooking is great and all. But it’s also not essential for you to personally cook a meal for the bereaved. If cooking isn’t your thing – or you simply don’t have time to make a big meal on your own, you can always head to the supermarket and pick up a roast chicken and salad ingredients, or you can send them an UberEats voucher or bento box from their local Japanese restaurant.
There’s no ‘wrong’ way to prepare a sympathy meal – which makes things pretty easy, hey? All that matters is that you make things as easy as possible for the recipient, and take their dietary requirements and preferences into account when preparing the food. They’ll likely be so grateful you’ve thought of them (and catered for them), no matter what lands on their table.
Prefer to send a Sympathy Basket instead? Read our guide on what to include here.