Food for a Grieving Family

Want to help a family who has lost a loved one? Here’s how to handle food for a grieving family.

Sadly, last week we lost a dear friend from our church.  Spending time talking to the family and coordinating help with other church members has reminded me how important this service is to a grieving family and how to do it in a way that eases their burden.  I have been on both sides of this situation and want to share some hints I have discovered.

Food for a Grieving Family

Food for a Grieving Family

It seems that food has always been a way to show love and comfort to a family who has lost a loved one.   Feeding people is a very tangible way to demonstrate our love to them at a time when we cannot really ease their emotional pain.  Anyone who has been on the grieving side of this knows that there is little energy to shop or cook, even for oneself, never mind for family which may be visiting from out of town.  Also, many grieving people lose interest in eating, though they need nourishment to cope with this hard time.

Providing food for families at this time can be a wonderful blessing but can also cause added work and stress if not done carefully.  It is important to provide what they need without overdoing it, so they don’t have to throw food away, make room in their freezer, or feel burdened.

Perhaps the biggest help one can be is to actually take on the task of coordinating food donations.  The coordinator can find out how many people are likely to be eating on any given day, schedule the drop-offs at a convenient time, and make sure that not everyone is bringing the same dish. There are online food trains and apps to help schedule and provide sign-ups.

Gift cards to local restaurants can also provide meals weeks after when the urgent needs have already been taken care of. They can also give the family the space to choose when and how to use them.

When in doubt ask the family what would best serve them. Often there is a “spokesperson” for the family that can help identify needs for feeding.

General guidelines for food donations:

  • Ask if there are any food allergies or foods to be avoided
  • Prepare food that is easily eaten anytime and can be easily reheated or frozen
  • Provide finger foods that are easy to just grab without heating
  • Provide “snackable” foods which don’t necessarily require a sit-down meal time
  • Provide finger desserts that do not require refrigeration
  • Bring your food in disposable containers that the family does not have to wash or return.

Specific food suggestions:

  • Sliced ham or turkey breast with rolls
  • Barbecue pork in a crock pot with rolls
  • A sandwich/deli tray with rolls (possibly divided up into ziplock bags for storage)
  • Pasta casseroles (Use caution – people often receive too much of this)
  • Cut-up veggies and dip or hummus
  • Fruit – washed and divided grapes, apples, oranges
  • Cookies or brownies

Other suggestions:

  • Breakfast idea- consider making up a basket of breakfast choices like bagels and cream cheese, croissant, instant oatmeal packets, jam, and peanut butter.
  • Include paper goods and plasticware with your food donation.
  • Drop off some canned beverages, especially if there a number of out-of-town guests.
  • Include resealable plastic bags with any large deli, veggie, or fruit tray.  Better yet, dismantle the tray ahead of time and place these items in their own bags so they will stay fresh and fit in the fridge.

Bible God Meets Me Here


Food for a Grieving Family: One Sample Recipe – Barbecued Pork Sandwiches

One whole pork loin

bottled or homemade barbecue sauce


Place whole pork loin in a large crock pot or electric roaster. (Cut in half if it will not fit in your crock pot.)  Add 1/2 cup barbecue sauce & 1/4 cup water.  Cook on high until falling apart.  Shred meat with two forks.  Add approximately 1/2 bottle of barbecue sauce, to taste.  Return to crock pot or place in storage containers.  Serve hot with rolls for quick sandwiches.  This freezes well in plastic bags.  If you are only bringing food to a small family, keep some of this for your own dinner or freeze to take to another needy family in the future.

If you need some more resources on how to help a grieving family we suggest the following blog posts: 

Vicki’s has a blog post about helping children after a crisis.

You can listen to an interview with Connie Stultz on handling grief.

Wondering what the five most comforting funeral foods are, according to the Houston Press?


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Allison Thorp

9 Replies to “Food for a Grieving Family”

  1. As someone who has very recently been on the receiving end, I’d like to share something that was very “thought”ful – toilet paper and disposable hand towels. If your grieving loved one has a small household, the frequent visitors may put a real strain on these necessities. A mature aunt brought these things and impressed me with her wisdom. She also cleaned, and got my mother-in-law involved in a very positive way. I have always known this particular aunt as being very “particular” about cleaning. I didn’t really appreciate her gift until now.

  2. I love the idea of having someone coordinate the donations. When my mother-in-law died my father-in-law received too much food for one person to eat (although we divided it up and froze a bunch of it). The coordinator can also find out if there are any special dietary needs in the family and make sure that these needs are being met.

    • Exactly. What the family does not need is any more stress of trying to figure something out. Coordinating the donations and setting up deliveries so that the family does not have to deal with questions, etc. is a big help.

  3. When I lost my mom one of the best foods that we received was fruit. We got 2 huge fruit baskets and even one of the edible fruit “bouquets” and for me grief causes a loss of appetite. So fruit was great – small pieces as in the bouquet or just cutting up an apple, peeling an orange and adding some cheese and crackers to any fruit was enough for me. I also was so thankful for the casseroles that were brought in to feed my hungry guys where fruit wasn’t enough because the grieving process is different for everyone.

  4. Thank you, Allison, for such wonderful and thoughtful ideas. My family has not had much experience in this part of life to date, so we are all thumbs when times like this come up. Your advice is welcome and useful. God bless you!

  5. I know when my sister Heather died in 2009, it was such a blessing to have food brought in for our family. There were also some generous folks who dropped off gift-cards for restaurants, and that was a blessing, too, although in a different way.

    Once I began to get a little stir-crazy in the house, knowing that we could go out and get a bite in a different location was encouraging. I remember Allison and I took a couple of special, restorative trips to a nearby coffee shop to just get a little space with our food. For people who don’t have confidence in their meal-preparation skills, this can be another way to “feed a grieving family” — a tangible message of love is worth millions when you are overwhelmed!

    • Yes. In fact, not being a good cook or having time to cook should not be a deterrent to helping out. Gift cards, or even picking up subs or prepared food and donating that, can still be a help.

  6. Yes, to all Allison has said! Providing meals to those who are grieving or ill tangibly communicates our love and concern for them, as well as meeting a basic need. I also believe it brings honor to the name of Christ and is a wonderful testimony to the world to serve those who are hurting by providing meals and other practical help. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

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