So anyway, Jon was home all day and working on house projects. We just got some new floors installed and he needed to seal the grout. Which meant my job was to keep kids off floors. Easy peasy right? Seriously, sometimes I think things are worse when both Jon and I are home because we both think the other person is watching one (or all) of the children. And then neither of us is. I feel like we need to create a system where whoever is assuming responsibility should wear a hat or pin, just so we're all clear. Maybe then 17 month olds wouldn't smear sun lotion all over the floors, almost-3-year olds wouldn't draw masterpieces on the back of the guest room door (that don't come off with the magic eraser) and 4.5 year olds wouldn't crawl into the fridge to retrieve their own snacks several times a day (and then lose half of that snack in the couch cushions).
Well, with MOPS canceled I had one thing on my agenda for the day and one thing only: two meals for two mamas with brand new babies. My favorite people! I posted a picture online and got some questions that I'll do my best to address here. Please keep in mind that I have not done this very often myself (although I've certainly received my fair share of meals!) and so this is still all very new to me! Thankfully we had a woman come speak to our MOPS group a few months ago on hospitality in your home. It was so good, as evidenced by the pages and pages of notes I took. Which says two things about me: I love practical teaching and I love hospitality! It's an area that I think both Jon and I are called in and more importantly a topic I desperately need to learn more about!
One thing mentioned in that MOPS meeting really stood out to me: "Entertaining is bringing honor and glory to yourself. Hospitality is bringing honor and glory to God." We also discussed some hindrances to hospitality: perception, perfection, procrastination and paralysis. In other words, you don't have to be a professional chef to be hospitable. You just need a willing heart, a plan (oh, and a stocked pantry is helpful too). :)
Honestly, I don't think of myself as much of a cook. And cooking for other people makes me a little nervous. I tend to be a bit experimental, with occasional disastrous results. You should hear the things the men in my family say about my cooking. And when they do eat well, it's usually because they were promised a treat for dessert. But as a recipient, I know it doesn't take a culinary genius to be a blessing. A rotisserie chicken, box of macaroni and cheese and steamable bag of veggies can go a long way with a tired, haven't-had-a-free-hand-all-day Mommy. I know, I've been there. And so without further ado, here are a few practical tips I've learned along the way.
Last night's menu:
- Shrimp Scampi over Linguine
- Oven Roasted Carrots - 1 lb. baby carrots, tossed with olive oil, oregano, salt and pepper and baked at 375 for 25 minutes
- Crusty Whole Wheat Italian Baguette
- Chocolate Velvet Beet Cupcakes with Beet Frosting
- Frozen Berries and Lemon Slices - in a cup, to add to a pitcher of ice water
(I should mention here that after making and delivering this meal to others, my own family went out to dinner. Two meals is enough for me, I'm not supermom!)
First off, I stick with a recipe that is familiar. I make this shrimp scampi dish often for my family. You'll want to pick a recipe that you've worked with before so that you know all the "tricks" and aren't caught off guard. That said, you'll want to steer away from "different" dishes. Just because your family likes it doesn't mean everyone else will. For instance, I make a Sloppy Lentils meal for my family often, but it's not something I'd serve someone else. (Unless they specifically told me they wanted to try out that famous Sloppy Lentil recipe!) And consider making a meal that you know is easy. When you have several different dishes going at the same time, kids screaming in the background, and a time crunch - make sure whatever you choose is manageable.
Nowadays there are plenty of websites to help organize meals for someone in need. My two favorites are www.takethemameal.com and www.carecalendar.org. One nice feature of these websites is that the recipient can make note of any allergies or food aversions, which are important to keep in mind. Another one is that you can see what other people have brought, or are planning to bring. Typically chicken and beef dishes are the most popular. And Italian meals seem to be a preference as well. If you're one of the first to sign up, by all means choose whatever you want. But if you notice that everyone within two weeks of your meal date is bringing chicken, you may want to consider something else. I chose shrimp this time around because a.) I didn't see anyone else mention it on the calendar and b.) shrimp was on sale at my grocery store this week. Score!
I know, I know. I just said to stick with something familiar and without any strange ingredients and then in the next breath suggested you do something different than everyone else. This is where it gets tricky. Just try to think outside the box. And remember, not every main dish has to be meat! I had a friend bring me the most delicious vegetable pie after Julia was born. My meat-loving husband could not stop talking about it! The good news is once you find a meal or two or three that work for you they can become your go-to hospitality meals. Unless you have one of those friends that's always having babies ... okay, just kidding. Those people don't mind repeats. I should know.
Of course, there's more to a meal than the main dish. And there's more to a family than the parents. I have this killer White Chicken Chili recipe that Jon and I love, but the kids can hardly handle it. So it's not something I'd take to a family with kids. This time around I went with oven roasted carrots as a side. They're super tasty, my kids scarf them down every time I make them, and they're healthy. Most kids probably don't jump at shrimp, but there was plenty of cheesy, buttery pasta in the main dish to fill them up instead. And bread is typically a safe bet, unless the family is gluten-free.
That said, you don't have to go crazy with side dishes. If making one dish is all that you're comfortable with, don't sweat it! Last year I made a meal over Valentines' Day. Julia was only 4 months old and life was still a little crazy. I made a family-favorite, Bruschetta Chicken, and then stopped at the grocery store on the way to pick up a bag of salad and a loaf of bread from the bakery. Including something like a steamable bag of veggies may not seem like a big deal, but trust me, you've already thought farther ahead than most moms of newborns I know!
And don't forget dessert and beverages! They add a nice touch and show that you really thought the meal through. I'll never forget one friend who added a jar of her own homemade, mulled cider after Julia was born. It was fall, I was an anxious mama mess, and a nice, hot cup of cider was just what I needed! But it doesn't have to be anything fancy. I mean, I just threw a handful of frozen berries and lemon slices in a container with a note to add it to water. It's just something different. As for dessert, I totally broke my own rule (okay make that two rules). I made a new recipe, and it had strange ingredients. Chocolate Beet Cupcakes. I figured since they were from a trusted source (Weelicious) it was a safe bet. And I also allowed the kids and I to sample them before sharing them with others. I didn't mind them, the kids of course ate them, Jon ... not so much. I took them along anyway but I think next time we'll stick with something a little less *cough,cough* "creative."
One last thing to consider, if you have the time and inclination, is to send along snacks and/or breakfast. Often we are able to meet the dinner-needs of families but never consider the rest of the day. These kind of things are especially helpful to new mamas who are nursing frequently throughout the day and have a high-calorie intake. Granola, muffins, baked oatmeal, trail mix ... just a little something to get them through to the next meal. And maybe appease the kiddos as well!
Finally, make the post-delivery (of your meal) as simple as possible. Cut or slice things ahead of time (after I got home last night I realized I forgot to slice the bread, argh!). Include condiments and/or dressings that the family might not have on hand (if my freezer wasn't completely void of strawberry jam I would've added that along with the bread). Sending along disposable plates and utensils is also a huge bonus because then the recipient doesn't have to do dishes. Try to think the meal through from start to finish and consider all necessary elements.
As far as packaging, use items that you don't need returned. The last thing a family in need should be concerned with is returning a pile of dishes. If you're sending something that needs cooked or re-heated in the oven, I recommend foil pans with lids (I get them at my grocery store). If it doesn't need cooked or if it can be re-heated in the microwave, you can use plastic food storage containers. I also save take-out containers from restaurants to re-use (those little cups the Chipotle uses for rice and beans? Perfect for condiments and other little things!). Transporting your meal can be a challenge. I'll never forget one time when I was young and my mom was bringing a meal to a family with a new baby. My mom set the food on the floor of our minivan. In my excitement to see our friends I bounded out of my seat and stepped squarely into an apple pie. Doh! I don't risk it with my kids. Everything goes in the trunk. I save flat, shallow boxes from Amazon (or cardboard cases for cans work great too!). Also, those reflective re-useable grocery bags are perfect for keeping items hot or cold.
And last, but not least, don't forget the personal touches. I think the most comments I got on the picture posted above were about the menu. A simple Word document using some fancy, free font and printed on cardstock. Not only does it help the recipient know what they're about to eat, it's also good for including any re-heating or serving instructions. Seriously, it's amazing what a little bit of pretty paper can do! If I had more time I was planning to make my own sticker labels for each item (again, completely unnecessary but oh so special!). It isn't difficult to start collecting bits of scrapbook paper, ribbons, buttons, feathers, etc. Just little things that can be used to kick something up a knotch. Or maybe even throw in a book, CD, magazine... I'm sure I could think of more fun ideas if my brain hadn't already went to bed! And if you can, include the kids. Jack drew a picture to put with our meal and I was so touched that he thought of it all on his own.
And at the end of the day, isn't that what's most important? Teaching our kids how to be a blessing to others. Showing them how to serve without grumbling or complaining. And even demonstrating how to graciously receive others various blessings. I have found that hospitality is contagious, and it's one of those trends that I don't mind catching on!