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Dinner ideas to deliver to a sick friend?

One of my friends is seriously under the weather, and we are all cooking for her and her family a couple of times a week, and I have to admit to being stumped for what to take. It's her and her husband and teenage son, they generally eat fairly healthy food (not a lot of fat, mostly stay away from red meat) and not very spicy or exotic. I'm not sure their son eats much fish. Her condition doesn't affect her ability to eat, so that's not a problem.

But-- it needs to be something I can take over in the afternoon, that they can easily reheat if needed, with not much work involved. And ideally something that won't take me a huge amount of time...

I took a chicken and veggie stirfry last time.

I think I must be so stumped because I'm upset about her being so sick.

And also, it is kind of hard to cook for someone else's family. My family has somewhat eccentric eating habits, really likes hot food, I cook lots of ethnic dishes, etc., but I don't think that's how they generally eat.

Also, when you take dinner to a family, do you take multiple courses? Should I take a bag of salad and some dressing, or assume that they have that and I am mainly providing the main course....

I could use a few ideas and suggestions-- I'm not looking so much for recipes, just tell me what you would make under the circumstances.

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  1. What about a vegetable lasagna? A simple salad would be nice too to go with it.

    1. A hearty chicken soup is always nice and easy to heat up You can make a salad and bring some good whole grain bread to warm up. That combination always seems to be something everyone likes. I am sorry that your friend is so ill and wish them well. You are a very good friend to be so concerned and compassionate.

      1 Reply
      1. re: cookingislife

        This is my aunt Sue's chicken-and-rice soup, which you can make ahead (a HUGE batch) and freeze, then when you want to have it you just warm it up and thin it a bit with water or broth. It calls for a can of mushroom soup; I'd imagine you can use the equivalent homemade sauce if you want. It's absolutely yummy and very comforting.

        1 whole chicken, cut up
        1 can cream of mushroom soup
        Chicken bouillon
        1 1/2 c. uncooked rice
        Frozen mixed vegetables
        Salt & pepper

        Boil chicken in stew pot; remove from broth. If broth is not very tasty, add chicken bouillon. Stir in mushroom soup, then rice; cook for a few minutes. Add vegetables and season to taste.

        Remove chicken from bones and return to pot. Cook until vegetables are tender and rice is done.

      2. In similar situations, I have made soup. There are so many varieties that fill the bill for healthy, not very spicy or exotic. They can portion it out as they wish, or even freeze some for a later time. Salad and some good bread would go well with the soup.

        1. Stew (chicken, beef or pork) with vegetables and rice.

          1. I am sure that they'll appreciate anything you bring them with love. Sometimes the simple meals are most comforting. Don't worry about making special meals right now.

            Not sure about the kid's preferences but how about some baked beans and franks (or tofu pups/smart dogs) or Mac and cheese. Both are simple do-aheads. Also variations on the veggie lasagna that was suggested - a baked pasta dish ( maybe a baked ziti, adding vegetables such as zucchini.) Casseroles/ one dish meals are easier for you to transport, store and for them to heat.

            Or all the fixin's for tacos (made with ground turkey/)

            Will try to think of more.

            It is tough to cook for another family - I cook on the fly with what I have and would be challenged to cook for others this way - Maybe you can ask them what they usually like to have. You don't need to duplicate it, but it might give you some ideas about their tastes.

            To make it easier for you, can you double up the recipes and prepare your own meal at the same time?

            As to whether you bring multiple courses - it's really up to you. You might think about whether or not they are away from home a lot for treatment and have little time to shop or energy to prepare.

            Good luck - you are giving your friend a wonderful gift - yourself

            1 Reply
            1. re: VeggieFan

              If I were sick and someone brought me an old- fashioned (baked not boxed)macaroni and cheese cassarole, I would make it a point to recover quickly, just to return the favor. Mac and cheese to me is one of the best comfort foods of all.

              When my wife was sick and going through chemo, food was delivered by the school's PTA. My wife was a vegetarian and couldn't eat most of the food because of her diet and illness. But what was amazing was the fact that they brought the food personally. They were so kind so us, and that was what impressed me the most.

              Just keep it simple, don't worry about trying to impress. The kindness you show is more important than the food, I assure you. Vegetable soup and french bread delivered with a smile is more healing than what any 5 star restaurant could ever serve.

            2. Your question finally got me to register because I had the same issue. My block is bringing dinner twice a week to a family (mom, dad, teenager, and young boy) because the child is having chemo and the mom is home all day and can't get out to shop, much less have time to cook. I had no idea what they'd like, and the person organizing it just said they like anything.

              What I ended up doing was making a chicken gumbo (we're in the south) and taking a bottle of hot sauce to use as needed for anyone wanting hotter; cornbread; and a peach crisp. I also took a large baggie of mixed greens, a smaller baggie of sliced mushrooms, and a baggie of sliced bell peppers. I, too, was wondering about whether I needed to take salad dressing, but figured they'd have something they liked. I didn't want to take a bagged salad, since I thought they could just buy that at the grocery, but I'm not sure my compromise was any better (or even as good).

              Everything I took, with the exception of the salad, could be frozen if they didn't feel like eating. I also took everything in those disposable GLAD containers, so they could freeze as is and I didn't need anything back (so they didn't have to worry about washing and returning my dishes.)

              If I do it again, I'll probably go with meatloaf (with a loaf of bread to make sandwiches later); a grits casserole (I said we're in the south); a bagged or boxed salad with dressing (I saw some at Whole Foods and they're probably available at any grocery); a fruit dessert (even just a mix of berries and some whipped cream - yes, even in a can); and some bakery rolls. I look at this as bringing something filling and a little bit special since they can't get to a restaurant.

              I didn't know these people (had never met them even though we're neighbors) so since you are taking a meal to friends, maybe you could ask them generally what they like to eat. Good luck - as said, you're very nice to do this and it is frustrating to cook in this situation.

              2 Replies
              1. re: dalcook

                A small note... anyone on chemo is not allowed to eat anything raw including salad leaves, peppers, etc. I expect that the parent's enjoy getting something fresh and green, but the son isn't able to eat any salad makings.

                1. re: dalcook

                  I've never made gumbo, but I have a great shrimp creole recipe. Do you know if it freezes well? I think I've had trouble with freezing rice?? And would I need to use fresh shrimp (if such a thing exists in Chicago, I know we have ones sold as "fresh" but they are usually thawed...) in order to allow them to be refrozen?

                2. I totally agree with the chicken soup idea. Making it hearty with matzah balls or noodles would be nice as well. A loaf of bread and fruit salad would be a nice addition.

                  Also, this got me thinking about those places where you can prepare dinners that are then taken home and frozen (Dinner's Ready, Dream Dinners, etc.). You could do something like what they offer -- marinated chicken breasts (uncooked) or hanger steaks (also uncooked) in a freezer ziploc bag with veggies and sauce in additional ziploc bags. Packaged together, they could be placed in the freezer and be ready for an instant dinner. Put a sticker on the front giving cooking instructions, and it's a healthy, homemade frozen dinner. You and your neighbors could put together several of these and also provide some good loaves of bakery bread that could also be wrapped and frozen. Finally, cookies could also be wrapped and frozen. That way, they can be ready for those nights when hot dinners won't be arriving or could put together a meal whenever they wanted one.

                  1. For heavy on veggies, I'd suggest a big batch of ratatouille, alongside a nice rotisserie chicken (even from Costco or Ralph's--both great versions brined and all!)

                    Sweet'n'Sour Cabbage w/ Turkey Meatballs (use lean ground turkey)

                    Polenta Lasagna w/ Chicken Sausage Marinara

                    French Toast Casserole (the overnight kind)-- to make something for breakfast, esp if you drop on a Friday, so they can have a nice family breakfast on Saturday

                    Enchiladas--chicken and/or cheese


                    Frittatas (w/ reduced egg yolks) or Quiche

                    Sandwich fixins

                    Egg or Chicken or Tuna Salads

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Emme

                      Any thoughts about crustless quiche? I've never tried it, but quiche (with EggBeaters) seems like a great idea, but I know they won't want to eat all the fat in a crust.

                      1. re: Anne H

                        Crustless quiches are great, and you can use skim or low-fat dairy products, or low-fat ricotta is also a great addition. The alternative, to up the protein more, is to make a crust from ground lean turkey/chicken breast... mix with some egg whites, onions, garlic, seasonings, and then press in the bottom of your quiche pan; parbake for 10-15 minutes, then fill with quiche filling and bake off.

                    2. Homemade breads are also nice, comforting, and handy to go with soups or salads: cornbread, etc. Personal favorite at the moment is sun-dried-tomato-and-feta bread. I am also fond of a cheese and leek "loaf'" which could also be baked as a casserole. On the other hand, when someone is sick, protein is important to the healing process (according to my lights), so nothing beats homemade two-chicken soup or Jewish poule-au-pot. (The chicken cooked in the stock from the first chicken retains some flavor.)

                      1. Agree with the soup idea. Chicken noodle is good, but there are lots others -- minestrone, split pea, chowder, vichyssoise. Include a loaf of fresh bread, and maybe even some bagged salad that they can eat on the side. An easy meal for them and delicious.

                        1. I would bring an entree, a salad, some vegatables, and maybe some store bought brownies or cookies. All the suggestions below are good. Yesterday Ina
                          Garten had a show on different pastas that are one dish meals. She had a great looking and easy turkey lasagna and a 5 cheese penne pastas that I'd like to eat right now. I would cook them in throw away aluminum trays so you don't have to worry about getting back a container. As for the salad, either a throw away plastic storage container or even mix it all up (without dressing) and put in a large storage bag. If you want to put some dressing in a jar, I'm sure that would be appreciated. But, most people have their own dressings at home. Here's the link to Ina's show. Everything cooked really fast, btw.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: mschow

                            Yeah, a big pasta salad or pasta caserole dish would suit the bill. When people are sick or busy caring for a sick loved one, they probably eat in small intervals. Something that can be picked at and eaten cold might last longer and suit their needs.
                            Cakes and baked goods might also be nice.

                          2. Baked pasta dish, spinach lasagna, macaroni, or even a cold pasta salad.

                            Meatloaf or chicken pot pies would be good, too.

                            1. Did anyone mention scalloped potatoes with ham chunks?

                              If you're thinking of cooler meals, how about a selection of salads. I've been meaning to try the watermellon/feta that I see posted everywhere lately. A big container of sliced, juicy tomatoes with a container of pesto and some mini mozzarella balls. Potato salad would keep for a few days in the fridge. Fruit salad (for breakfast, snack or dessert) with some ice cream or sherbert or frozen yoghurt. Chicken salad (I've done the oven-poach-in-milk recipe from this board and it produces a very moist chicken, perfect for salad). I'm thinking leftovers in the fridge can be as comforting
                              as knowing that someone is bringing dinner tonight.

                              I agree with cookies, brownies, zucchini or other quick bread sliced and individually wrapped for the freezer.

                              We all feel so helpless at times like these. Feeding the family is something we can do. Bravo.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: nemo

                                Does someone have a link for the oven-poached-in-milk chicken salad recipe, I missed that somehow. Sounds good.

                                1. re: Anne H

                                  Anne: Here's the thread where I first found out about poaching in cream or milk.


                                  The first time I tried it, I used half-and-half, shallow pan, uncovered, liquid up over halfway of bone-in chicken, 350 for 45 minutes, turned breasts over after 20 minutes. Okay, but a little dry on the edges and I think I cooked too long.

                                  Next time I used half-and-half plus whole milk, deeper pan, covered boneless breasts completely, uncovered, 350 for maybe 38 minutes, removed from oven, let cool in milk. Stored in fridge in poaching liquid. Poaching liquid became a bit coagulated but was easily wiped off. Very moist.

                                  I don't know where the original post for this method is.

                                  1. re: nemo

                                    I will post the chicken breast recipe again...no problem...Put boneless chicken breast in pan, cover with 1 cup of heavy cream...Bake uncovered for 40 minutes at 350 degrees...No need to turn the breast.. Let cool in the cream, then discard the cream when cool...Perfect every time...( I usually throw in some garlic cloves that I have cut the ends off of..Kind of "roasts" with the chicken, and adds flavor)

                              2. My aunt was on the receiving end of meals this year. She was worried about returning dishes (please use disposable!) and oftentimes ended up with MUCH more food that she needed. So ... soups, casseroles, pastas, fresh fruit (the more shelf-stable sorts like apples), even pies, worked wonderfully for her. Fresh items like salads and other perishables were a no-go. She often had no appetite so the remnants were left rotting in the fridge until the next caregiver arrived and tossed them.

                                For your specific situation, what about a mild chili? Or some sort of stew? You can add rolls/cornbread, make the dish heavy in vegetables, a bit of protein, and it's a complete meal. Plus it's also freezable. Or there's ratatouille, egg-based baked dishes (baked anything!), maybe an ethnic-influenced soup? A friend provided my aunt with a Thai-influenced soup that she loved.

                                1. When I was in my late teens, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer (she's now cancer-free after 15 years) - the food brought by friends and neighbors really helped us - I was caring for her and a younger sister and hadn't really learned to cook a lot of stuff. So here's my ideas.

                                  I agree with the soups as being warm/comforting/easy to store, reheat, and freeze. However, since it is summer, soup might not be the first thing that the family's craving.

                                  Since my mother's surgery was in the summer, and we tended to eat healthy-ish, some of the dishes that hit the spot with us were vegetarian (roasted veggie) enchiladas and cheese enchiladas, all of the fixings to make burritos (easy to prep and customize according to taste), pasta salads (mayo dressing and oil/vinegar dressings), vegetable salads (not just green salads, but marinated bean salad and that salad with broccoli and red onions in a creamy dressing), fresh fruit and fruit salads (if your friend does most of the cooking, her husband and son might not know how to prep the fruits - I had no idea how to cut apart a beautiful fresh pineapple that was dropped off, so prep what you can), lighter desserts like brownies, cookies, angel food cake with fresh fruit, etc. Also, sandwich spreads (tuna, egg salad, chicken salad) that could be served on sandwiches or on top of salad greens, were devoured.

                                  You might also want to think about providing food for meals other than dinner - homemade waffles that are frozen and ready to be toasted and eaten might go over well - so might frozen homemade french toast. Also think about scones and muffins (healthy snacks that can also be eaten for breakfast/lunch). And quiche is usually good (you can make individual quiches that can be frozen and reheated as needed).

                                  Since you say your friend's illness doesn't affect what she can eat, I'd avoid traditional "ill and recovering" dishes for the most part (like pudding and jello).

                                  I'd deliver the foods in containers that can be discarded (it's tough to keep track of what serving dish should be returned to different folks). Also, any prep./storage tips can be written on index cards and taped to the dishes for easy reference.

                                  One thing that really helped us was the thoughtfulness of a couple of my mother's best friends - they went grocery shopping for us and made sure that we were well-stocked on the basics and easy to grab-and-eat foods. Some of those things that were really helpful included yogurt, cottage cheese, frozen waffles, cereals/granola, cheeses and sliced turkey for sandwiches (don't forget bread and condiments), ice cream, butter, peanut butter and jam/jellies, bagels, fruit juices, milk and sodas, etc. Think about also getting some of the more basic "housekeeping" things, too - bathroom tissue, kleenex, etc. You can ask the son about preferences for things like toothpaste and deodorant and shampoo, etc. The fact that I didn't have to make a shopping list and go and purchase these things (I'd never shopped for the family before) made a world of difference.

                                  One other thing that helped keep our morale up: a couple of times family friends showed-up with take-out menus (where we lived there wasn't delivery options, just take-out) - we were able to order foods that we wanted from a local Chinese place, a pizza parlor, a Mexican food restaurant, etc. Since having take-out was a treat for us at any time, this really made things feel better. It was also nice to be able to order and eat what *we* wanted, instead of people providing us food that they thought we'd like. Not that we didn't appreciate the homemade meals (trust me, we did, more than we were ever able to express), but at a time when we felt like our lives were out of our control, it felt good to be able to control that one thing.

                                  Good thoughts to your friend and thank you for your thoughtfulness!

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: ElsieDee

                                    Thanks, this is all very helpful. Do you have a cheese enchilada recipe (or cheese and chicken)?

                                    And have you ever used, or has anyone, those disposable foil pans that you can buy at the grocery? I did want to take something in a dish that did not need to be returned, and could go in either the freezer or the oven.

                                    1. re: Anne H

                                      I found that these pans are dirt cheap in bulk at Costco (or BJ's or wholesale type place) and worth the trip. Separately these pans are pricey and I hate to spend food money on a piece of tin foil when I am cooking for a shelter or a sick friend so I keep a stash on hand. They can go on the oven or fridge and can be recycled so the person you are cooking for doesn't have to feel guilty about returning your dishes.

                                  2. Soups, stews, casseroles...You can take the packaged salad and dressing for them to put together themselves...Dessert as well...Bundt cakes, brownies, cobblers...

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: jinet12

                                      When we cared for our mother during her illness, we truly appreciated all the foods that were prepared and delivered. We ended up with lots of soups, stews and lasagnas (which we happily ate) but we also enjoyed other foods that added some diversity to the meals.

                                      How about an arroz con pollo or simple chicken and rice dish? Comforting and you can alter the tase with a little cilantro.

                                      Someone brought us chicken marbella from the Silver Pallate cookbook which tasted divine at the time. Baked chicken breasts and baked whole chicken are great, as are chicken salads. Barbequed chicken and potato or pasta salad would be great this time of year.

                                      We always really appreciated foods with fresh veggies, even if we couldn't freeze them...we liked some of the lighter, fresher dishers. I have a picky teen who tends to not like "ethnic" food but I can always get her to eat veggies if I stir fry them w/ chicken. Cooks Illustrated has a family approved orange broccoli and chicken stir fry that is great.

                                      A nice batch of pesto would be great....could deliver a pesto tortolleni salad, and then an extra batch of pesto for the freezer.

                                      For a variation on chicken soup, you could make a mild tortilla soup, light on the chilies. Deliver w/ fixins on side (tortillas, tomoatoes, cheese, etc). Again, my teen will eat Mexican flavored foods, and not consider them ethinc. Ground turkey meat taco fixins are great, but a nice variation could be strips of grilled chicken breasts.

                                      A mild chicken enchillda would be great with a salad on the side.

                                      It's not necessary, but we always appreciated the extra touches...the condiments like salas or hot sauces, the salads and dressings (even if the salad was in the bag,) a small container of olives, and of course, desserts even if ice cream or sorbet....the details were very touching. We also liked the notes explaining the dish, how to reheat, etc.

                                      Thoughts of healing and recovery to your friend, and gratitude to you for your kindness.

                                    2. Thank you so much for all these ideas! This is very helpful and I've got a lot of ideas I didn't have before. I feel much better prepared to deal with this-- at least the cooking end of it anyway.

                                      1. I know you have lots of ideas already, but I'll throw out my standard- Chicken Florentine Lasagna. I make it for all my housebound friends, either from illness, injury, or childbirth.

                                        Not to violate the copy/paste rules, it's available on the Cooking Light website, just search. It's low-fat and really good. I alter it a bit by sauteeing some mushrooms and onion to add to the mix.

                                        Every single one that I've made it for asks for the recipe, which lately I just make a recipe card and attach to the foil on top.

                                        However, you know what I really liked when *I* was couch-bound with injury? Someone who not only cooked- but CLEANED... But that's not what you asked.

                                        Oh- one more thing. A bag of frozen, in-shell edamame. They are easily nuke-able, and a great healthy snack.

                                        1. My stand by casseroles for these situations are eggplant parmigiana and chicken n' biscuits. For the parm I often add extra fresh veg to the casserole before baking (mushrooms, spinach, etc.) to make it "extra healthy." My chick and biscuits takes a rotisserie chicken: Pull meat from bone and stick in a buttered dish. In a skillet saute til soft 1 medium onion diced, 6-8 white mushrooms sliced and a generous handful of chopped celery. Once softened (5-6 min) add 2 tbsp of flour and cook, then add 1 cup chick broth, stir til thick then add 1/2 cup or so milk (eyeball it until the "gravy" reaches the consistency you like). Once thick pour over chicken in casserole. Top with biscuit mix (I use bisquick and just follow the box instructions or add 1/2 cup cheddar to make it a little more unhealthy and add a little milk to accomodate) and bake at around 375 for 20-25 min....until biscuits brown.

                                          I've also found that for many families in these situations, sitting down for a "real meal" can offten be difficult. Perhaps taking over salad/sandwich fixings once a week would be helpful. I ordered a care package for a friend from the local specialty grocery recently and had it filled with fresh bread, chicken salad, hummus, prepared salads (pasta, caprese) and fruit. (A quick trip to the farmer's market might help with ideas.) This way those in the household could just stop by the fridge and grab something when they needed it. In this case, the key is small portions of things so that it doesn't spoil before they are able to eat it.