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Ideas for meals taken to sick friend and family

I'd welcome links to prior discussions, too. What meals do you take to a family who has major illness?

I've volunteered to be part of a group that will rotate taking an evening meal to a friend (5-person family, including a teenage boy) who is undergoing cancer treatment. Restrictions are no onions, no fish. I can contact her but want to have a narrowed set of questions / options -- she's got enough else going on.

The dilemma for me is that she lives an hour away (the other side of major metro area), so I'll need to use insulated containers for transport and if hot probably have it in re-heatable dishes that I leave there.

I'm thinking of items I might take to potlucks -- those that transport / keep well. Two that come to mind are a hamburger/bean casserole, with biscuits. And a "Chinese Coleslaw" cold shredded cabbage/diced chicken/slivered almonds/ramen noodles.

I also found a thread here on CH for foil packet meals and wonder whether preparing those cold/raw and supplying the cooking/heating instructions would add some variety.

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  1. For transport, start w/ this as a base but vary the vegetables to what you can find. I go heavy on the vegetables. I like thighs better than breast.


    I recently made chicken chili and meatloaf for someone, in aluminum loaf pans. Both are easy to reheat.

    If you don't already have one, these insulated containers are perfect for keeping food hot and cold for transport. If I'm leaving the dish, I'll use disposable containers.


    I bought mine on a whim and use it far more than I thought I would.

    2 Replies
    1. re: chowser

      Puzzled by the recipe you linked to -- the only veggies shown are red peppers and asparagus, but commenters mentioned lettuce, cabbage, etc. Do you usually add a leaf vegetable to the salad?

      And thanks also for the transport container suggestion.

      1. re: MidwesternerTT

        No, I use green beans, corn, peas, slivers of carrots, artichoke hearts, whatever I have for the peppers and asparagus. It's good w/ both of them, too, but I go w/ what's available. And, I double up on them.

    2. Some things that have worked well for me in a similar situation (although shorter transport distance):

      coq au vin (minus the onion, it is just onion or all members of the allium family? could you use shallots?), french bread, salad

      roast chicken (could be a rotisserie one you pick up near their house), mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans

      baked ziti with or without sausage, garlic bread, salad

      a nice small ham with picnic-type sides: potato salad, cole slaw, bean salad, rolls (this is really nice for leftovers)

      quiche and soup and fruit salad

      And of course I tend to forget dessert because I don't like it but when I cared for a friend undergoing chemo sometimes that is all she wanted. My approach with her was any calorie is pretty much a good calorie, just take a vitamin pill. She survived both my dubious nursing care and the cancer -- 17 years and counting, thankfully.

      In general, comforting foods, nothing spicy, best if all it takes is reheating and if the leftovers will work for lunches. You are a good friend to do this!

      1 Reply
      1. re: GretchenS

        Great suggestions. The ham or a chicken with picnic sides sounds perfect, if they haven't had one recently (with Memorial Day weekend upcoming before my meal delivery, they may be picnic'd out) I'll be asking about that. And because I love to bake cookies and they freeze well, I'll offer to bring a couple dozen of two different flavors.

        Their calendar requests for meals extend through June, so I expect to use more than a few ideas from this kind group at CH.

      2. I would suggest a really delicious soup like potato leek with bacon or tomato bisque, some baguettes, and good butter. You could add some cookies and a simple salad for a full meal.

        1. If the family likes Mexican food maybe a pan of homemade sour cream chicken enchiladas(not too spicy) and a side of refried beans(canned doctored with butter are very good) topped with cheese. A bag of tortilla chips and a jar of good hot sauce for the others. Container of sour cream and a few avocados on the side. Nothing wrong with placing a few store bought items in there. And I would send everything in disposable containers or things you don't need back.

          2 Replies
          1. re: miss_belle

            great point about disposable containers, I always try to do that too

            1. re: miss_belle

              You can get a three pack of those throw away metal containers with lids that you crimp down at dollar tree. If you do those ziploc containers write "OK to toss" on the bottom if you don't care if you get them back or "West Family" if you want them back. That will ease the container confusion.

            2. A few thoughts, having seen two family members go through different types of chemo:

              1. The person going through treatment may find food tasting very different depending on how long they've been getting chemo. My father was on a regimen that dulled his sense of taste; he chewed parsley before eating to help that, and it worked for him. My mom started cooking food with stronger flavor profiles: homemade pasta with basil and garlic pesto was a favorite.

              2. Some chemo drugs will cause mouth sores (usually a bit later in treatment), so extremely hot/extremely cold food can be problematic, as can foods that are somewhat acidic and/or sharply spicy.

              These are not hard and fast rules-- chemo affects everyone a little bit differently-- but I would recommend foods that travel and can be served warm or at room temperature. The ideas so far are great: Covered dishes with chicken and veggies, meatloaf, cream soups (not piping hot!), creamy pastas and pasta salads. Protein, fat (not excessive), good energy sources-- food to nourish the body for the fight.

              You're a great friend-- she'll appreciate your time and effort!

              1. Just recently my aunt was ill, and didn't want any visitors. But, my cousin asked me if I could make something for her to eat and she would take it to her. So, similar transporation issues as you. I made these lasagna rolls: http://www.traceysculinaryadventures.... I precooked them, in a disposable aluminum pan with lid. Then, they can either be reheated a whole batch at a time in the oven, or individually in the microwave or oven. It makes 6 rolls so for a family of 5 with teenage boys you might want to do a double batch. You could do with garlic bread and a salad with dressing on the side.

                I also saw this on one of the blogs I read http://www.thekitchn.com/new-baby-tac... I love the idea of this especially because you can mix and match.... chicken, ground beef, etc., and then people can build their own. Maybe skip the beer ;)

                1. I echo what others are saying--what a good friend.

                  Gretchen S had a great idea re. the rotisserie chicken you pick up near their house. Google the major supermarkets near their home. Almost any side dish goes well with it.

                  When my dad was undergoing chemo, sometimes all he wanted was pudding type things....he was partial to Kozy Shack rice puddings, but also liked chocolate pudding.

                  Finally, I would pick up some nutritional drinks. Muscle Milk and Muscle Milk Light are good and not cloyingly sweet; Ensure has a lot of good products too...just to have around in the fridge.

                  1. The foil packet meals are a great idea. You are very kind to help out this family. Some ideas:

                    Sloppy Joe filling with buns
                    Pulled pork with sauce and buns
                    Taco soup with hearty toppings -- cheese, sour cream, tortilla chips
                    Lo mein
                    A double batch of meatballs and sauce with spaghetti for one night and sub rolls and mozzarella cheese for another night
                    Grilled hamburgers, hotdogs, chicken, and vegetables with buns and fixings -- these taste just fine gently reheated to our family; I'm not sure if others agree.

                    1. I would ALWAYS consult first with the family. People undergoing cancer treatment may be able to eat only certain things and have persnickety appetites. People with oral problems or surgery around the face may be able to chew soft foods only. Abdominal surgery often rules out gas-forming foods afterward. Too much sodium can put a heart patient in the Emergency Room. Etc etc. My husband was sick a long time and I can't count the batches of food I have dumped into the disposal after it was brought by well-meaning friends because we simply couldn't use it and I had a zillion other things to worry about and no time to repurpose it. You are right, Midwesterner, to call with a set of specific questions like "I thought maybe I could bake for you---could you use a batch of cookies? Yes? Should they have nuts or not? Or would a pineapple upside-down cake work better? Tell me what Brucie would really LIKE."

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Querencia

                        Rather than just hitting the 'recommend' button, I'm going to say strongly recommend! I've read enough of these types of threads to know that even the most well meaning people are, for some reason, loathe to ask very direct questions. I had a pretty minor surgery some years ago but the pain med had me feeling yucky. Bob asked what I wanted for breakfast and he fixed me a soft scrambled egg with buttered toast and a small glass of milk. Fifteen years later I still remember that meal cause it was JUST what I wanted.

                      2. Two simple things that have been well-received when I have taken them to sick people with iffy appetites are 1) Homemade applesauce, chunky, with a little cinnamon and nutmeg in it and made with MacIntoshes if you can get them, for their apple-y flavor; 2) Tapioca Pudding made by the Fluffy Tapioca recipe on the Minute Tapioca box, only I double the recipe and increase the eggs from 2 to 3 for extra nutritive value.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Querencia

                          The applesauce and tapioca sound great for her friend but she also wants to feed 4 other people in the household.

                          I forgot about chicken and dumplings. Easy on the stomach for a lot of people and pure comfort food.

                          1. re: miss_belle

                            this is true, but nothing wrong with bringing something "extra", for the fam to have around the pantry or fridge. perhaps make more than ameal's worth of whatever, so the hungry teens can have some left-overs to reheat too.

                            i'd also consider cookies, brownies or muffins for them to keep in the freezer as treats.

                            i'd definitely consult with whomever is in charge about likes and dislikes though. lots of suggestions on here i'd never eat. sick or well.

                          2. re: Querencia

                            Both of those foods were well received when I was going through chemo. I used to hide them in the fridge so no one else would eat them. My friends also brought me chicken noodle soup, beef barley soup and Greek lemon chicken soup.

                            I would take a big rigatoni sausage casserole, garlic bread and salad for the family...then tuck in the applesauce, tapioca pudding and one of the soups for the chemo patient.

                          3. Here's a thread I started a little over a year ago (hard to believe!) when my sister was going through chemo. The ideas were great and the responses & stories were so touching. It might be helpful to your friend as well. My sis and I really appreciated all the delicious ideas and tales of hope. I was in awe. A reason why I love this little community we have here.


                            1 Reply
                            1. I couldn't have said it any better than Querencia did - it's always best to run the options past the recipients to be sure you're bringing them dishes that can actually be eaten and enjoyed.

                              I'd also add the following dishes to consider:
                              - individual vegetable frittata muffins
                              - polenta with mushroom ragout or meat sauce
                              - shepherd's pie
                              - broccoli-cheese soup
                              - matzo ball soup
                              - baked oatmeal
                              - congee or rice pudding
                              - stuffed cabbage
                              - chicken & dumplings
                              - beef & barley soup w/mushrooms
                              - chicken paprikash
                              - pot roast or brisket with roasted vegetables

                              1. I would like to second the notion of asking what your friend feels like eating. Chemo can make even your favorites not very appealing. And as a caveat, someone undergoing treatment may have a weakened immune system. I was trying to do the same for a friend and there were other restrictions- all meats should be cooked well done, certain raw produce (lettuce) needs to be washed very thoroughly. Had to scrap some cilantro and green onions for the congee I was making for her because they were on a potential contamination list. So please try and reduce all germ issues. But it is awesome you are so helpful!

                                1. Thanks, everyone, for useful suggestions and links.

                                  1. For a six month period, a group of us provided food for a friend and his family, five people altogether. At first I transported everything in resealable casserole dishes but switched to aluminum steam trays. I did this so the family did not have to wash and hold my dishes until I came to pick them up again. Since I was not the only person bringing food, they were having to wash and store everyone's containers until they were retrieved by their owners.

                                    I would transport soup in quart-sized mason jars, entrees in the half-sized steam trays, veggies or smashed potatoes in super-sized loaf pans.

                                    If you are in contact with others in the group who are providing food, it would be helpful to know what everyone else is bringing. No matter how many ways each of you might prepare chicken, it is still chicken.

                                    As I got to know the family's likes/dislikes, it became easier to cook for them. Sadly, he passed almost two months ago. I recently made one of his favorite meals (braised lamb shanks) for my own family, and remembered him fondly.

                                    1. There are some great suggestions here. You might want to consider a cooler. If they are not home, you can leave the food for them in a designated spot and it will keep.

                                      Consider putting a little note on top of the delivery letting them circle what meal option they want for your next delivery AND if the person with the illness is not loving some food (or textures/spice).

                                      Try to include something special for their son if you can manage it. For him. Ditto that for other kids of course.

                                      Be sure to check to see what others are cooking.

                                      About the packets - they work out really well. We have done individual chicken and fish packets with veggies that they can just pop in the oven when they want them. Just put a note on the absolute use by date along with the other instructions.

                                      Don't forget dessert!

                                      So sweet. Bless you and your group.

                                      1. Thanks to all who responded. I sent her several options and at her request made & brought a Tex-Mex casserole (Kings Ranch Chicken), cornbread muffins, simple sides of lettuce, sliced tomatoes & sweet corn, and two desserts -- blond brownies and rhubarb-strawberry crisp. Also chips, salsa & refried beans, either for appetizer, more sides or to round-out leftovers.

                                        I Baked the casserole in a double-layer (for strength) of foil 9x13 pans, covered it in foil and put it in a corrugated mailing box that was just slightly larger. Casserole was still hot when it got there. I used a cooler for cold items, bag for all else.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: MidwesternerTT

                                          Thanks so much for reporting back! Sounds like a great food delivery!

                                          1. re: MidwesternerTT

                                            Great idea. I'll bet they appreciated having a "menu" to choose from. I'll keep that in mind the next time I bring a meal to someone. The idea of doubling the foil pan is so smart--I've always worried about the flimsiness of them.

                                            1. re: MidwesternerTT

                                              Wonderful spread you prepared! Best wishes and prayers to your friend and her family.

                                            2. Although people say a lot of stuff about what the sick person may or may not be able to eat, i hope you'll keep in mind that the rest of the family also has to eat.

                                              I have a good friend who's a cancer surviver and i'm sure he would actually appreciate that his disease affected the family as little as possible. (Of course it will be life-changing for the entire family, but the guilt of dictating what everyone else gets to eat is also a problem for some). So you might want to consider making special meal for the sick family-member, like soup or applesauce with whipped cream or whatever they feel like eating at the time. (Their appetite could be heavily affected by their treatment).

                                              If not, then it's a very good idea to make a few different dishes or at least sides. That way everyone wont have to like everything and the sick person wont feel guilty if he can't eat one of the dishes.

                                              I recommend lasagna, because the transport is easy and it keeps warm. Maybe make-your-own baked potatoes (could be quickly reheated in the microwave) with crumbled bacon, lettuce, cucumbers, different sauces and stuff in seperate bags or bowls.

                                              1. What a great group of friends! Best wishes to the patient and her whole family. One other option other than only home-cooked meals: consider a couple of take-out meal gift certificates. Eating tray after tray of lasagna, casseroles, or others can get tiresome week after week--even if it's delicious, just need a little variety. Someone in the family could grab a gift certificate, run out and get some take-away, even saving time/effort in clean up. Just an idea to add to all of your efforts.