Monday, October 26, 2009

Mobile Hospitality: What to Bring?

This post is rather long; you might consider "bookmarking" it for future reference after quickly skimming it.

Since I've defined "mobile hospitality" as bringing food/hospitality to others, it's important to know what kinds of food you can bring! There are several concerns to address when picking a recipe/menu.

1. What are the allergies (or severe dislikes) of the recipient? Always determine this upfront. Today, many people are highly allergic to very normal ingredients: peanuts, wheat/gluten, eggs, soy, and so forth.

2. Are there any strong preferences? Sometimes this question is important, especially if young children are in the home. You might as well bring something they will eat!

3. What are their limitations? Is the primary chef completely incapacitated and it's up to children/elderly/inept adult to reheat the meal? Is the family moving and without dishes/cups/pots and pans? Do they have an erratic schedule because they're at the hospital at random hours of the day/night? Will they be entertaining others during this time? (especially likely at a death or during a move if people are helping packing)

4. What are your own limitations? Budget? Time? Inability to run out to the store quickly? Don't like to cook? Do like to cook? You can always team up with someone else to prepare a meal together--one person brings the main course and the other brings salad and bread or something to that effect.

5. Remember that nearly anything can be taken/offered if it meets the following criteria:
  • can be reheated, if necessary, easily
  • can be taken in dishes that don't need to be returned, if possible
  • requires minimal "last minute" effort
  • is something you yourself would enjoy eating/receiving
  • could be stored a day or so or put in the freezer if the recipient has other food as well
6. Remember, too, that part of a meal is often just as welcome. Showing up with homemade muffins or bread will cheer anyone up! Bringing all the "fixin's" along with a pound of BBQ from a local restaurant, a big bag of fresh fruit, or some already-prepped snacks for kids could be your contribution.

7. It's the details that really show some extra thoughtfulness: include a kid-friendly dessert, remember an upcoming birthday or acknowledge an upcoming holiday (I included red and blue Jell-O jigglers in star shapes when I took someone food around July 4th--the kids loved it), remember the napkins and utensils for someone moving, include some fancy hot chocolate mix or tea/coffee, etc.

8. Finally, if you already have a specialty that everyone raves about, read no further! Do you make amazing, decorated cookies? Let the coordinator know you'll bring dessert and then decorate like crazy. Is there a dish everyone comments on when you bring it the church potluck? Stick with what works. You can have a "stock meal" that you always make whenever you bring food to someone; it likely won't be the same person very often, so there's no need to reinvent the wheel each time.

With those guidelines in mind, consider some of the following ideas. If you're part of a group that is taking food over the course of a few weeks, you might check to see what others are bringing. You don't want each to show up with a chicken casserole.

Main Courses
(all of the items below are easy to fill out with a simple bagged salad and loaf of bread or chips or cornbread)

Baked Pasta Dishes
  • easy to cook, easy to freeze, easy to transport, can be very cost effective or bought ready-made and still be delicious!
  • includes things like lasagna (Stouffer's is popular, delicious, and easily available--a good option if you don't/can't cook), manicotti, chicken spaghetti, baked rigatoni, etc.
  • like baked pasta dishes, these are easy to make, easy to transport, often economical, and freeze easily; in addition, they are easily rounded out by a bagged salad and starch of some kind
  • any kind of chili
  • homestyle, hearty meat and veggie soups (with or without noodles, rice, or other starch)
  • home-y soups like potato, chicken and dumplings, etc.
Comfort Food
  • especially welcome during times of trial/stress; usually a crowd-pleaser
  • includes things like Chicken Pot Pie, Shepherd's Pie, Meatloaf
  • if you're taking food to a small family--perhaps a couple who's just had their first child--then make a bigger pot roast, extra mashed potatoes, and such and simply bring over the leftovers
  • Grilled meats or a ham that taste good hot or cold, can be used in salads or sandwiches
Ready-made Favorites
  • don't have time to cook? Pick up a main courses, fill out with other storebought items or fix the accompaniments yourself
  • Particularly good for people moving: Deli tray or pizza
  • Other good options: BBQ, fried or rotisserie chicken, spiral sliced ham
Non-Bagged-Salad Side Dishes
  • if you have extra time and/or think the person might be getting tired of salad
  • Speedy Rosemary Green Beans (bag everything together and write directions on it; stick it in their freezer) or any bag of frozen veggies with cooking directions and/or special seasonings attached
  • Spinach Maria or Spinach Souffle
  • Potato dishes like Twice-Baked Potatoes, simple baked or sweet potatoes, make ahead mashed potatoes
  • Cold sides like Coleslaw, fruit salad, Jell-O salad, veggies and dip
  • Quiche (transports easily and can be eaten for any meal of the day)
  • Muffins
  • Homemade Bread (yeast bread or quick breads)
  • Homemade Granola
  • few people think of this, but if a family has young children and they are tied up moving or tending a sick relative in the hospital or something like that, already-prepped snacks can be a welcome addition
  • cheese (cut up) and crackers
  • jello squares
  • snack mix/trail mix
  • granola bars
Desserts/Sweets (yum!)
  • Brownies
  • Cookies
  • Snack Cakes (the kind that don't need icing)
  • Homemade pudding
Special Circumstances
  • People Moving won't have lots of dishes available, so take food that won't need reheating and/or can be eaten easily with disposable plates/utensils if necessary; in addition to food, they would appreciate drinks/cups and napkins
  • Ethnic Groups: if your church ministers to an Asian group, for instance, you might be called upon to take food to someone from China. Perhaps a bag of stir-fry ready veggies (all chopped up), some cut up meat, and some cooked rice would be a good idea. They can throw together a quick meal from that point.
  • New Moms: it's best to avoid spicy foods and hard-to-digest foods such as cabbage or beans that can cause distress in a nursing baby. Sometimes, nursing mothers don't have to avoid anything, but you never know those first couple of weeks. Keep it simple.
  • Texture issues: very young children and sometimes the elderly have trouble chewing hard, crunchy items. Instead of sending salad or carrot sticks, you might offer a cooked vegetable or some options (cucumbers, for instance, are softer than carrots) or even a fruit dish like applesauce or jello salad.
  • Erratic Schedule or Impaired Immune System: A person may need to minimize the number of visitors to the house if a very sick person is being cared for. If they are back and forth to the hospital at random hours, then it can be hard to coordinate with people bringing food. Sometimes, it's best to group together and each provide a meal for the recipient's freezer. One person can work with the recipient to meet up and drop off the food all at once.

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