Here at Lotsa Helping Hands, we often hear from our very own members. This guest blog post comes from Karen, who writes about finding the right recipe to meet a family’s needs.
I recently received an email from a parent of another child in my daughter’s third grade class. Another mom—someone new to town, who I don’t yet know well—was scheduled for reconstructive surgery following a mastectomy. She’d be in the hospital for five days, followed by least another five days of strict bed rest, and probably many more days where she wouldn’t have the energy to cook for her family. One way our community was coming to her family’s aid was by organizing meal deliveries. Of course I wanted to help out.
Now, I should confess right now that I’m not much of a cook. I can follow a recipe, but cooking has never been my thing. I have a few go-to recipes for occasions like this—things that travel well, re-heat easily, and can be frozen if they’re not needed immediately. Most often, I make my mother’s lasagna, a pot of chili, or (if I’m feeling especially ambitious) homemade macaroni and cheese. But none of those were going to work this time; this family had requested no dairy, no meat, and all organic ingredients. My limited repertoire was too limited. What was I going to do?
Normally my first step would have been to contact the parent who was coordinating the community to see whether she knew of some of the family’s favorite meals. Having a eight-year-old of my own, I know how tricky it can be to find something that everyone will enjoy, with or without additional restrictions. In this case, though (for a few reasons), it seemed best to tackle the challenge on my own.
As it turns out, many online recipe databases have advanced search features that allow you to limit your search results to recipes with certain criteria. For example, epicurious.com allowed me to search among vegetarian main dishes, excluding those that contain dairy. Likewise, allrecipes.com allowed me to search dinner recipes that were vegetarian and dairy-free, and I could list specific ingredients to include or exclude. Both sites also allow you to search based on other important criteria like gluten-free, kosher, low-sodium, and diabetic friendly. Basically, I could customize my search to the particular needs of the family I wanted to cook for.
Because I did not know for sure whether the meal requirements were the result of an allergy or a preference, I was extremely careful as I cooked to make sure that my counter, cookware, and utensils were clean. I read every label to make sure there were no “hidden” ingredients in anything that went into the meal. (It’s amazing how many things contain some form of dairy!) I also used a disposable foil pan, which not only ensured that no unwanted ingredients made their way into the dish, but also meant that the family did not have to worry about returning the pan when they were done.
I took the time to type up all of the ingredients that had gone into the meal, hoping it would give this family peace of mind that their needs and wishes had been met. This step is especially important when you are feeding a person with allergies; one person with a peanut allergy may be comfortable eating foods processed in facilities that also process tree nuts, for example, while others may not be able to take that chance. If you provide a list of specific ingredients (including brand names), they can check for themselves and feel more comfortable enjoying the meal.
And what did I end up making? A cheese-less quiche made with organic free range eggs, soy milk, and organic broccoli and tomatoes, a salad of organic greens, and blueberry crumb bars for dessert.
Between food allergies, restrictions set by doctors, and dietary preferences, it can sometimes be tricky to find meals that meet a family’s needs. But the logistics of finding and preparing the right recipe should never prevent someone from the simple act of kindness that sharing a meal represents.
What do you take into consideration when choosing a meal to deliver in your Community? For more meal ideas, check out our Meals That Bring Comfort board on Pinterest!