Sympathy Meals

Preparing Sympathy Meals

Among the most thoughtful and popular ways to show sympathy and offer condolences when there is a death is to send the deceased’s loved ones a meal. These meals let the family know they are in your thoughts and it relieves them of the burden of shopping for and preparing food. Having good healthy food to put on the table quickly and easily is especially important when stress is high and there is lots to do.

When it comes to preparing sympathy meals, you can provide a meal for the grieving family on your own or work with a group to deliver multiple meals. You can give sympathy meals either before or after the funeral, or both.

Working on your own is a simple and straightforward way to lend a helping hand. You can prepare one meal or several. It’s entirely up to you and will undoubtedly be appreciated.

If you prefer, you can organize a group of cooks to conduct a “meal train.” The meal train concept is simple: you rally others to develop a schedule of sympathy meals for delivery to the family on given days. The advantage of this approach is that you can make sure you include a variety of selections. That way, you don’t risk having; for example, lasagna or tuna casserole delivered several nights in a row. A meal train is a great way to provide meals over an extended period.


Not everyone is comfortable in the kitchen. That doesn’t mean you can’t still help the grieving family. Consider giving gift cards to local restaurants or food delivery services. Grub Hub, Door Dash, and Uber Eats, for example, all offer gift cards.

Sympathy Meals: Considerations

Whether you decide to go it alone or make your meals a group effort, there are some things to keep in mind.

Involving the Family

If you are making one meal for a family you know well, you may be able to decide what to make without talking directly with them. On the other hand, if you plan to set up a meal train or make multiple meals, it’s best to get some guidance from the family. That way you are sure to provide meals they will enjoy.

If you are setting up a group effort, choose one person to be the contact. That way the grieving family doesn’t have to answer numerous calls and respond to the same questions over and over again. If you don’t know the family well enough to feel comfortable asking questions, enlist the help of someone who is better acquainted with them. Below are some of the questions you should get answers to before kicking off your organizing effort.

Questions to Ask Before You Start Cooking

  • How many people are in the household and are there special considerations due to age? For example, if there are young children you want to make sure that you consider the type of food they like as well.
  • How would they like the meals timed? You want to have the food dropped off at a time that is convenient for the family and coincides with their meal schedule.
  • Do they have special drop off requirements? It may work best for the family if the meals are placed in a special cooler outside their door. Or perhaps they would like to receive a text that you are on your way or the food has been dropped.
  • Does anyone have food sensitivities or food allergies? Allergies are of particular importance. You do not want to include foods that may cause an allergic reaction.
  • What type of foods do they like? Everyone has preferences. Perhaps they don’t care for spicy food or a certain type of ethnic cuisine. That’s not to say that you have to prepare a specific meal, but you do want to avoid foods they specifically avoid.

The point is, you are trying to make the lives of those who are receiving the meals easier. It is counter productive to provide meals they can’t or won’t eat.

See our most popular recipes for Funeral Receptions

Tips for Creating Meaningful Sympathy Meals

  • Make enough, so there are leftovers. You don’t have to make enough for an army but don’t skimp either. They may have an unexpected guest, or like your meal so much they’ll give it another try.
  • Make something easy to store and reheat. You want to make sure that what you are preparing can be frozen in case they don’t eat it right away. It should also be easy to reheat in either the oven or microwave.
  • Include preparation instructions with your meal. A simple list of instructions on how to reheat your food will be greatly appreciated. If there are any other preparation instructions, be sure to include those as well.
  • Include a sympathy note. Your message doesn’t have to be elaborate, just a sentiment that lets them know you are thinking of them.
  • Include drinks and a dessert. Providing a complete meal is particularly thoughtful. Beverages are often overlooked, and dessert may be something that can be eaten either with the meal or enjoyed later.
  • Consider lighter fare such as salads, fruits, and cheeses. It is common for sympathy meals to be old fashioned favorites such as casseroles. Something fresh and light can be a welcome change.
  • Include a list of ingredients. Unless you are absolutely sure that your food will not trigger allergies or violate dietary restrictions, include a simple list of the ingredients that are in the food.
  • Use containers that don’t have to be returned. There are many inexpensive options for packaging food so that the family doesn’t have to track you down to return your containers. Something that can be reused is great, but so are disposable containers that can go from oven to table.
  • Put some thought into what you will prepare, but you don’t have to go outside your cooking comfort zone. If your meal freezes well, is easy to transport, simple to prepare, and easy to eat, you’ll be fine.

Ordering Sympathy Food

Cooking a meal is not the only way to offer food as a show of your support to a family that is grieving. For many people, purchasing prepared items is an attractive option. There are dozens of places to order food as an expression of sympathy. Among some of the popular national online retailers are:

These companies carry a variety of items and you should be able to find something for just about any taste and price range.

Another alternative to cooking yourself is to provide the family with gift cards to popular local restaurants and meal delivery services.

Now that you’ve committed to preparing a meal, it’s time to choose what you want to make. If you’re lucky enough to have a go-to recipe that travels well, is easy to reheat, and appeals to a wide range of palates, then you’re good to go. If you’re stumped on exactly what to choose, the following list can help. We’ve gathered some popular options and included links to the recipes. You can also find ideas on our funeral food recipes page.

Do you have a favorite sympathy meal recipe? If so, we’d like to post it. Email us at, and we’ll share your recipe with full attribution.

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