Last Updated on October 7, 2021
Making and delivering a sympathy meal is a wonderful way to show love and support to a grieving family.
Sharing food – especially a homemade meal – or showing care by sending an edible gift will often be remembered long after the flowers have faded and all the words of condolence are forgotten.
Meals After a Funeral
For those who have experienced meal sharing, perhaps through a church ministry after a surgery or from a mom’s play date group following the birth of a little one, these meals can provide a sense of comfort in continuity with the other ups and downs of life.
For those who have never experienced this tradition before, a sympathy meal delivered to your door can have an incredible impact in the midst of grief.
Whether you’re making, delivering, or organizing sympathy meals after a funeral, our guide is designed to help you keep it simple and heartfelt while taking into account each individual family’s needs.
How to Organize a Sympathy Meal Train
Meal Train is popular website that helps you plan, organize, and schedule meal deliveries for a family in need.
It’s so popular that the term “meal train” has taken on a life of its own, and people often use the term for meals after illness, birth of a baby, or death in the family, whether or not they actually use the site.
If you’re the one organizing sympathy meals, here’s how to get started.
1. Use a scheduling service like Meal Train
It’s very simple. You can set up the service in minutes, then you can share the link by text or social media and have people sign up for specific dates to bring a meal.
Meal Train is by far the most popular, and other similar platforms include:
2. Find out the family’s details
Get their address, how many people (including visitors) to cook for, what time of day works best, if there are any dates where they will be gone.
3. Ask out about allergies and intolerances, likes and dislikes
Ask if they have any dietary restrictions, or if there are particular foods they prefer or avoid.
4. Discuss drop off options
Most people would welcome a text letting them know that the meal is on the way.
Some might want people to come inside, others might prefer leaving the meal on the porch. Talk about what arrangements work best for them.
5. See if they would like to some company
Ask the family if they would be open to invitations to dinner at a friend’s house, or if they would appreciate having those who make and deliver the meal to stay and share it with them.
Sometimes what people really need is a break from the home and some good company!
Meal Delivery Tips
Advise each person or family who is delivering a meal to consider the following tips.
1. Use disposable containers
The last thing a grieving family needs is to have to wash and return your dishes. So use disposable containers, or be sure to explain that the dishes are theirs to keep and reuse.
2. Provide paper plates and plastic cutlery
This will ensure that the family has zero cleanup.
3. Text the family 2-3 options
Consider sending the family an “order form” of 2 or 3 dishes you are prepared to make, and let them choose. Come up with one rich and decadent dish, a good ol’ fashioned meat-and-veggies option, and a lighter choice like salad, fruit, and charcuterie.
4. Choose a meal that is easy to reheat
The family may not know ahead of time if they will be away or overwhelmed with food on your meal delivery day. So pick a recipe that can be frozen and reheated while still tasting great.
5. List the ingredients for each item
Include a detailed list of all ingredients; this helps to address any potential allergens or dietary issues. (Remember that there may be visitors with a different diet, too.)
6. Make plenty of food
Be aware of the number of people in the family, and anticipate the possibility that they may have relatives visiting. Bring enough food for the family plus some. They can always enjoy the leftovers for lunch the next day.
7. Double it up
Consider making a second meal to go into the freezer for a later date.
8. Include any instructions
How to prep, heat, freeze, and/or reheat. Make it simple!
9. Don’t forget sides, dessert, and drinks
Craft a well-rounded meal by including drinks and tasty sides, then finish it off with a touch of sweetness.
10. Add a personal touch
Write a sympathy note expressing your condolences. Include a vase of fresh-picked flowers, a succulent, some soothing essential oils, a refreshing lotion, a small toy for each child, or some other sympathy gift.
Bonus: Be ready to stay and chat, or drop off and leave
In other words, be flexible, and don’t get easily offended. You’re showing courtesy and consideration for the grieving family.
When you arrive, they might appreciate your company and want to talk. Or they may prefer to have you ring the doorbell and take off. Either way, the point is to provide a helping hand.
How to Order Sympathy Meals for Delivery
If you’re not able to cook a meal at home, or don’t have the time to prep and deliver a meal in person, you can still participate in the sympathy meal train!
Here are some options.
Order online for delivery. Services like Door Dash or Uber Eats allow you deliver virtually any restaurant’s takeout to the grieving family. Order on the app in a few minutes, schedule the delivery, and you’re done. Just be sure to text a condolence note and let them know that a meal is on the way.
Get takeout and deliver it in person. Let’s face it: Not everyone can cook. If you’re not sure about your skills in the kitchen, or don’t have time to whip something up, just order takeout and deliver it yourself. Everybody likes a good home-cooked meal, but then again, everybody likes a good restaurant-cooked meal too.
Send a gift card. Most restaurants offer gift cards which can be sent virtually. This can be a thoughtful way to contribute, and with the bonus of flexibility for when the family chooses to order. If they are overwhelmed with food, they might appreciate the ability to save your gift certificate for another day.
Popular Sympathy Meal Recipes
Here are some wholesome, delicious, and easy-to-prepare recipes that travel well. All are recommended for sympathy meal trains.
White Chicken Chili
This easy sympathy meal is ready in under 40 minutes. It holds well in the slow cooker and is a budget-friendly (yet still delicious) way to feed a large family with comforting soul food.
Layered Shepherd’s Pie Casserole
For a delicious and easily re-heatable twist on a classic shepherd’s pie, this layered casserole combines ground beef, potatoes and veggies into a delicious sympathy meal.
Easy Pasta Skillet with Meatballs
This is a great dish to serve friends and family at any large get-together. The Meatball Pasta Skillet is simple, delicious, and easy to make.
Instant Pot Butter Chicken
Easy Instant Pot Butter Chicken features aromatic curry and tender, juicy chicken in a buttery tomato sauce. This delicious sympathy meal cooks up in less than 25 minutes and transport easily, making it ideal for meal trains.
Funeral Potatoes with a Twist
Cheesy potato casserole – so popular around funerals that this dish is literally called “Funeral Potatoes” – is the ultimate make and take food. Everyone loves it and it is so easy to make, this recipe has an added twist that makes it extra good!
Hamburger Vegetable Soup
Hamburger Vegetable Soup will be your go-to recipe for a healthy, comforting meal for family and friends. A one-pot meat and veggie soup ready in less than 30 minutes, it’s both hearty and soul-satisfying.
Vegetarian Enchilada Casserole
Vegetarian Enchilada Casserole transforms vegetarian enchiladas into an easy make-ahead Mexican casserole that freezes well and the whole family will love.
This one is a great alternative to many of the delicious yet *possibly* overdone rich Southern comfort foods that typically show up after a funeral.
What to say: Words of Comfort for Someone Who Lost a Loved One
This Pepperoni Bread is a super easy and delicious stuffed bread recipe that is sure to be a hit with everyone. AND there won’t be any leftovers to clean up or store. Win-win.
Chicken & Rice Casserole
This from-scratch version of Chicken and Rice Casserole is made without canned soup! It is made with quick-cooking brown rice, chicken, creamy sauce and fresh veggies. It easily bakes up to make a complete meal perfect for a covered dish delivery in a sympathy meal train.
Baked Greek Pasta
This Greek Pasta Bake is loaded with vegetables, feta, and pasta for filling, well-rounded meal with exciting flavors. It’s great for feeding a crowd and the leftovers reheat well. This meatless main dish is great for a potluck too!
Rustic Rye Sourdough Bread Recipe
Nothing comforts a grieving heart like homemade bread. Make a loaf of this delicious rye sourdough and deliver along with softened butter and one of the soups, stews, or casseroles on this list.
Transports easily, and can also be used to make sandwiches.
Three Bean Chili (Naturally Vegan!)
This delicious three bean chili is an inexpensive classic that is perfect for any group. The simple ingredients make it naturally both vegan and gluten-free without having to resort to weird substitutions – in other words, it just tastes great.
For meal trains, it keeps well in the refrigerator or can be frozen for future dinners.
Make-Ahead Pancake Casserole
Meal trains should include a breakfast dish! This pancake casserole can be made the night before. Drop it by the receivers house and they can bake it in the morning for a quick, comforting breakfast.
One Skillet Baked Ziti
One Skillet Baked Ziti with Meat Sauce is the perfect, easy pasta dish for anyone in your life that needs a comforting meal. Baking it in a single skillet makes for quick preparation and very minimal clean up as your prepare this tasty casserole for a potluck or meal train sign up.
Tater Tot Casserole
This classic Tater Tot Casserole has a creamy, flavorful filling topped with golden tater tots. The author of the recipe told us that they call it “tater tot hotdish” in Minnesota, where it is a potluck staple.
Make-Ahead Buffalo Chicken Stuffed Peppers
This easy make-ahead dish features peppers stuffed with buffalo chicken. It’s one of those comforting crowd-pleasers that makes great leftovers, can be easily doubled to feed a larger family, or can be prepped ahead of time and baked on-site.
Flavorful Slow Cooker Salsa Fresca Chicken
This easy chicken recipe with chicken breasts is a slow cooker sympathy meal every recipient will appreciate. The best part is that this crock pot chicken dish is designed for busy weeknights and for making ahead and re-heating.
Bolognese Pasta Bake
Bolognese Pasta Bake is a different take on lasagna. The same elements are all there, but it’s a bit messier and heartier. As a classic comfort food, it will lift the spirit of anyone tucking in.
Simple Tuna Noodle Casserole
This simple tuna noodle casserole is an excellent comfort food and easy to make in large batches to feed a crowd. With freezer options as well, you can make some now (for the funeral potluck) and save some for later (for your own family or as a sympathy meal for your friend).
Moroccan Carrot & Red Lentil Soup
Moroccan Carrot Red Lentil Soup is a meatless soup recipe packed full of flavor! Cumin, turmeric, coriander, paprika and cinnamon compliment the red lentils and carrots, creating a creamy, filling soup.
Sausage Tortellini Soup
Ready in just about half an hour, this simple Italian sausage soup is lightly creamy, full of flavor, and makes a great dish to bring to someone in need.
Easy Chicken Stuffing Casserole
This chicken stuffing casserole is a classic, stick-to-your-ribs kind of meal. This creamy casserole is easy to prepare, and a great way to use leftover chicken or a rotisserie chicken.
Meatless Baked Ziti
This meatless baked ziti is a comforting and filling dish. Creamy, cheesy and full of tomato flavor, it’s a classic dish loved by many. You’ll find it an easy-to-prepare dinner for a sympathy meal or potluck dish.
Make-Ahead Breakfast Casserole
This overnight sausage and veggie egg casserole can be frozen or made a day in advance for easy entertaining. Completely customizable and great for feeding a crowd, it’s ideal for meal train delivery. Whether they eat it hot or freeze it for later, this sympathy meal will taste just as great either way.
Slow Cooker Pork Shoulder
This slow cooker pork shoulder is quick to prep with simple ingredients. This southern staple yields loads of fall-apart-tender meat that is perfect for a variety of easy recipes like tacos, nachos, burritos, and pulled pork sandwiches. Send it along with a bottle of your favorite BBQ sauce, sandwich buns & tortillas and it will feed a crowd for cheap.
Slow Cooker Lasagna
Slow Cooker Lasagna is an easy recipe to bring your favorite Italian dish to a dear friend. It cooks in your crockpot while you go about your day, making your day to bring a sympathy meal a simple and pleasant occasion. It is hearty and flavorful, using ground sausage and beef, rich tomatoes, vegetables and a creamy cheese mixture.
Hearty Beef & Cabbage Soup
This beef and cabbage soup travels well and feeds many. It contains a healthy amount of vegetables and protein for a nutritious, energizing dish.
Find more recipes here: 55+ Comforting Funeral Foods