Beyond the casserole

Leslie Shalabi is a HER Magazine contributor. Photo taken on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017. PHOTO CREDIT: NICKI KOHL

Leslie Shalabi is a HER Magazine contributor. Photo taken on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017. PHOTO CREDIT: NICKI KOHL

Food is such an important part of traditions and rites of passage — not just in our country but around the world.

Chicken soup is an important postpartum staple in countries as varied as China and Mexico, for instance.

However, there is one rite of passage in our country where food moves beyond its typical role of enjoyment and celebration to one of nourishment, love and care. And that is the time-honored tradition of bringing food to a family with a new baby. This is a joyous, scary, wonderful, stressful time for new families or families adding new members and relieving the mundane but vitally necessary task of meal preparation is a godsend. I find it quite moving that in the fast-paced, social media driven, over-scheduled world that we live in, that this tradition is alive and well.

I did a little informal survey about this on my Facebook page. I asked new moms (and dads) if they had people who brought them food, and if so, what were some of the things that they received that they particularly liked and what did they wish they had more of.

Since I don’t have kids and have not experienced this process on the receiving end, there were several answers that I found helpful and meaningful and will be adding to my repertoire of food to bring new parents. I thought I would share those things with you.

The most important meal of the day

If I even stopped one second to think about this, I would have come up with this on my own. But I didn’t and am grateful to hear from friends that breakfast items were some of the most unexpected but appreciated food items that they received when just home from the hospital.

Here are what a couple of friends had to say about that:

“One thing I wish I would have had on maternity leave would have been easy, filling breakfast casseroles. I ate a lot of oatmeal and cereals during my first couple of weeks. Would have loved an easy casserole to heat up every morning.”

Another friend: “Breakfast is vital while nursing and that seemed to be the toughest time to find something filling enough to get the day started.”

Others reported getting homemade granola or energy bites that were great to grab for a quick snack at any hour of the day.

The mother of all meals

Casseroles top the list of foods that we share with our new moms for a lot of good reasons. They are hearty, easy to heat up, freezable and if made in a foil pan, super duper easy to clean up. Tuna noodle casserole, tator tot casserole, baked spaghetti and lasagna are Midwestern crowd pleasers that many moms told me they received on their first days home from the hospital. When making these casseroles, perhaps consider sliding in a few more vegetables than called for to add some vitamins and fiber to these comfort foods.

Or, how about a rotisserie chicken? It’s easy, can be eaten from for several meals and if it comes from the grocery store, easy to throw away the plastic container when finished. And the carcass could easily become chicken soup.

Think small

Splitting that casserole into two smaller portions — one for now and one for the freezer is a great idea. Or, consider individually wrapped burritos or breakfast burritos. These have the extra added benefit of being able to be eaten with one hand — great for nursing moms.

Procrastinators welcome

For those who have the best intentions of getting meals to a new family right when they get home from the hospital but just can’t seem to get around to it, never fear! Many moms report that getting food in week three or four also is appreciated, especially if there are other kids at home.

From one friend: “We had way less help after the second baby than we did with the first. I think it’s important to have meals in the first month, or even after the second month, too.”

Another friend: “We had a lot of deliveries in the first two weeks. I kind of wished that some would have come in weeks three and four, as we had started burning through the meals we’d put up for ourselves by then.”

But here is the most common thread among all the moms who commented on my Facebook post: No matter what it was or when it was delivered, home cooked meals were very much appreciated.

Leslie Shalabi is co-founder of Convivium Urban Farmstead, a Dubuque-based nonprofit organization based on the idea of creating community around food. A lifelong lover of food and entertaining, she is dedicated to helping people find ways to connect through the universal languages of food and hospitality.

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