Food for Thought

Return of the ‘Casserole Brigade’

Sharing meals is a wonderful tradition that takes place every day in neighborhoods across the region, something that came as a warm surprise to a friend that moved from overseas. Whether a family is mourning the loss of a parent or celebrating the birth of new baby, sharing a meal is one way to show how you care and to be there for your friends. A friend calls it the “casserole brigade.”

The arrival of a newborn is a perfect time to pitch in some help to new parents facing serious sleep deprivation. Add in older siblings and the demands on a new mother’s time become even more stressful to manage.

The memories are all still too vivid for me. By the end of the day, the last thing on my mind was opening the refrigerator door and praying that I had something in there that could be transformed quickly into a passable dinner.

So it was wonderful to answer the phone and hear a generous offer of a delicious meal brought right to our door. Often, the meal arrived warm ready to place on the dinner table; other meals were simple to heat up in the oven or microwave. Most came with fresh green salads and desserts. Many of the selections — such as the frozen chicken turnovers packed in lunch-sized portions — were recipes that other moms had prepared for my friends when they were tending to their own newborns.

Along the way, we tasted a little of the world outside our home. The entrees that arrived took us from Mexico (enchiladas) to Italy (ravioli and stuffed shells), from Greece (pastitsio) to the American South (pecan-crusted chicken tenders on greens with BBQ dressing). We also got treated to one of our favorite restaurants when a friend brought take-out from Joe’s Inn, along with fresh-baked brownies that were still warm when we cut into them after dinner. New neighbors even provided some extra treats, including fresh-baked cookies and ice-cream desserts.

If good food wasn’t enough of a treat, our caretakers usually went a step further to make things truly easy for us. Many offerings came in disposable containers, saving us from washing and returning dishes — and saving every precious minute to respond to baby cries. In fact, one friend even stockpiles butter tubs and other containers so she’s ready to get a meal out the door quickly when needed.

While it’s nice to be on the receiving end of so many tasty meals, it’s as much fun preparing a meal for another family. I’ve whittled down my recipe options to meals that are easy to pack, reheat (if desired) and nutritious, particularly if a new mom is nursing. Warm weather options include quiche variations, while cool-weather care packages often feature a chicken-and-broccoli casserole — a hand-me-down family recipe that brings 1950s home-cooked comforts.

Now that we’re settled into our new house and have unpacked our pots and pans, our kitchen is starting to get a workout. So, it’s my turn to keep the food chain in motion. Among the first meals in our first month was a care package for some new neighbors, who’d already welcomed us with cookies. Plus, I’ve got a growing list of expectant moms to take care of in the coming months. FS


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