(Excerpt from book due to be published in late 2016)

What to do upon hearing of a death? (continued)

Our last blog post was too long for a quick read so we split it up. Here is the second installment.  If you haven’t read the first installment  of What to do upon hearing of a death? or want to refresh your memory,  click here.

What food is best to take to the bereaved family immediately following a death?

There are likely to be a lot of people visiting  and/or staying with the bereaved immediately after a family death, and people have to eat!

Often the family ends up with too many casseroles and not enough staples. Keep in mind that practical and tasty is often better than a gourmet spread. It is also a good idea to include freezer wrap or a freezer container for cooked food so it can be easily frozen and brought out a few days later.   If you are using your own kitchen/dinnerware, be sure to put your name on the bottom.

The following is a variety of suggestions.  Remember you are trying to help, not impress.

  • Coffee (ground, decaf and regular), tea, sugar, half & half and bread
  • Bottled water, Zero Water, and low-sugar bottled drinks
  • Eggs, bacon, bread and a half gallon of orange juice
  • Bagels & cream cheese, scones and jam
  • Butter, olive oil, coconut oil and bottled salad dressing
  • Peanut butter and jelly
  • Fruit: apples, pears and bananas
  • Selection of cheeses and crackers (throw in some gluten-free)
  • Assorted nuts, pretzels and separately wrapped pieces of chocolate
  • Cold cuts, multi-grained loaves of bread, and bottle of mustard
  • Cans of tuna/salmon, bread, brown rice cakes, capers and jar of mayonnaise
  • Trimmed, raw vegetables and a container of hummus
  • Platter of grilled vegetables
  • Soup, stew and/or chili in freezer containers
  • Macaroni & cheese or lasagna
  • Egg and vegetable frittata
  • Quiche
  • Meat loaf
  • Rack of cooked spare ribs, cole slaw and corn muffins
  • Roast chicken
  • Frozen hamburger patties, buns, onion and bottle of ketchup
  • Small frozen pizzas
  • Pasta, potato and cole slaw salads
  • Whole Foods cold vegetable salads
  • Undressed chicken salad from a good Chinese restaurant, with dressing on the side
  • Cookies and brownies
  • Microwave popcorn
  • If children are present: hotdogs & buns, peanut butter & jelly, Kraft boxed macaroni & cheese and mozzarella string cheese packets

Other items that can be dropped off at any time in the coming weeks

If you know the family is going to request a donation to a favorite charity, be sure to put the deceased name on your check before you send it.  That done, you may still want to do something more personal. The following are a few ideas other than food.

  • Flowering plant such as orchids, tulips, mums, daisies, hydrangeas, etc.
  • Rose bush, tree sapling
  • Professionally prepared succulent garden
  • Note cards and stamps
  • Wind chime
  • Candle
  • Framed quote that will bring comfort – with note suggesting they pass it on to someone else in the future
  • Hand and body lotions
  • Garden stone with a message
  • Book, if you know they are a reader.
  • Buy a three-ring binder and install dividers and pockets stuffed with pens, stamps, envelopes, as well as empty pockets for incoming medical bills/mail, death certificates, and other important papers relating to the death.
  • Religious items if you know the person’s commitment to a certain faith.
  • Blank journal and a packet of gel pens
  • Gift certificate for a massage

Coming next: Part three – The Service: What to do/not do, say/not say, wear and not wear

Vicki Panagotacos PhD, FT is a grief counselor and life transition coach.  She writes for her blog,, is founder of, and author of Gaining Traction: Starting Over After the Death of a Life Partner.
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