Beyond Meals–Tips for Helping Friends During a Hospital Stay

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Blog originally posted on TakeThemaMeal.com on January 21, 2013

The past few weeks, I’ve taken meals in to two different friends. One just had a baby, and the other’s husband had been in the hospital for a minor surgery. Meals are always appreciated, but there are some other great things you can do for friends and neighbors when someone in the family is experiencing a hospital stay.

The Snack Basket: This is hands down my favorite way to help someone out during a hospital stay. When E was in the hospital after his first seizure, one of our friends raided her pantry and brought us a huge basket of snacks. It was full of things like granola bars, fresh and canned fruit, and crackers. It was a lifesaver!

Often, when a family member is in the hospital, people are coming and going, but no one has time to sit down to a full meal, or do any grocery shopping. Everyone’s schedules are disrupted. This is especially true if the hospital visit is unexpected. During a family emergency, eating right (or eating at all) can be the last thing on anyone’s mind. We literally lived off of our snack basket for two days. It’s also portable, and can be carried back and forth to the hospital, where both patients and visitors often need or want something to eat.

Snack baskets are also quick and easy to put together. Try picking up a few cheap baskets when you see them on sale. There’s a good chance you’ll have enough food in your pantry and/or refrigerator to make up a basket on the spur of the moment. You could also include things like homemade cookies, beef jerky, fruit leather, nuts, popcorn, pretzels, juice, and even some chocolate or candy. Easy Mac is great for older kids who might be home alone without anyone to cook for them. Individually packaged portions like the 100 Calorie Packs are great for something like this too.

An Offer to Watch Children: If you can offer to take someone’s children during a hospital stay, I can tell you from experience, they will be eternally grateful. This is especially true of mothers who are due to deliver a child and have other young children at home. More so if they don’t have family in town. One of my biggest concerns when I was pregnant with my second and third child was what I would do with the other kid(s) when it was time to go to the hospital. A new mom might also appreciate someone taking older kids for a few hours once she and baby have returned home.

I also know how grateful I was when a friend came to my house at 5:00 am so I could be at the hospital for a 6:00 am surgery. She woke the children and got them dressed and ready for school so that my husband could accompany me to the hospital. What to do with the children is always a stressful thing to consider when a family member is in the hospital, and anything that can be done to help out in that area is always greatly appreciated.

Hospital Care Kit: Depending on the situation, you could put together a small care package to send along to the hospital. Consider including things like books and magazines, lotion, Chapstick, snacks, warm socks, change for vending machines, and for expectant mothers, a scrunchie to hold their hair back during labor. If children will be frequent visitors to the hospital, you might even include a few art supplies or small toys.

Freezer Meals: Like I said, meals are always appreciated. However, people often receive more food in the week or two after a hospital stay than they can possibly eat. For this reason, I like to take in a freezer meal whenever possible. Meals that freeze well include soups, Mexican dishes like enchiladas, pasta dishes like lasagna, and most casseroles.

 

Freezer Meal

 

I always splurge on disposable pans and Gladware when I take in a meal. I don’t want the people I’m trying to help to have to worry about returning any dishes to me. It’s the last thing someone wants to think about during or after a hospital stay. If you’re taking in a warm meal and don’t want to use disposable dishes, ask if you can transfer the food to the recipient’s dishes right then. You can take your dishes home and they won’t have to worry about returning them later.

Often, the most overwhelming time for a new mom or someone who has been in the hospital comes few weeks later, when everyone has stopped pampering them and the offers of help have died down. A freezer meal will be very much appreciate then!

Gift Cards: Consider a gift card to any a local restaurant that delivers. Pizza is the obvious choice, but depending on the family, you could do Chinese or sandwiches. This is a great option for providing meal if you are busy too and don’t have time to cook for your family and someone elses. And much like a freezer meal, it can be saved for a time when other offers of help have slowed down.

Mixes & Staples: My friend Kristen recently told me that when she brings a meal, she also likes to include some homemade pancake mix, along with instructions and a few staples, like eggs and milk.

There are tons of recipes for mixes in a jar out there. Many of them would be fun to include with a meal, and would be great on their own as well. It might even relieve a little stress for the family members at home to be able to whip up a batch of cookies together, using a mix and other ingredients that you’ve provided. People appreciate knowing that you’re thinking of them. You don’t have to do something elaborate or time consuming to let someone know they’re in your thoughts and prayers.

Don’t be afraid to get creative and ask what’s really needed! Sometimes the answer will be meals, but there are often other things that people are in need of when they or another family member are in the hospital. And don’t forget that the time after arriving home from a hospital stay can be a difficult transition with different needs. One thing is certain, your help will be welcomed and appreciated.