Beyond the Casserole: How to Take a Meal to Your Sick Friend like a Rock Star


By Marissa Henley, local cancer survivor and author of Loving Your Friend Through Cancer

In previous posts in this series, we’ve looked at ways to provide emotional support and practical service for a friend with cancer. Close, inner-circle friends will care for most emotional and logistical needs, but those in the outer circles also wonder how they can help.

Even if you aren’t besties with your friend who has cancer, you still have a role to play in her support network.

You have three responsibilities:

1. Pray.

2. Communicate support.

3. Bring food.

If you’ve been an adult for awhile, you’ve probably taken a meal to a new mom. But the needs of women with cancer are different. You’re not dropping in on a smiling (but exhausted) woman cradling a newborn—in fact, you may not see your friend with cancer at all when you deliver a meal. Your friend’s family may be receiving meals for several months, not just a few weeks. She may have strict dietary restrictions or preferences that need to be considered. When you take dinner, you have an opportunity to love your friend well and show your concern.

Here are some ideas for those who want to take a meal like a rock star:

1. Take a family recipe. Ask the patient or someone close to her if they can pass along one of her favorite recipes. If she has small children or picky eaters at home, they will be comforted by familiar foods.

My family received more than 100 meals when I had cancer, and the most memorable was the casserole that my friend Sarah made for us. She asked for one of my go-to recipes. She was willing to cook something that was new to her, but familiar to us. No amount of chemo-induced nausea could keep me from the dinner table that evening!

paper plates2. Bring paper plates. Do you enjoy washing dishes? Your friend doesn’t, either. And she probably doesn’t have the time or energy to finish that chore. She may not have extra money to spend on paper plates. Bring a large package of them with your meal, and you’ll put a smile on her face!

3. Include breakfast, lunch and snack foods. Your friend will be so thankful that you brought dinner. But her family probably wants to eat three (or more) times a day. Consider bringing healthy, ready-to-serve items for breakfast, snacks or school lunches.

Not only will you save her time and energy, you will save her money at the grocery store. When you’re spending money on co-pays and deductibles, lower food expenses are a blessing!

4. Leave your kids at home. If your friend is recovering from surgery or receiving chemo, she needs extra protection from germs. And while I’m sure your children never pick their nose or lick the slide at Chick-fil-a, your friend will benefit from being exposed to as few people as possible. You also want to keep her home calm and quiet in case she’s resting.

Whenever possible, leave your children at home or in the car while you deliver the meal. And if anyone in your home is sick, let your friend know before going to her home.

5. Offer to return dishes. Please take your meal in disposable containers. The last thing she needs right now is to keep everyone’s dishes straight and return them. If you must take a dish you need back, label it with your name and tell her you’ll stop by in a few days to retrieve it.

If you want to go the extra mile, ask if others have left dishes that need to be returned and offer to return them for her. She will appreciate your help with this task!

One last thing to keep in mind: if you are hesitant to take a meal because your cooking skills are like mine (terrible!), consider grabbing a pizza or take-out from their favorite restaurant. When I was sick, some of my husband’s colleagues ordered a pizza for us every Tuesday, and it was my kids’ favorite day of the week! Your thoughtfulness in serving your friend by meeting her family’s basic needs will far outweigh your shortcomings as a chef.

Your friend needs to know she’s loved and supported even more than she needs dinner.

When you meet her need for a hot meal, you also communicate your concern. You let her know she is not forgotten or alone in this fight. So keep taking those casseroles like a rock star until your friend is healthy and standing at her stove again.

Marissa Henley headshotMore about Marissa: Marissa Henley, author of Loving Your Friend Through Cancer, is a follower of Christ, wife, mom, and cancer survivor who writes about faith, friendship, and cancer at Most days, you’ll find her drinking a latte while shuttling her three kids around in a minivan, wondering if the dog will ever learn to stay and if she’ll ever love cooking as much as her husband loves eating.


  1. I once had a difficult-delivery/husband-out-of-town week and a couple of friends came to
    1. visit
    2. drop of hot-from-the-oven sour-dough cinnamon rolls from scratch
    3. wash my bedding.

    I cannot tell you how many tears of joy I cried over the bedding.
    And I will not tell you how many of the cinnamon rolls I ate.

    These ladies were not besties, just ladies from the church who knew what to do.
    (My besties had babysat the whole week before, and conducted my homeschool as if they knew what they were doing! <3

    • Katharine, What a wonderful and encouraging story! I would cry happy tears if someone brought me warm cinnamon rolls, even without changing my bedding! 🙂 Your friends sure knew what they were doing. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Your suggestions have always been very helpful! I’ve been following your guidelines. Thank you for helping each of us become a more helpful friend to those in need especially when the need is long term.

    • Thank you, Sandy! I’m so happy to hear that the posts have been helpful to you. 🙂 (And I apologize for just now seeing your sweet comment!)

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