We all want to provide help and support to our friends and family when they are struggling or suffering. So we offer our help, but hardly ever end up actually doing anything, because we figure if they really need something, they’d ask, right? But if it were you in that situation, in all likelihood you wouldn’t know what you needed help with. You may feel confused or overwhelmed, and making specific requests may not even occur to you.
So how can we help our friends and family, when we don’t quite know exactly what kind of help is wanted? I think food is always a good place to start! After all, everyone needs to eat (multiple times a day, in fact!) It would be a load off anyone’s mind to know that they had a few meals in the fridge or freezer that they could heat up, especially if they already have a lot on their mind.
My good friend and fellow blogger, Jamielyn Nye, recently published her first cookbook, The I Heart Naptime Cookbook. In the book there’s a section where she shares some of her best tips and recipes for gifting meals. (She mentions that one of her go-to meals for gifting is a Cheesy Baked Ziti, a heavenly pasta bake recipe that I’ve included for you at the bottom of the post.)
Jamielyn’s tips for giving meals…
- Pack up your meal in disposable containers, and include disposable plates or bowls and disposable cutlery. You won’t have to keep track of a serving dish, and you’ll be making their post-meal clean-up a breeze.
- Consider including a few small additions with your meal to make it extra special. Her favorite extras are fresh fruits and veggies, desserts, and even a magazine or two.
A few additional tips of my own…
- Give meals that will keep well in the fridge or freezer, like pasta bakes, casseroles, and soups or stews. This gives the person more flexibility to have your meal when it works for them.
- Make sure to write any important instructions (“bake at 350 for 20 minutes”) directly on the packaging, so it can’t be accidentally misplaced.
- Fridge- and freezer-friendly disposable containers are available in many grocery stores, usually near the paper and plastic products. You can also find a wide variety of disposable containers at food supply stores, if you happen to have one in your area.
- Try to be aware of any food allergies or diet restrictions that your recipient or their family may have. You don’t have to hire a private investigator, but it doesn’t hurt to ask around a bit. Or you could always select a meal that doesn’t contain any common food allergens, like dairy, soy, nuts, wheat, and shellfish, just to be safe.
And finally, for your consideration, here is Jamielyn’s recipe for Cheesy Baked Ziti, which we made for this post (and promptly consumed every last bite!) It’s easy to make, comforting, and most importantly, delicious!
Cheesy Baked Ziti
1 lb. ziti or penne pasta
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup yellow onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb. ground beef
1 (15oz) can diced tomatoes, drained
1 (26oz) jar marinara sauce
2-4 Tbsp fresh basil, chopped
1 tsp kosher salt (or to taste)
2 tsp fresh oregano
1/4 tsp black pepper (or to taste)
1 cup sour cream
2 cups fresh mozzarella cheese, grated
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and spray a 9 x 13-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling water according to package directions, until al dente. Drain the pasta and set it aside for now.
In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic to the oil and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the onion is tender. Add the ground beef and cook until browned, and drain any excess fat from the pan.
Next, stir in the tomatoes, marinara sauce, basil, salt, oregano, and pepper. Simmer for about 5 minutes.
Add the sour cream and cooked pasta to the pan, and stir until combined. At this point you can taste the mixture and adjust the seasonings to your liking.
Transfer half the mixture to the greased baking dish, and sprinkle 1 cup of the mozzarella cheese on top. Pour the remaining mixture on top of the cheese, and add the remaining 1 cup of mozzarella. Finally, sprinkle the Parmesan over the top.
Place the dish in your preheated oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbling and golden. Top with fresh, sliced basil, if desired, and serve warm.
What are your go-to meals for gifting?