Give The Gift Of Food (And How To Make Cheesy Baked Ziti)

Tips For Giving Meals

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.)

Tips For Giving Meals

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!

Tips For Giving Meals

Cheesy Baked Ziti

from The I Heart Naptime Cookbook


  • 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.

Tips For Giving Meals

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.

Tips For Giving Meals

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.

Tips For Giving Meals

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.

Tips For Giving Meals

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?

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Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee


Bright Ideas

  • Do you know I found that a large non dairy creamer container or large mayo container (plastic)
    Free and disposable are good resources for soup. I love to bring it and it matches my limited budget. Add a sleeve of crackers and some blueberry muffins. Most people feel blessed.

  • sounds like a great recipe and I can’t wait to try it………………..My future daughter-in-law has breast cancer and I’ve been taking meals over to My son and Crystal’s house every tuesday. Would love to make this but must use white sauce or cream soup instead of tomato sauces as she is allergic to tomatoes…………………..Be well and thank you for all you do for all of us……………………………………..

  • What a great tip to provide your gift of food in a disposable container and disposable tableware. My husband past away suddenly a few years ago and many friends were generous with their gift of food. But having to clean up and keep track of numerous pots and pans caused me stress. Also skip the lasagna as a gift; I did not mean to be ungrateful, my boys and I ate lasagna every tuesday for maybe three months. After I shared this lasagna and dish issue with a couple of close friends, they provided meals like shepherd’s pie, beef tenderloin and baby potatoes. Lots of good alternatives out there. My go to gift are banana, cinnamon or apple loafs. They freeze well and can be eaten at any time of the day or night.

    • I usually take paper plates, plastic cups, plastic cutlery, tissues, paper towels, and trash bags when someone passes away. It seems everyone always brings food, but seldom the things needed to serve and clean up afterwards.

  • Fantastic ideas. Thank you. I’ve never thought of paper plates and disposable cutlery. My usual gift to people that are sick is home-made chicken noodle soup. I deliver it in a thermos and have lost a few in my time by forgetting who I gave it to and them forgetting who they got it from. I have yet to have anyone tell me they couldn’t eat it but they’ve all said it helped them get better faster.

    I use plenty of garlic,, lots of chicken with bones and skin, a lots of vegetables. All good-for-you stuff. Oh, and I make my own noodles.

    Another staple to give (mostly to people that are busy or just moving or something similar) is lasagna. My lasagna is just so-so but it’s always well received. I’m going to have to try your idea for us then I’ll find someone to present it to for one reason or another.

  • Love Pamela’s idea too. Sometimes when your sick, a fresh lemonade or even fruit or cucumber water in a pretty, non-returnable container. Dollar store has cute pitchers for next to nothing. My go to is minestrone soup because I can spice it up for folks with cold and bring french bread or croutons for topping. For those more ill, I make it blander and even puree about a third to make easier to digest. Luckily, most have gotten well and asked for the recipe when they can really enjoy it.

    • Lynne, you made me laugh with that “Luckily, most have gotten well…” comment. :-) I had a friend bring homemade mac n cheese and rice crispy treats to my children when I had my last baby. It was perfect comfort food and made their tired mom feel so good to see something delicious that my children loved to eat. Made me realize you don’t have to do fancy to do it right. Also had a friend bring us hot baked potatoes with all the toppings (sour cream, mushrooms, grated cheese, broccoli cheese sauce). Again, great comfort food and easy to fix. Soup is nice because it can be reheated and easily portioned. Love this post today!

  • My mother was known for her delicious lasagne. Whenever someone died, she’d take the family a lasagne. It not only helps them, but I think it also helps US to be able to busy ourselves doing something useful and tangible to help when words just don’t seem like enough. Thanks for your great post!

  • I’m not commenting on this. When I was in JR High we girls had to take home economics. The sewing teacher told us all to keep all of our ruined hosiery, be sure to wash it. So when we had to make a stuffed animal, we could use the hosiery as stuffing. It’s incredibly soft and you’re reusing the ruined hose.

  • Hi Jillee:
    I;m a new subscriber. I an Guardia to my 71/2 year old grandson, Nicholas. He has so many clothes its reduces. I now set then aside at night for the mornings. I found that he wasn’t wearing most of them, and I was giving away clothes he literally never wore.
    One fine day I had an epiphany: What if I set out a weeks worth of cloths instead? I pulled all his T shirts and shorts out of the drawers and was saddened to see so many beautiful clothes that were now too mall and never even worn.
    I rewashed everything and passed on the smaller items. Then I ironed the Tees and shirts. I paired each one up and by the end of the day I had matched up two weeks worth of clothes. He now dresses much better, as he utilizes a larger selection, and I spent time pairing them. I put them in a drawer with matching socks and underwear and I now have two weeks worth of clothes ready. I kept doing this and he dresses so much better.
    Now, when my clothes come out of the dryer I pair them together. My bought Tees and shorts for my orphan clothes and life is so much easier. Some clothes I pair with other pieces in three weeks and he still look like he’s wearing new threads.
    Good Luck to you Jillee.

  • I make kebabs, like flat patties, fry n freeze, veg or just meat, only need to be defrosted & if wanted warm can be reheated on stovetop in fry pan or covered in microwave .

  • Excellent, Jillee! I could’ve used this earlier this year when my friend was so ill with chemotherapy. He lives 30 miles away and I don’t have a cooler. Besides, his sister and neighbors kept his refrigerator well-stocked. I settled for taking him beverages as he was so very tired of water.

    I’ll keep these tips for my next sick friend or neighbor. Thanks a million!

  • Terrific post! I will be using this recipe & including cutlery, etc. next care package. EZ for everyone. (I’m buying this book for myself and giving)!
    Excellent blog. Congratulations!

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