Know a Family Who’s Having a Baby? Bring Them Dinner (plus a Friend’s Recipe for Beef Stew)

I can still remember the little knock at the door, and the outstretched arms with a plate of chocolate-chip pancakes with strawberries on top.

I can smell the perfume of that homemade chicken and rice soup still warm in the pot, the overflowing grocery bag of frozen food and snacks, and the basket of mother-daughter homemade cookies. But most of all, I remember their faces, and how their small gestures had a huge impact on me.

One of the Greatest Gifts You Can Give a New Mother is the Simplest: Dinner

Welcoming a new baby or adopted child means over-the-top joy as well as over-the-top turmoil. You feel delicate in every way, and when your baby is crying all the time, keeping you up all night, or so needy you can’t keep up with basic household tasks, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and alone.

Sometimes You Have to Give to Know How to Receive

Before I experienced that outpouring of love and support with my third child, I didn’t get the whole meal-delivery thing. We lived in Arlington, Virginia, and some of our good friends were Mormon. I remember being in awe of their strong communities, and how a whole support system went into motion as soon as someone had a baby, got sick, or went to the hospital. Community members were organizing and signing up to bring meals, take care of the kids, and whatever else was needed to help keep the family afloat.

But still, I was busy with my own life, my own activities, my own family.  I admit, I didn’t always put my name on the sign-up sheet at the preschool for the family who had just had a baby.  Even though I had been very involved with my neighborhood and school, I was pregnant myself, stressed with an upcoming move, and feeling like I could barely keep my own life together.  But after experiencing this simple yet powerful gesture, I have changed my outlook.

Random acts of kindness are good for my own soul.  Even though I don’t deliver meals as much as I’d like, I know how that one small action, that half an hour of time, really means a hell of a lot more in someone else’s life.

The Other Side of American Individualism

We’re so busy working, taking care of ourselves, maintaining all the things that we have bought with the money we earned that it’s hard to make time for getting involved in our communities.  I see how my own time and energy is being eaten up by our first house:  yes, having our own place is exciting, but it’s also a burden and “can make us isolated monads in a world that needs collective responsibility,” as Philip Kennicott put it so well in his review of the National Building Museum’s long-term display, “House and Home.”

As we wind down our work on the house, I am resolving to do some more reaching out and helping other people, rather than just helping ourselves.  Friends, neighbors, family:  people are what really make life worth living and sustain us over the bumpy road of life.

June through September is prime time for new humans entering the world, and I know both a neighbor and a friend who are having babies soon. I have to keep reminding myself, it’s not about a four-star, super-delicious dinner. It’s about simple food and nurturing.

4 Ways to Bring a Meal to a Pregnant Lady or New Mother

1.  If you live nearby:  Walk over a pot of your favorite soup, pasta, or stew (see my friend Carly’s recipe for beef stew, below). Come back in a day or two to pick it up. There’s is something so satisfying and generous about sharing a pot; it’s like channeling grandma.

2.  If you need to drop it off:  Make double of what you are eating for dinner, and package up half in plastic containers or disposable ziplock bags. Include side dishes like salad, fruit, bread, and dessert if you like.

3.  If you can’t cook:  Call up and order a pizza or have Chinese delivered. Pick up a roasted chicken or some prepared foods the next time you are at the grocery store.

4.  If you’re part of a group:  Organize meal delivery with friends using a free online service like or With these Web tools, you can avoid the tornado of back-and-forth emails, and convey information like locations, ideal times, and allergies.

Here’s a one-pot dinner that my friend Carly and her daughter brought over, still warm, when we had Mark. She was doubly generous to type up the recipe because I loved it so much.  So if you’re looking for a dinner idea, here you go:

Simple Beef Stew

Carly says, “The recipe also calls for 1 cup diced green pepper and 1 cup chopped turnips, if you are interested. On occasion I use green pepper if I have it on hand but have never tried it with turnips.”

(adapted from Betty Crocker’s New Cookbook)

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 lb. stew meat in 1-inch cubes
  • 3 cups hot water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 cup sliced carrots
  • 1 1/4 cups potatoes, cut into pieces to your liking (skin optional)
  • 1/2 cup sliced celery
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  1. Heat oil in large pot. Cook beef in oil about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until beef is browned. Add hot water, 1/2 tsp salt, and pepper. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer for 2 1/2 hours.
  2. Stir in remaining ingredients except cold water and flour. Cover and simmer about 30 minutes or until veggies are tender. Remove bay leaf.
  3. Shake cold water and flour in a jar. Gradually stir into pot. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir 1 minute or until broth is somewhat thickened.

One last way to give something free.

Even if the early days are as peaceful as a sleeping baby, new parents (and second- and third-time parents) need a hug of congratulations and the kind of “how are you?” that waits for an answer.

And one more thing you could give a new mother?  Make her promise not to bother with a thank you note.

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  • Agnes June 12, 2012, 10:02 pm

    I am so glad to see that you chose this for subject for your blog. Your ideas can also be applied to the arrival of a new family to the neighborhood. I am from another generation, but I will never forget the little freckle-faced child who showed up on our door step not long after the moving van had pulled away. She’d brought us cookies. What a difference that little welcoming gesture made to my young family which had just arrived from a distant state.

  • Emma June 8, 2012, 8:45 am

    Our community uses to organize meal trains. Very easy to use and we love the reminder email. We recently used it for a close friend’s little boy who was in a very bad accident. He was in the hospital with a fractured skull and severe concussion. Setting up a meal train has allowed us to plan 12 meals for this family very quickly.

    • Amy June 10, 2012, 3:19 pm

      Dear Emma,

      Thank you for telling me about your experience with MealTrain. It’s great that there are so many services out there to help people help people! And I love that you banded around this family who was in trouble. I know you made a huge difference in alleviating their pain.

      Thanks for writing in, Emma,

  • Elizabeth June 8, 2012, 6:35 am

    Loved this one. I gotta say, the Jews have this one pretty down, too. It’s very part-and-parcel of the religious teachings. At our synagogue, we have a committee that deal nearly exclusively with this- organizing sick visits, meal delivery. Pretty cool. THere are actually whole freezers of things ready, so when there is need, someone just signs in on the freezer door to say what they took, and off they go!!! AND my neighbor is having a baby soon, and that is exactly what I was planning to do- actually, before the baby is born so she can just freeze it…bringing over a lasagna.

    • Amy June 10, 2012, 3:28 pm

      Hi Elizabeth,

      This is amazing! Religions of all types seem to have the community thing down, and it’s so heartening and inspiring. I love the idea of keeping a synagogue freezer stocked full of home-made frozen meals that can be taken wherever there is a need. It seems it would avoid the rushing around and coordinating of the meal train, especially if you have volunteers whose job it is to deliver the meals.

      Thank you for sharing your story,

  • Michelle June 7, 2012, 9:46 pm

    If the new mom has some older kids already, another nice thing to tuck in with dinner are a couple of activities they can do on their own. Coloring sheets, a bag of buttons and a knotted lanyard, paper dolls, etc. It’ll help mom catch a little break when the baby finally dozes off.

    • Amy June 11, 2012, 9:03 pm

      Hi Michelle,

      I love these ideas! So thoughtful and unusual, and it makes the older kids feel special too.

      Thanks for sharing, Michelle.


  • Michele S. June 7, 2012, 9:23 pm

    OH my goodness! Our informal neighborhood/church group/friends have been doing this kind of things for years. But I never knew there was a website template like ! I learn something new every day. I just got done organizing a meals schedule for a neighbor going through chemotherapy. This would have made the process ten times easier. I will be sure to use it next time.
    And while the point of dropping off a meal is to be helpful, kind and generous to the receiver, I have found that doing such gives me so much in return as well. .. a sense of satisfaction that I am putting into action the values I hold dear. Thanks Amy!

    • Amy June 7, 2012, 10:13 pm

      Hi Michele,

      Yes, these web tools do make organizing so much easier. I think they are great for communities that are already cohesive, like yours. For ones that are just starting, the human touch will probably work better: asking someone in person to help, calling, or writing a personalized email. More work, but often more effective in rallying the troops.

      And I so agree — giving is so rewarding because you know you are really helping someone. No strings attached.

      Thanks for writing in!

  • Anonymous June 7, 2012, 3:23 pm

    i grew up in RVA where communities take care of one another, it was how I was raised and all I knew. I was saddened to see the lack of this when we moved to Alexandria over 10 years ago, and knew I had found the right schools and church for my family when I discovered that meal trains and family missions do indeed exist up here. Takethemameal is a fabulous website, it is like evite for meal trains. When someone is sick or has a sick family member, has just moved into a new house, lost a job, has a spouse out of town/deployed, the anniversary of a sad/tragic event, a new baby, etc., milestones sad and happy, reaching out only takes a few minutes. Setting up a meal train online takes 5 minutes, tops, leaving some flowers from your own garden, leaving a handwritten note, or just a phone call offers a connection. I am glad to know your perspective has changed on how important it is to participate this way, I wish your attitude was contagious.

    • Amy June 7, 2012, 9:58 pm

      Hello there,

      I loved hearing about your close-knit communities and how amazingly you take care of each other. You are so right: even bringing cut flowers from your yard, or just writing a note or making a phone call would be a special gesture. Yes, my perspective has totally changed. I think what we are missing these days are more tight-knit communities that make this kind of sharing and helping more second-nature.

      Thank you for sharing your perspective,

      • Anonymous June 8, 2012, 7:08 am

        The episcopalians have it down too, our church in OT has a meal mission, new baby mission, sick and elderly mission etc. I make more meal mission meals for people I don’t know than I know. To keep it economically I save and reuse take out/doggie bag containers and I have a few meals I can make quickly and I can keep ingredients in stock so when they go on sale I buy in bulk, such as penne vodka, quiche, banana bread, french yogurt cake, green bean salad, etc. and for friends that live somewhere else, I wait until Georgetown Cupcake has one of their 40% off promotions, which I think they are doing this weekend, and order a dozen cupcakes to be delivered. With the promotion, which comes off the shipping too, it makes it a very affordable surprise, people love getting that pink box.

        • Amy June 10, 2012, 3:21 pm

          Hi there,

          I loved hearing about all the different goodies that you stock up on for the people in your community — even Georgetown Cupcakes!

          It warms my heart to hear about how much people are helping each other and sharing.

          Thank you for writing in,