Sharing food is a central act in life. It has a power that extends beyond providing for nutrition and physical survival. The offering of bread is central to so many of the world’s religious celebrations’ it obviously feeds the soul along with the body. There is a healing power in these food traditions which is rooted in the heart of community.

Getting news of a friend’s breast cancer diagnosis sets the mind racing, wondering how best to support her and her family during upcoming treatment. It is only natural that your mind would settle on the idea of meal preparation as the most immediate of physical helps for a family going through the challenges of illness. However, now more than ever and with the patient and family under this new strain, it is important to keep lines of communication open to make sure that you are truly helpful and not otherwise.

A few thoughtful considerations can go a long way in ensuring that you will be welcomed when you ring her doorbell or step in through the back door over the next few months. Before automatically assuming that your cooking is what she wants, be direct and ask her family. Sometimes there is a family member who already does that job and finds comfort in the task. You certainly would not want to try to disrupt this. Maybe in that case your friend would prefer knowing that you could help with laundry or cleaning on some scheduled basis. These tasks are often overlooked by individuals hoping to help.

If meal provision still appears a viable way to really contribute, ask your friend or her spouse to be up front about food preferences and allergies. Perhaps they can name some favorite dishes or recipes the family would enjoy. Ask what days of the week would be best for delivery of hot meals. Avoid cooking rich foods that would cause the family to suffer from the same after affects of being on a cruise liner. Remember to respect the dietary guidelines of vegetarians or religious dictates.

Deliver meals in non-returnable containers. Individual sized servings pre-wrapped for the freezer is often a good idea for a family that must stay on the go while Mom is not up to par. Keep in mind that the breast cancer patient is going to have her dietary ups and downs in response to her treatment and plan to inquire about these along the way so that you can add some special accommodations for her as necessary.

To make the task easier for yourself, enlist mutual friends in coordinating a cooking and delivery schedule with you, a communal sharing of effort and expense. Helping stock the freezer with dishes of self-contained meals may be the right way to go for both the casserole brigade and your friend. Don’t forget to let the family know that under no circumstances are they to be burdened by writing Thank You notes. Tell them that the best thanks you could ever hope to receive is their well-being.