Kristina's Blog: 6 Ways to Pay Food Forward
Posted: Thu 12/08/2011 11:35 AM
I have a few guy friends who love cooking for their moms. I always find this so endearing. I just love the idea of a grown man taking the time to prepare a meal for the woman who raised him, who put so much time, so many years into preparing meals for him. Maybe it’s because I have a son, and someday when he’s all grown-up, I’d be incredibly touched if he invited me over to his bachelor pad and cooked dinner for me. (Of course, I expect the same from my daughter too. I do, after all, have a few ulterior motives to teaching my kiddos how to cook.) Maybe it’s also because food has always been a way for me to give to people, and I’m hoping to pass that on to my kids.
I love cooking, but more so, I love cooking for someone. Anyone for that matter. Yes, I am obsessed with food and eating, but more so, I love the way food brings people together, bonds us with loved ones and strangers alike. And food really is the perfect gift for anyone, because no matter how many differences we might have, the one thing everyone can agree on is a good meal. A pot of homemade stew or a box of brownies is the perfect way to say anything from “Thank you” to “Welcome to the neighborhood” and even “I’m so very sorry.” Of course, keep in mind that all of those messages are mute if you aren’t considerate in your food gift selections. Nothing says, “I don’t care if your stomach cramps” like giving someone on a gluten-free diet a loaf of delicious wheat bread, or “I don’t really know you” like giving a vegetarian friend a box of candied bacon (Oh, candied bacon! Be still my heart. But I digress...).
There was a time in my life, not so long ago, when I was pretty much broke. I didn’t have money to buy presents for people so instead I gave the only thing I could – my cooking. The more I gave, the more I learned an important lesson: don’t dwell on what you don’t have and what you can’t offer, but instead focus on what you do have, and what you can offer.
6 Ways to Pay Food Forward:
1. My “once a week” rule
I try my very best to invite someone over for dinner at least once a week. It’s always nice to have friends and family over, but I also try to think outside my close circle of loved ones. There might be a college kid we know who would love a home cooked meal, or someone new to the neighborhood we’d like to make feel welcomed. Inviting a person over for dinner makes them feel important and lets them know they matter. (And if you happen to run out of people to invite, I am always available and hungry. Always.)
2. Gift card for a home cooked meal
This is definitely one of my favorite gifts to give! I make a gift card for a romantic five-course meal and give it to a couple I know. Then I arrange with them a time for me to come cook at their place, or have them come to mine. I set the table with candles, write out a nice menu to put on each place setting, describing the five courses, and turn on nice background music. My husband usually takes on the role of the waiter, and I cook the food. It ends up being such a great experience for everyone. The couple has a nice homemade romantic meal without having to lift a finger, and my husband and I get to be creative. I’ve done this a few times for single people as well, giving them a gift card that says: “Invite three of your friends for a fun evening of food.” For these dinners, it’s important that you stay out of the way as much as possible. You’re not there to join them; you’re there to serve them. And believe me, you’ll enjoy this just as much as they will!
3. Cookies just because
When my kids were really little, I was trying to figure out ways to teach them about giving—not only giving for special occasions such as birthdays and holidays, but giving for absolutely no reason at all. So, we made a bunch of cookies, packed them up, and placed a little note in each package that read: “Just because...” We sent them to random people in my address book. A few were for friends, but we also packed some up for people I hadn’t seen in years, people who would least expect a gift from me. I’ve tried to continue that ever since, always picking different recipients, and always picking the most random time of the year when no one is expecting a sweet treat in the mail.
4. Helping busy parents
When a couple first has a child, it’s common for friends and family to deliver meals during the first few weeks after the baby is born. But what about after that? As any parent knows, it can be very hectic and stressful raising a family, no matter how old the kids are. Wouldn’t it be nice to just randomly get offered a free meal delivered to your home? Call up a busy parent you know and ask them which day that week they’d like a dinner dropped off. And this next part is important – drop the dinner off and leave! Don’t make the family you’re helping feel that they need to entertain you or clean up the house knowing you’ll be hanging out for the evening. Even if they invite you in, please, drop off the dinner and leave. (Trust me on this one!)
5. Random party
A few times a year, I throw a random party but come up with a really “important” reason for it. It could be a party honoring the genius who invented chocolate chips, or a party celebrating all my left-handed friends, or even a surprise party for my kids, just to let them know how proud I am of them. My husband and I even threw a party celebrating the one-year anniversary of him getting laid off. We wrote on the invitations: “And if you got laid off in the last year, we’ll be celebrating you too!” Be creative and have fun with this!
6. Pay food back
Invite your mom over for dinner. Just because. Or your dad. Or anyone else who spent a lot of time cooking for you when you were a child. Turn the tables, and cook a meal for them, thanking them for all the times they’ve cooked for you.
As we look to the start of the New Year, I encourage you to get in the kitchen with giving in mind. You’ll bring joy to others’ lives, and there’s always the chance that someone will pay it back to you one day.