"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
August 23, 2012
Meals for New Moms
by Cyndie Swindlehurst


We live in a large ward with many young couples having many babies. Of some debate is how many meals should be provided for a family when a baby is born, who should provide the meals, and who decides the number and providers of the meals.

Also, does the family get a say in what kind of meal is provided? Must dishes be returned to the provider or must the provider pick them up? And is a thank you note required?

Do you have an opinion?


Yes! I always have an opinion.

And I also have a lot of experience receiving Relief Society meals, thanks to chemotherapy a few years back. I was unable to make dinner, clean the house, tend my little children, or do anything else for the better part of a year.

If you ever want to see the Relief Society in action, get cancer! My visiting teacher and my next-door neighbor did so much for me I dare not try to quantify it. Various members of my family lived with us for five months. Then, my friends tended my children and cleaned my house and the Relief Society fed us. For months.

The Relief Society is a storehouse of time, talent, and resources. It should be used wisely to relieve suffering and provide service to people who cannot provide for themselves. I completely support providing meals to families with new babies or who are unable to cook due to illness. But I am wary of ordering meals every time someone needs to feel “loved” or “supported.”

If a sister needs “love” or “support,” but not an actual meal, I think it’s better to call or visit. It is a poor use of Relief Society resources to ask someone to cook and deliver a platter of food to, for example, a family with a laid-up mother but a healthy husband and teenaged children. Or to a sister who is not actually incapable of making dinner (hot dogs!) herself.

Now as to your specific questions.

First: Who decides who should provide the meals and how many meals shall be provided?

Under the direction of the bishopric, the Relief Society president and her counselors oversee compassionate service in the ward. Also, a sister (and assistants) may be called to help the Relief Society presidency identify and coordinate compassionate service. You can read all about it in Handbook 2, sections 9.2.1, 9.2.2, 9.2.5, which is available on the Church website under Resources, then Leadership and Training.

If you object to this decision being made by the ward leadership, tough luck. That’s how the Church works.

If you have objections to the decision itself, call a member of the Relief Society presidency and talk with her about your concerns. It is useful for the presidency to know that meals are being delivered to a family whose teenagers are lounging on the couch in the middle of the afternoon. Or that meals are not being delivered to a family whose conditions are much worse than expected. But remember that even if the presidency listens carefully to and respects your opinion, their decisions may not change to reflect your input.

And also remember that you are more than welcome to take as much food and render as much service as you like to a family willing to receive it.

Second: Who should provide the meals?

I wonder if you are hinting that only mothers of young children should be asked to provide meals to other mothers of young children. I disagree with this. I think everyone should help everyone. The old can help the young and the young can help the old.

Our ward has a brilliant system for deciding who will be asked to bring meals (or provide other service) to sisters in need: we ask everyone! When there is a need, an email (authorized by the presidency, of course) is sent to the entire Relief Society describing the need. Any sister who would like to help then goes to CareCalendar.org to sign up.

This system has two main advantages. One, every sister has equal access to the sign-up process, even if she spends her Sundays in Primary, Young Women, the hall, or her house. Two, no one has to make phone calls. The online calendars fill quickly and the sister being served knows whom to expect. If most of your ward uses email, I highly recommend this system.

Third: How many meals should be provided?

Every family has different needs and resources upon welcoming a new baby. But trying to decide exactly the right number of meals for each individual new mother based on her family’s circumstances would consume a ridiculous amount of time and energy.

Therefore, I am of the opinion that it is best and easiest to offer the same number of meals to each family with a new baby — say, three or five — to be delivered as the family deems most useful. This does not preclude additional meals if there is an additional need, or fewer meals if the family decides it does not need so many.

Fourth: Who decides what the meals are?

The person who provides the meals gets to decide what to bring unless there are food allergies. If you are so particular in your eating habits that you cannot accept a reasonable potluck from the Relief Society, you should simply say, “No, thank you,” when the meals are offered.

A person should not be embarrassed to say no when the Relief Society offers to provide meals. It will not offend anyone. It is far worse to say “Yes, I’d love meals,” when you know your family will not eat them; it wastes time, money, food, and good will.

Fifth: Must the receiver of the meals return the dishes to the provider of the meals?

Of course. If the meal is delivered in real dishes, the person receiving the meal must wash and return the dishes. But if you don’t want to be chasing down your Pyrex, I recommend using disposable foil dishes or plastic dishes that are marketed as disposable, which do not need to be returned.

Sixth: Must the receiver write a thank you note?

Yes! A thank you note is always required. And the receiver is always glad to write one because she knows that most women receive no meals when they have babies, and she wants to acknowledge the kindness of the sisters who take their own time and food budgets to feed her family. So sit down right now and write that thank you note!

Do you have a quandary, conundrum, or sticky situation in your life? Click this button to drop Cyndie a line, and she’ll be happy to answer your question in a future column. Any topic is welcome!

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About Cyndie Swindlehurst

Cynthia Munk Swindlehurst spent her childhood in New Hampshire and her adolescence in San Diego. She served a mission in Manaus Brazil. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and from Duke University with a law degree.

She practiced law until her first child was born. She enjoys reading, tap dancing, and discussing current events. She and her husband live in Greensboro, North Carolina with their two sons.

Cyndie serves as the Sunbeams teacher in her ward.

Visit Cyndie at Dear Cyndie
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