Foods that can comfort grieving families

Aug. 27, 2013 @ 10:18 AM

I faced the sad task of attending two funerals during the past week, one of which was for my grandfather, Silas Kenneth Jenkins.

For various reasons, I wasn’t as close to my grandfather as I should have been, a fact I became painfully aware of as a stroke took him into his last month of life. Those same reasons made the several days I spent with family awkward as I reconnected with people I hadn’t been around in quite some time.

Despite the somber occasion, I was glad to reconnect with long-lost family members. A chance for bonding with uncles, aunts, cousins and more came after the funeral, as we waited at the family house on Jenkins Street for something to eat.

We didn’t have long to wait, as Cousin Luann and Aunt Glenda drove up. They brought a delicious beef and potato stew and a deep pan full of macaroni and cheese. The highlight to me, however, was Cousin Luann’s Chicken Casserole (recipe below).

Many cultures have traditions surrounding the time before and after funerals. A few examples:

• In traditional Chinese culture, the family shares a final meal with the deceased. They line up dishes facing the body, each aligned a certain way. They eat roast pig, chicken, duck, rice, fruit, tea and wine.

They do this to nourish the spirit for its journey to heaven, with the hopes that the deceased will look upon them favorably and care for them from the great beyond.  (Source:

• Jewish people spend seven days after the burial of a loved one in Shivah (literally “seven”). They spend that time in their homes, mourning their loss. The first meal of Shivah is known as the Seudat, or the meal of condolence.

Seudat is provided by a person’s neighbors and friends; it’s expected that grieving family members are too sad to provide for themselves. The meal isn’t elaborate, and consists of round bread or bagels and either hard-boiled eggs or lentils. (Source:

• Those who are Greek Orthodox traditionally hold a wake after a death, although it’s not required by their religion. Bread, fish, olives, cheese and salads, as well as spanakopita and tyropita are served. Oh, and wine, brandy and Greek coffee. (Source:


If a friend has lost a loved one and you want to serve the family in some way, offering to bring food by the house is an idea that shows you care. Here’s a few tips I’d suggest:

• Call and ask first. The family might not want anyone to drop by, or they might have more than enough food. Offering to bring food by the day after the funeral, when things are less hectic, might be just as welcome.

• Make a casserole, a stew, a bread or dessert, anything that can be served simply and stored easily.

• Don’t expect to eat with them. Be ready to bring your dish to the house, say a few quick words and leave again.

• Take your offering in a disposable container, so the family won’t feel obligated to return it to you when done.

• Know your audience. Don’t give spicy food if you aren’t sure the people who are dining will be able to eat it. If you’re making something sweet, make sure it’s understated in presentation.

I know my grandmother Barbara, my Uncle Devin and my father (Ken) were thankful to Cousin Luann and Aunt Glenda, especially since Glenda (my great-aunt) was also mourning the loss of her brother. I offer you Cousin Luann’s Chicken Casserole in the hopes that it might provide your family comfort one day as well (although, if you wanted to cook it up one Tuesday night just to feed the kids, I’m sure she wouldn’t mind).


Cousin Luann’s Chicken Casserole

4 boneless chicken breasts, cooked and shredded

2 cans condensed cream of chicken soup (feel free to use light)

1 8 oz. sour cream

2 cups cooked rice

1 stick unsalted butter, melted

1 1/2 sleeves of Ritz crackers, crushed 


Cook the breasts up in a pan with a bit of olive oil and a dash of salt and pepper. Using a fork, shred the meat into pieces.

Preheat oven to 350. Mix soup and sour cream. Add shredded chicken to soup and sour cream mixture.  Mix well.  Place cooked rice in bottom of 9-inch by 13-inch pan (or larger); spread chicken mixture over rice.  Mix crushed crackers and melted better. Top casserole with cracker mixture.  Bake 30 minutes, uncovered.


For a bit of variety:

• Add veggies to the chicken mixture (i.e. 1 can cooked peas).

• Add 1 tablespoon poppy seeds to cracker mixture.

• Substitute low fat plain yogurt for sour cream.

• Change up the topping. Use herb-flavored stuffing mix or fried onion mix (like you would for a grean bean casserole).

• Use chicken breasts with the bone in. Instead of cooking them in a pan, boil them in a pot with onion and garlic powders, salt and pepper, and a dash of cayenne pepper.