Setting up a food tree

Tunisian Chicken Stew

Do you remember the first few weeks after your first child arrived? For me, it’s blurry, but it goes by like a slideshow. Sleeping on the floor in my son’s room so we could make sure he was OK. The anxiety around leaving the house for the first time. Breastfeeding as I was trying to remember whether I had showered or brushed my teeth that day.

Needless to say, after a baby arrives you go into survival mode. Despite what you might read and what others might tell you, you really have no idea how much your life will change. That’s why having help is a lifesaver. We were very lucky as my family lives in town and my dad loves to cook, so we had amazing meals for a few weeks after the baby arrived. But most people don’t have that luxury.

If you know someone having a baby and would like to mobilize friends and family to help out, here are some tips on how to get started:

  • Find out what the family needs. This might sound obvious, but you might ask the expectant mom if she needs any other help than food — it could be that her partner will be going back to work and you can drive her to a doctor’s appointment. Or she could need help with errands or laundry. It may be that you set up a food tree to start with, but let participants know that down the line you might contact them if other things come up. Also, don’t assume that if a woman is having her second (or third) child, a food tree is not needed — for these moms, it might even be more appreciated!
  • Come up with a basic questionnaire to email. Assuming you end up setting up a food tree, email a list of questions. You should certainly inquire about food allergies/sensitivities (don’t assume you know!), food likes/dislikes and what restaurants they enjoy, to give folks the option to order carryout if they would prefer not to cook. Should meals be microwavable, or does the family plan to use freezer space to heat up meals? What time of day do they usually eat?
  • Decide when friends and family should sign up. It’s great to start this conversation a month before the baby’s due, since it’s such a hectic time and you never know if the baby will arrive early. The new mom might want meals to arrive right when the family returns from the hospital, or doctors may advise that visits be restricted until the baby is a few weeks old to avoid germs. If partners go back to work two weeks after the baby is due, that might be a good time to start meal deliveries. Chances are, once the mom is home alone she would love some visitors. In addition to deciding when meals should start, you will need to decide how often the family would like meals. Friends might deliver meals that can last more than a day, and some expectant moms freeze meals to heat up when the baby arrives. Many food trees I have seen have meals twice a week, set to arrive in the middle of the week. This can also allow the new family to have meal deliveries last longer, instead of having 14 meals delivered in a 2-week span.
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  • Set expectations. Make sure participants understand that the new mom’s primary responsibility the first few months postpartum is to rest and take care of her child, so long visits might not be in the cards, and in fact, there is a possibility mama and baby will be sleeping during the drop-off. If you set this expectation at the outset, the new mom has “permission” to not worry about being a hostess.
  • Relay contact information. It’s rare for new moms to be online, so make sure food tree participants know the best way to reach the family (it might be through the partner’s cell phone). Encourage friends and family who sign up to contact the recipient a day in advance so she knows when the meal will be dropped by. Some new moms put a cooler outside the front door in case they are out or if they are sleeping when deliveries are made.

A site I have used a few times is CareCalendar. Simple yet fully functional, you can communicate with a group about what needs the family has and provide a web-based calendar to sign up. Reminders go out to the recipient, the Coordinator and the volunteer, so once the calendar is set up, the organizer’s job is done.

Although this might sound like a lot of work, it isn’t and will make a HUGE difference in the first few weeks for a new mom and her family!

Is there anything I missed?

Written by: Nicole Basham

About Nicole Basham 793 Articles
A native Austinite and soccer-playing mom, Nicole uses her 10-year-old son as an excuse to rediscover her hometown through his eyes. In Thoreau's words, her mission is to "suck out all the marrow of life", or in her son's words, to cultivate in him a love of "advenchers".

2 Comments on Setting up a food tree

  1. There is a Yahoo group that is an offshoot of the Austin Mamas group – it’s called the Red Tent group and it’s function is to provide meals, playdates, and anything else a mom might need after a new baby, a serious illness, or other emergency. It’s a wonderful community and it makes me love this city even more.

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