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Funeral Food: How grieving and eating go together

by | Jul 21, 2016 | For Families

A tray of food

Don’t underestimate the power of a home-cooked meal.

Food is often used as a way to connect with each other, express our sympathy, and help families through the most difficult time of their life. Among the flowers and sympathy cards, a family’s table gets filled with casserole dishes and baggies of baked goods. It seems one of the best ways to heal a grieving heart is through the stomach.

Food: The Universal Gift

The food might differ, but sending a meal as a way of saying “I’m sorry for your loss” is common across cultures and religion. From the Jewish tradition of Seudat Havraah, or meal of condolence, to the classic funeral Jell-O salad, food is a common way to comfort.

In her book, Death Warmed Over: Funeral Food, Rituals, and Customs from Around the World, Lisa Rogak explores the history of funeral foods and the traditions behind them.

Here are a few examples of regional traditions:

  • In the Hindu faith, meat isn’t allowed during the mourning period, so baskets of fruit or vegetable samosas are common to give families.
  • Down in New Orleans, funeral food comes in the form of a jambalaya.
  • The Amish bring a raisin-filled funeral pie. It became a favorite because the ingredients were readily available and the pie keeps pretty well.
  • In the American South, classic feel-good comfort foods like fried chicken and macaroni and cheese are common.
  • In Sweden, Funeral Glogg is commonly used to toast the departed.
  • The Midwest is famous for classic funeral hot dishes and casseroles.
  • Utah and Idaho have their signature dish: Funeral potatoes. Funeral potatoes are a popular dish for all kinds of events, but they got their start as a common side dish at Mormon after-funeral dinners.

Why Food?

The use of food for grief goes way back. The funeral feast was part of both ancient Egyptian and Roman funeral traditions. Even humans living 12,000 years ago had funeral feasts.

The reasons behind each culture’s tradition of giving food to mourners are different. But the core idea is the same. At a time of loss, it’s about community and human connection.

For the person making the meal, it’s an honest and personal expression of sympathy. In our busy world, taking the time to buy ingredients and prepare a meal means a lot. To the person receiving the meal, it’s not only a touching gift, but it also gives them one less worry during that stressful time.

Funeral Food Tips and Resources

Here are some tips when it comes to funeral food. Feel free to share them with your families!

  • Attach a list of ingredients to meals that you leave for a family. This can help avoid any issues with dietary restrictions. Also, leave instructions on how to reheat and store the food properly.
  • If you don’t have time to cook, buy fresh produce to drop off for the family. With all the other planning they have going on, it will save them a trip to the grocery store.
  • Buy disposable containers, paper plates, and plastic silverware to limit the number of dishes for the family to clean.
  • The best meals are simple ones. Try to keep the food to something that freezes well, can be reheated easily, and doesn’t spoil quickly.
  • If you’re looking for inspiration, check out Rogak’s book Death Warmed Over for some recipes from around the world. Or check out this link for some more traditional and easy funeral food recipes.

What are some of the special funeral meals you or your families make? For me, it’s taffy apple salad — sweet, simple, and sure to bring a smile to someone’s face. Let us know your favorites in the comments below!


  1. anastacia

    Why do we eat after funerals? How was that started?

    • Jacob Terranova

      Hi Anastacia,
      The reasons we eat after funerals vary from culture to culture and the ritual dates back thousands of years. In fact, the first recorded “funeral feast” dates back 12,000 years ago, to a cultural group known as the Natufians.

      Two historical reasons we eat after a funeral have been to help the family of the deceased by providing them with food during their time in need. This was especially important if the deceased was the primary caretaker of the family. Another reason was that it was simply a way to get a community together and celebrate the life and memories of the deceased.

      Both are still common reasons we see food at funerals or post-service receptions today.

      It has also become common practice today to incorporate the favorite foods of the deceased into the reception, as one more way to celebrate their memory.


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