So your friend is going through a tough time, and you feel completely useless. When the well-meaning note just doesn’t feel like enough, sometimes the best thing we can do is head to our kitchens and prepare a meal to share with them. Whether it’s a joyful birth, a demanding sickness, or a painful death — food is always welcomed during times of chaos, and usually smells just as good as flowers.
Even better: organize or join a group that is providing regular meals to get your friend through. (There’s even an app for it — check out the Meal Train.)
But before you show up with yet another lasagna dish, let’s think through some helpful meals that will work with most restrictive diets.
A dish that jumps on the meal-train ideally needs to check a few boxes. For one, the meal needs to be simple. It should be easy to travel with, and making something that can be frozen adds convenience and flexibility. It should also be uncomplicated for your friend to take the final step to get it to the table.
A meal like this doesn’t need to cost a fortune, but it should be somewhat healthy. Your friend is undergoing enough stress as it is, and they’ve most likely had their fill of cheap fast food. In addition, there are many food allergies and preferences to account for, so it’s also best to have options that cater to your friend’s dietary restrictions.
And obviously, it needs to be delicious soul food. Otherwise, what is the point?
It can feel like an overwhelmingly tall order, but don’t worry — it’s doable. From vegan to Paleo to Keto, I’ve wrangled up a list of delicious, freezable, healthy meals that will soothe your friends — and have them texting you for the recipe because they’re going to want to eat it again.
Carrot and white bean ribollitta for that vegan or vegetarian friend: Ribollitta is a Tuscan soup made from white beans, leftover vegetables, and thickened with stale bread. Free of meat, you can use whichever vegetables make sense seasonally. Add a baguette (and maybe some parmesan cheese if you’re not vegan), and ecco — it’s ready to serve!
Creamy chicken casserole for that dairy-free, Paleo, Whole30, or Keto Friend: Yes, you read that right. Creamy and dairy-free. Sounds like witchcraft, but actually it’s as simple as switching out dairy for mayo and adding some nutritional yeast. If your friend doesn’t eat eggs, consider using the egg-free mayo option that the recipe recommends. Using spaghetti squash as “pasta” here makes this recipe good-to-go if you want a grain-free option, too.
Classic tuna casserole for that pescatarian or Keto friend: This tuna casserole is so packed with flavor, you’re not going to miss the pasta. This classic tuna dish becomes decadent with savory flavors like gruyere, onions, cayenne, and parsley. Throw in some riced cauliflower if you want to trick your body into thinking its eating starch.
Roasted veggie enchilada casserole for that gluten-free vegetarian friend: This hearty, flavorful recipe is a not just a vegetarian pleaser — it’s a total crowd pleaser. Loaded with roasted veggies that are caramelized to perfection, even carnivores might forget they’re not eating meat. Throw in some rice or a side salad if you’re feeling ambitious.
Shepherd’s pie with sweet potato topping for that Paleo or Whole30 friend: It’s the definition of comfort food — but done healthy. This Paleo rendition of the hearty classic meat pie does not disappoint. Packed with flavor and wholesome goodness that the Whole30 diet depends on, this recipe blends sweet and savory to perfection.
Chicken parmesan casserole for that Keto friend: You’re not going to miss the breadcrumbs in this gluten-free version of the Italian classic. Tomatoey, savory, and just the right amount of cheesy — this meal is the equivalent of a giant hug from the pizza joint they no longer visit.
Baked Greek chicken for that Whole30, Mediterranean, Paleo, Keto friend: This “one pan wonder” meal will be perfect for anyone who has food restrictions, but still eats meat. It’s grain-free, dairy-free, and egg-free, but you won’t feel deprived as you take a bite into this simple yet sublime burst of flavors. No side needed, but riced cauliflower on the side wouldn’t hurt!