Dinner Tree: Tips for Caring Neighbors

Making friends with neighbors is a natural thing. You join for cookout parties, neighborhood watches, and other active and positive events. But what about the times of trouble, illnesses, or, which is sometimes even worse, house renovation? Are you generous and caring enough to provide for neighbors in need? Get a few tips on how you can coordinate with other neighbors and create an effective and healthy dinner tree!

Create an Effective Dinner Tree


  1. Start with making a schedule where you can organize meals into categories and assign the person who will cook this or that dish for every day. You can use a free online service with email reminders, but the good old spreadsheet will also do just fine.
  2. Contact the family you are going to help in order to list possible food allergies, dietary restrictions and preferences.
  3. Appoint the Keeper of the Spreadsheet.
  4. Work out a balanced menu for every day and assign a cook for every dish.


This is basically all. Now you have to work out meal ideas in detail. Here are a few tips on picking the recipes.


Picking the Recipes


  • Don’t choose anything that requires complicated assembly or hundreds of ingredients. Make sure you attach assembly or serving directions plus reheating instructions to the dish.
  • Cook dishes that can be reheated or frozen with no loss in nutrition value or taste (think casseroles and lasagnas).
  • If there is a kid in the family, choose kid-friendly or adaptable recipes.
  • If there is a vegetarian … well, it’s obvious what you should pick in this case.
  • Pick dishes that will not get messy when transported to your neighbors’ house.
  • For salads and slaws, pour dressing in a separate container.


Now let’s get to some actual menu ideas!


Pasta & Vegetable Casseroles

There are hundreds – if not thousands - of casserole recipes! You can cook them with various kinds of pasta, broccoli, etc., or try this Baked Potato Casserole recipe! It is easy to make, transport, freeze and reheat plus it is a great comfort food, and comfort is exactly what your neighbor needs at the moment!


Make sure you bring garnishes and toppings for this Beef Enchiladas recipe in separate containers! For your neighbors’ greatest pleasure, bring chopped lettuce in a separate Ziploc bag!

Savory Pies

Think chicken pot pie, Taco Pizza (get recipe!), shepherd’s pie or deep dish pizza. And this Deep Dish Vegetable Pizza recipe is just amazing! Make sure you get enough ingredients to cook one for your own dinner, too!

Pasta and Potato Salads

Staples are tried-and-true and well-loved side dishes, so why don’t you cook this American Potato Salad recipe or this Potato Salad with Pesto recipe when your turn in the dinner tree comes?


A salad or slaw will make a refreshing and healthy addition to your hearty casserole. Choose something really simple, just like this Spicy Apple and Savoy Cabbage Salad recipe – you need your slaw to be fresh and crunchy, not wilted by hours or cooking!

Sweet Pies

You can cook any fruit or berry pie like this Cherry Pie with Chambord Liqueur recipe or any other nut, custard or chocolate pie.


This dessert is easy to bake and fool proof delicious! You can cook this Classic Brownies recipe or give it a twist and bake peanut butter brownies or blondies.


This would be all, but we need to make one final note. Don’t expect your neighbors in need to return your dinnerware soon. They have enough on their plate already, don’t they? Besides, sorting out which dish is whose is quite a challenge, so do your best to ease the problem. Each participant of the dinner tree may mark their dish with a piece of masking tape with their name on in Sharpie. Or, which would probably be the best option, present your meals in recyclable foil pans!

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