The Connection Between Food and Grief

Written by, Cynthia Victor of Fox Valley Food for Health  There is a common tradition you see in every community after the death of a loved one: the outpouring of […]

Written by, Cynthia Victor of Fox Valley Food for Health 

There is a common tradition you see in every community after the death of a loved one: the outpouring of compassion for the family – the tradition of feeding those left behind. The gift of food is a way of saying we care, we are concerned and we want to support you.

However, while it is an act of love to want to feed those who are struggling with grief, often those meals are too comforting, too full of the kind of food items that will fill a physical hunger but not support a healthy body.

The stress of grieving can be quite detrimental to one’s health. We know that grief can be the cause of significant illness and ongoing mental disturbances, such as depression and anxiety.   During this time the immune system is compromised, leaving you vulnerable to infections.  Grief can also increase inflammation and blood pressure and lead to serious heart, muscle and joint conditions.

It is not unusual to experience a loss of appetite or loss of craving for food when you are grieving.  Despite this loss of appetite, suddenly, you are flooded with the outpouring of love from friends and family by way of those comfort meals – casseroles, baked goods, and baskets of treats. All of these foods have a place in the process but they cannot take the place of healing, supportive nutrition. We would call those depleting foods, meaning, they deplete our body’s reserve of vitamins, minerals, proteins and other building blocks that we need to support our vital organs, muscles, bones, and brain.  They deplete our energy levels, and can lead to poor sleep and diminished mental clarity.

Some examples of these food items are:

  • White foods in the form of pasta, breads and rice
  • Sugar and fat–laden baked items
  • Fried foods, fast foods and processed foods
  • Low-fat, low calorie foods (often high in sugars and salt and little nutrition)
  • Caffeine and energy drinks
  • Alcohol

When our diet is mainly comprised of these types of food items, our bodies become weak. Not only do these food items not provide any nutritional building blocks, they also use up the reserves of building blocks we have to help us to digest them – leaving us depleted.

A diet rich in whole foods will help to replace those building blocks and to build a reserve for times of illness and stress.  A whole foods diet contains:

  • Whole grain breads and pasta
  • Brown or wild rice and quinoa
  • Fresh vegetables and fruits in a rainbow of colors
  • Quality protein in the form of poultry and fish, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds
  • Moderate use of high quality dairy products
  • Healthy fats
  • Plenty of water
  • Minimally processed foods

Whether you are supporting someone going through the grieving process or are yourself going through it, it is important to take a moment to consider a healthier approach to eating during this critical time.  Balancing comfort food with nutritious whole foods is a true act of compassion that will provide lasting benefits.

Fox Valley Food for Health is a nonprofit organization in the Fox Valley region that supports people going through an acute health crisis, such as cancer,  a major heart attack or stroke, or major surgery.  We provide 12 weeks of healthy nutritious meals for our clients and their families/caregivers in the home.  The meals we provide are nutrient-rich and primarily plant-based, with an emphasis on organic and sustainable ingredients.  The meals are prepared by adult & teen chefs, who receive culinary skills training while producing beautiful, healing meals to families in need. Our chefs prepare vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and fruits in a variety of creative ways. We include a rainbow of colorful fruits and vegetables that are rich in phytochemicals, plant chemicals that act as antioxidants and have a vital role in preventing and fighting diseases. High quality protein foods, such as fish, chicken, eggs, and dairy, are also incorporated into our menus. We also offer these meals to the family and caregivers in the home, because we understand that they often experience stress, depression, anxiety and grief too.  We not only want to help our clients through their health struggles but also to keep their caregivers healthy so they can continue to support them.

To encourage our families to continue to eat in a healthy way beyond our program, we have always provided recipes to our clients so they can learn to recreate our meals. This past December we collected our recipes into a cookbook called Nourishing, Supporting, Educating – A Cookbook by Fox Valley Food for Health.

After the loss of a loved one, you may suddenly find yourself as a single parent, a caregiver for a widowed parent, or without your partner. The challenge of preparing meals in this new normal can be  overwhelming, and so many routines related to meals now become triggers for grief. If you need new inspiration for healthy meals that can change your routines – you can order our cookbook by emailing or find it at Blue Goose grocery store.

For more information about our organization – how to support us, how to join our Gather to Give program or how to become a client, go to:


  1. Excellent info.

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