04/10/2015 04:19 pm ET Updated Jun 10, 2015

What New Moms Really Need From a Baby Shower

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Who wants to guess the origin of fake baby poop? Baby-shower activities could use an upgrade in the usefulness department.

The usual activities range from sweet (write down your wish for baby) to creative (paint a onesie) to wrong (guess how much weight the guest of honor has gained). Then the mama-to-be opens gifts from a registry list that she probably agonized over for weeks, without really knowing what she needs. (Which diaper bag? How many bibs? Should I have a wipe warmer? I guess it can’t hurt…)

When baby comes, most of this stuff is forgotten. The thing the new parents are most grateful for? Like, so grateful they’re practically in tears? Visitors who bring food.

I certainly remember feeling that way. Arriving home with baby, 200 percent of our energy went into deciphering baby’s needs, snatching sleep, and the dozens of other trials and errors involved in this bewildering newborn crash course. If people hadn’t brought food, we probably would have subsisted on pizza or peanut-butter cups every night. We were SO grateful to have healthy, delicious meals from our friends. I am certain I’m not the only one.

So instead of pointless baby-shower games, I have a proposal: Consider a big food-prep party. Everyone pitches in, chopping and assembling, to make nourishing meals for the parents-to-be. The new parents can pull the meals out of the freezer and just heat them.

A freezer-meal party gets everyone involved and talking. It feels warm and nurturing. And it yields a gift that is truly welcoming and supportive for the new family.

My dear friend, Kris Higginson, figured out how to organize such a party for me. Here are her tips:

1. Find simple meals that freeze well.

“First, we found recipes that could be mostly prepped ahead of time by following simple directions and then frozen,” Kris says. “Casseroles, enchiladas, soups, chili, and some chicken dishes work well. Noodles do not, except for lasagna (they get gummy).”

Look at or for recipes that support recovery and breastfeeding, think about your favorite easy recipes, or search for “freezer recipe.” Ask your friend to choose five or six recipes from a list. That’s potentially 10 or 12 meals (unless you eat like my husband). Some ideas:

2. Divvy up the work.

Guests chop, measure, and assemble. The host sautées some ingredients ahead of time. That keeps guests from crowding around the stove, ensures that guests don’t need cooking experience to be able to participate, and makes it all go quickly enough that five or six recipes can be assembled inside of an hour or two.

If possible, divvy up the task of figuring out the division of labor for each recipe. What can be handled by guests? What needs to be cooked ahead of time? How will the finished product be stored: Ziploc bags? Disposable foil pans? Which kitchen tools do you need to have at the party?

Divvy up the costs, too.

3. Print up instructions.

“We had really clear directions laid out on a nice long table for the guests (“chop half an onion, put it in bag #1″),” Kris says. “And an easy assembly line with the necessary food, cutting board, knife, bowl and packaging material all within reach for each recipe.”

The prepped food was put into various numbered Ziploc bags, onto which Kris had taped cooking instructions for me and my husband to finish the meals. (“Heat Bag 1, then stir in Bag 2.”)

Kris was so organized because, well, she is. But also she’d been to Dream Dinners–a commercial kitchen where you follow recipe cards, assembly-line style, to make freezer meals. “I cribbed lots of their ideas for setup,” she says. Such kitchens also often let you rent the place for just this kind of baby shower, should you prefer.

I thought making the freezer meals would be everyone’s collective baby-shower gift. But for people who still wanted to bring a wrapped gift, my hosts included a neat request: Build baby’s first library by bringing a book you loved as a child. We got many wonderful books to read with our baby–some she still enjoys three years later–and heard many wonderful memories along with them.

After our daughter was born, visitors still stopped by with hot food (thankfully made easy with meal registries). When the visitors stopped coming, we were beyond thrilled to be able to open our freezer and start in on our baby-shower gifts.

If you would like the directions Kris wrote up for herself (prep ahead of time), the baby-shower guests (prep at the party), and us (cooking), e-mail me at The meals were: curried lentil & rice casserole; lasagna with spinach; vegetarian cashew chili; and black bean & sweet-potato enchiladas.

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