9 Thoughtful Ways to Help New Parents in Your Life

Your friends just welcomed a bundle of joy. Here's how to make them feel well fed and well loved.

By Ellie Martin Cliffe, Senior Editor

new parents sitting on a couch together holding their baby and laughing in front of a tray of food

Shutterstock / Goran Bogicevic

Way back in 2010, my friend Sadie was the first person in our group to have a baby. When it was my turn to visit the little family at home, I knew I couldn't go empty-handed—bringing gifts for new parents is a given. So, inspired by the holiday season, I presented the new mama with a poinsettia growing in a cute, Christmassy mug. Not a lasagna. Not a batch of fresh-baked cookies. I brought Sadie a plant. A living plant.

But, gracious as she is, Sadie never let on that I was severely misguided. Maybe she was just too tired. For most occasions, the poinsettia would've been a fine gift, but in this case my timing was bad. Think about it: Just in case caring for a helpless human wasn't enough, now she had to keep this plant alive, too.

I've learned a lot since that ridiculous friend fail, especially because I became a mom myself. I also discovered I wasn't alone in this gift-giving conundrum. Deciding on the perfect gift for new parents is a common stumbling block for well-wishers. Now, Sadie and her husband have another baby on the way. You can bet that as soon as they're ready for guests, I'll be at their door with goodies—ones they actually want—in tow.

Here's how you can skip over that faux pas and get straight to being an awesome loved one to a proud new mom and dad.

13x9s are not required.

Casseroles, hot dishes, bakes—whatever you call them, these one-dish dinners are easy to put together, convenient to transport, and often freeze like a charm (find some smart ideas for freezer meals here). But these big dishes take up a lot of room in the fridge. Consider cutting the recipe in half and bringing it in a smaller pan. Or skip casseroles altogether and pack up a hearty grain salad, muffin tin meat loaves, chicken noodle soup or one of these make-and-take meals for new parents in need.

New moms and dads need to eat more than just dinner.

One morning, probably a week after my son was born, my mother-in-law came over to help for the day (so awesome). She looked at me for a minute and then asked, "When was the last time you ate?" I realized I was famished. See, we had some great dinner options in the house, but nothing I felt like eating at 8 a.m. Lucky for me, she'd brought over her famous scones and jam. It was a feast.

Consider sharing granola with milk on the side, frozen microwaveable breakfast burritos, a loaded hoagie or a deconstructed green salad the parents can toss together when they're hungry. Snacks like veggies and dip, your best brownies and Chex mix will be much appreciated, too. Help them stock up with these make-ahead meals for busy people. Extra credit if the foods can be eaten with one hand, or if they're good hot or cold.

Call ahead.

Let the new mom and dad know you'd like to make a delivery. First, find out a good time to come. It'd be such a shame if the neighbor's dog discovered the meal sitting on their doorstep. Here are some other good questions to ask:

  • What foods are they craving?
  • Are there any ingredients to avoid?
  • What are some items they've already received? (Because, how much tuna casserole can one possibly eat?)

Keep the dish count low.

When I asked my friend Liz about a memorable meal someone brought after she had her kids, she said, "Anything in a dish I didn't have to wash and remember to return." So grab some reusable or recyclable containers at the grocery store. Bonus points if you bring recyclable serveware, too.

Understand that they may not dig right in.

It's nothing personal. Maybe Mom or Dad mustered the energy to cook (respect!), or another well-wisher just showed up, hot meal in hand. When you call ahead, ask. Do they need you to heat it up? Cool it down? Bring it frozen?

What you bring doesn't have to be homemade.

People are busy. Your friends will completely understand—be joyful, even—if you deliver a little package of groceries. You can't go wrong with fresh produce or dairy, and few would scoff at a bottle of wine for an at-home date night. Plus, you've gotta admit, certain store-bought foods really are unparalleled. Who wants homemade taco tortilla chips when Nacho Cheesier Doritos are already the world's best snack? You could also call in a delivery order for the new mom and dad (with a heads up, of course). This is the perfect solution if you want to help loved ones who live across the country.

Throw in an inedible treat or two.

But probably not a live plant. Think pampering items, like a relaxing aromatherapy candle or a really good hand cream—new parents are constantly washing their hands. Having an infant gives new meaning to the word "love" and also to the term "binge-watching." Your friends will get plenty of mileage out of a fun movie or an addictive show (Twin Peaks, anyone?) on Blu-ray. Oh, and don't forget about the baby. This little kid will go through more burp rags and washcloths than anyone ever imagined. They're not glamorous, but they're a must. If the family includes a big brother or sister, a you're-special-too gift works wonders.

Set up a delivery calendar.

Are you connected with some of the couple's other friends and family? Consider organizing a schedule for deliveries so the new parents won't need to worry about meal planning. If you're all work buddies, a piece of paper tacked to a cube wall works. Or, for a larger group, go digital and join a free site like Meal Train, which takes care of sign-up and delivery reminders and is even a home base for updates about the new little family.

Make yourself useful.

Having a newborn is exhausting, and the idea of entertaining guests, no matter how casual the visit, can really overwhelm new parents. Diffuse some of their stress by offering to cuddle the little nugget while Mom takes a shower or Dad throws in a load of laundry. See if anyone wants to get out for a walk around the block. Or put yourself to work and volunteer to do the dishes or sweep the kitchen. My folks took care of our yard, and it was glorious.

Looking back on our time as new parents, my husband and I remember kind things, big and small, that our loved ones did for us. Any flubs have long since been forgotten. That said, there's no need to stress about what to bring the new parents in your life. Now that you've got plenty of ideas, just be your thoughtful, generous self and you'll be their hero. I just know it.