The History of Funeral Food


Food during funerals has a long and rich history. Funeral feasts were part of both ancient Egyptian and Roman funeral traditions. Archaeologists recently discovered evidence of what they believe to be the world’s oldest funeral feast, which dates back 12,000 years ago.

The living still have to eat even when a loved one’s death can make their world stop. Having food and giving the gift of food is a fundamental connection humans share. It’s a way to express sympathy for the person making the meal, especially in today’s busy world where a lot of us don’t even make our own home-cooked meals anymore. For the receiver, it’s one less thing to worry about.

Food as a way of saying “I’m sorry for your loss” is common across cultures and religions and has been for thousands of years.

  • In colonial America, especially amongst the German and British colonists, as people walked from the church to the grave they ate a molasses cookie or funeral biscuit and drank an alcoholic beverage of some type. This was a form of communion. These cookies were much like modern-day cookies in size and shape and featured a stamp of a cross, heart, death’s head, or cherub on their tops.
  • In the Victorian Age in Britain, funeral biscuits became big business. Local bakeries would run advertisements, promising cookies in a hurry when a sudden death occurred. These cookies were often ornately wrapped with printed Bible verses. Like church holy cards, these cookie wrappings served as keepsakes to remember the dead. Death notices evolved out of these early cookie wrappings and began to be sent around to friends and families as notices and as comfort food.
  • In the Hindu faith, baskets of fruit or vegetables are commonly given to families.
  • Jambalaya is the food of choice at funerals in New Orleans.
  • The Amish bring a raisin-filled funeral pie.
  • In the American South, classic feel-good comfort foods like fried chicken and macaroni and cheese are common.
  • In Sweden, Funeral Glogg is used to toast the departed.
  • The Midwest is famous for classic funeral hot dishes and casseroles.
  • Utah and Idaho have their signature dish: Funeral potatoes. Funeral potatoes are a popular dish for all kinds of events, but they got their start as a common side dish at Mormon after-funeral dinners.


  • Classics. Meat and potatoes, spaghetti and meatballs, macaroni and cheese, and pizza are all foods most people like. You’ll want to be aware of any dietary restrictions of the grieving family and keep the food mildly-flavored to satisfy all paletes.
  • Make it disposable. Grieving families don’t have the time or energy to do dishes. Include paper plates and cups and plastic silverware to make clean up easy.
  • Drop off commonly-used groceries. If you don’t want to cook, can’t cook, or don’t have the time to cook, dropping off necessary groceries is another great way to help the grieving. Milk, eggs, bread, and chocolate are great food choices to consider.
    Make it microwaveable. Easy to reheat food will be most appreciated by the grieving family, so the family can eat when they are hungry.

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Dolan Funeral Home serves greater Lowell and southern New Hampshire, including Chelmsford, N. Chelmsford, Tyngsboro, Westford, Dunstable, Dracut, Lowell, MA, Nashua, Windham, Hudson, NH.

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