It's hard to know what to say when a loved one is in pain, especially if you can't be there in person. Sometimes, a gift of food and drink is the best comfort and a great way to let someone know you're thinking about them from afar. A sympathy basket is a show of condolences and even helps take some of the responsibility for feeding mourners and their guests in the time of grief.
On top of that, a sympathy basket is also an appropriate gift for a friend or family member going through a difficult time for any reason. From meat and cheese assortments to breakfast pastry platters, we've selected the best options for curated collections of goodies that are a kind way to wish someone well.
Murray's Cheese Top Shelf Gift Box
A gourmet food lover can get lost in all the options that come with this basket of goodies. It comes with five cheeses (more than 2 pounds in all) from soft and pungent Epoisses to truffle-stuffed pecorino-style Moliterno al Tartufo. There are also two types of salami, a chunk of honeycomb, cherry preserves, and crackers. The collection is enough for a group of about 10 people.
Price at time of publish: $210
Includes: 5 cheeses, 2 salamis, honeycomb, spiced cherry preserves, fig and olive crisps
Harry & David Sympathy Bakery Gift Tray
When we're sad, we often turn to sweet treats for comfort. Whether it's breakfast time or not, a pastry (or two, or three) makes an easy meal for a person in mourning. That's exactly what this Harry & David box is intended for. It includes delectable pastries from baklava to coffee cake, plus an assortment of cookies, all made fresh at the company's Oregon bakery. (For a larger group, you can upgrade to the Ultimate Sympathy Bakery Tray, which adds on more cookies and cakes, and a pair of pull-apart breads.)
Price at time of publish: $115
Includes: Lemon poppyseed coffee cake, apple streusel loaf cake, cinnamon swirl, baklava, chocolate decadence cake, raspberry galettes, lemon shortbread cookies, walnut chocolate chunk cookies, white chocolate raspberry cookie bars, German chocolate cookie bars
Godiva Assorted White Chocolate Gold Gift Box
Godiva has long been a go-to for high-quality chocolate, and this beautiful box is no exception. The gold-accented and bow-tied gift houses 22 creamy white chocolate–covered confections in all sorts of flavors and configurations. The highlight is a gorgeous cluster of caramel, cashews and raspberry coated in white chocolate with a dark-chocolate medallion, while other pieces are filled with hazelnut praline, white and dark ganache, and lots of other tasty choices.
Price at time of publish: $43
Includes: 22 pieces
Harry & David Sympathy Ice Cream Assortment
Lots of people find comfort in a pint of ice cream after a bad day, but it's not the kind of thing you'd think to send a friend. Harry & David is looking to change that with this set of frozen treats. It includes a pint of four different flavors, each given a cute supportive name to bring a smile to the recipient's face. Chocolate with brownie bites is dubbed “Pint of Compassion,” vanilla with praline pecans and caramel labeled “Scoops of Support,” sea salt caramel called “Thinking of You,” and coffee caramel with toffee chunks named "Deepest Sympathy." Like with other Harry & David baskets, this one's price includes two-day express shipping.
Price at time of publish: $75
Includes: 4 pints of ice cream
Russ & Daughters New York Brunch
In Jewish tradition, the first stage of mourning is a seven-day period called shiva, during which the bereaved stay at home and receive visitors. Lox, bagels, and cream cheese are often on the menu for sitting shiva, as they can sit out on a table for anybody to graze as they like, and no matter your faith, the combination makes an easy and comforting meal. This package from what is perhaps New York City's most famous lox- and bagel-maker is a nice feast for six that includes half a dozen assorted bagels and a pound each of cream cheese and smoked salmon, plus a chocolate babka and bag of coffee. (The price also includes express shipping.)
Price at time of publish: $195
Includes: Bagels, cream cheese, Gaspe Nova smoked salmon, chocolate babka, coffee, Russ & Daughters mug, insulated bag
The Fruit Company Oregon's Finest Gift Box
Crisp, sweet Fuji apples and dense, rich d'Anjou pears are some of the tastiest varieties, and this lovely box delivers a taste of both, fresh from orchards in Oregon. It's also got plenty to satisfy the sweet tooth, with a pretzel and dried strawberries and blueberries, all covered in chocolate. It's a colorful presentation and bounty of treats for a pretty reasonable price.
Price at time of publish: $49
Includes: Fuji apples, d'Anjou pears, chocolate-covered strawberries, chocolate-covered blueberries, white chocolate–covered pretzel
GourmetGiftBaskets Deluxe Macaroni and Cheese Gift Box
For some people, cooking is a chore. For others, it's an escape. Focusing on measuring, chopping, and stirring can be a meditative act that takes you away from everyday stress. This kit is a perfect sympathy gift for someone who loves to cook. It includes all the ingredients (and the directions) to make a super-fancy version of perhaps the ultimate comfort food. The box comes loaded with pasta (busiate noodles imported from Sicily) and cheese sauce mix, as well as garlic-infused olive oil and truffled hot sauce. There's also melty queso, cheddar, salami, and crackers to snack on while the mac and cheese bakes.
Price at time of publish: $130
Includes: Pasta, cheddar cheese, queso, garlic-infused olive oil, garlic salt, cheese sauce mix, crackers, red wine and garlic salami, black truffle hot sauce, recipe card
Mouth Bummer Box
Sympathy baskets aren't just for people dealing with a death or serious illness, and with a name like “Bummer Box,” this assortment is probably better for a friend who's going through a breakup, layoff, or other somewhat-less-serious hard time. Its set of snacks is unparalleled, a group of artisanal morsels from all over the country. Recipients can expect heirloom hot chocolate made in Massachusetts, chocolate-covered fudge-brittle from Indianapolis, cinnamon bourbon pecan popcorn from North Carolina, artisanal sour cream and onion chips from California, and more. It's a lighthearted box of treats great for a quick cheering-up after a bad day, week, or month.
Price at time of publish: $86
Includes: Cinnamon bourbon pecan popcorn, beer and caramel pretzel nuggets, chocolate-covered frittle, sour cream and wild onion chips, chocolate sea salt almond butter, hot chocolate mix
Eli Zabar Build a Sandwich Basket for 6
Between stress, anxiety, and obligations, it's easy for someone in mourning (or a similar situation) to just forget to eat, especially if eating involves cooking (or even just ordering) a meal. This package makes a gourmet meal really easy, with meats, cheeses, bread, and mustard from one of the most famous names in deli. It includes a half-pound each of pastrami, two types of salami, and two types of cheese, plus two loaves of bread (rye and brioche), and a tub of mustard. As the name suggests, it's enough for six large sandwiches, but it's also great to set up on a buffet table so guests can make lots of little mini-bites.
Price at time of publish: $160
Includes: Pastrami, sweet salami, spicy salami, Swiss cheese, Munster cheese, 2 breads, mustard
Omaha Steaks 5 Nights of Comfort Meals
If you're grieving, recovering from surgery or illness, or having a rough time for any other reason, cooking might be the last thing you want to do. For someone who finds preparing meals a chore, these tasty, hearty, and comforting dinners go straight from freezer to oven and cook in less than an hour. The assortment includes five meals that each feed four: chicken and dumplings (pictured above), chicken-fried steaks, spinach- and artichoke-stuffed chicken, chicken parmesan, and pot roast.
Price at time of publish: $150
Includes: 5 frozen meals
Gift Tree The Premier Selection
Almost any time people gather with food to remember someone they've lost, there will be some toasting involved. This extensive basket covers both parts of that, with lots of snacks alongside bottles of California chardonnay, pinot noir, and cabernet sauvignon. It includes a variety of candy and savory items, from cheddar cheese to chocolate-drizzled caramel popcorn and sweet-spicy hazelnuts to sea salt caramels. The price includes shipping, but if you choose this basket, make sure to let the recipient know ahead of time: An adult signature is required because the package contains alcohol.
Price at time of publish: $200
Includes: 3 bottles of wine, sweet and salty hazelnuts, almond toffee, limoncello almonds, cheddar cheese, wafer crackers, sea salt caramels, chocolate-drizzled caramel popcorn, chocolate-covered cherries, raspberry dark chocolate bar, shortbread cookies
Pike Place Chowder Sourdough Bread Bowl Kit for 4
A big bowl of creamy soup is an ideal choice for a rainy day, whether that's literally or emotionally. Seattle's Pike Place Chowder makes clam chowder that Yelp once called the most popular single food item in America, so it's a great choice for a special soup treat. The chowder (or the restaurant's also-very-good seafood bisque) is best enjoyed out of a sourdough bread bowl you get to eat when you're done, and this package sends the experience anywhere in the US. It includes two quarts of soup (you can choose chowder, bisque, or a quart of each), four bread bowls, and even four packs of silverware and napkins.
Price at time of publish: $120
Includes: 2 quarts of soup, 4 bread bowls, 4 sets of serving utensils
What to Look for in a Sympathy Basket
Before you send a sympathy basket filled with food and drinks, it’s a good idea to take into consideration what the recipient can eat and drink. It's not a great idea to send a wine basket to someone who doesn't drink alcohol or a collection of cheeses to a vegan, especially at an emotionally delicate time. Many cultural and religious practices around mourning also involve food and drinks, with specific dishes or ingredients that are associated with grieving (or that have to be avoided while grieving).
If you’re not sure of the mourner’s food preferences, consider sending a gift of fruit, baked goods, dark chocolate, or similar items that are more universally acceptable. Don’t forget to check the obituary—it may offer additional guidance or a request for donations to a charitable organization in lieu of gifts.
A personalized touch can bring extra comfort to those grieving. For example, a gift that includes a favorite snack or drink of the deceased may bring fond memories and help a family honor their loved one’s passing. Putting a bit of additional thought into selecting a sympathy gift can help those going through a difficult time feel that much more supported.
Personalization and Presentation
A personalized touch can bring extra comfort to those grieving. For example, a gift that includes a favorite snack or drink of the deceased may bring up fond memories and help a family honor their loved one’s passing. Even something as simple as a printed message on a card can make condolences feel more personal—plus, it helps the recipient remember who sent what later on.
There's also something to be said for a "basket" that actually comes in the form of a well-put-together basket that looks nice when it's delivered, rather than a nondescript box full of food. The professionally styled photos on retailer websites aren't generally a good gauge for how the gift actually comes, so check the customer reviews (particularly the ones with photos) for a better idea of what the presentation looks like in real life.
Shipping and Delivery
Any gift of perishable food has to be shipped using a fairly quick method, and that's especially true if you're shipping a sympathy basket that needs to arrive in time for a funeral or memorial service. Retailers generally do a good job of shipping food that arrives quickly and intact, but you'll want to also check the processing time; some sites won't ship out orders placed late in the week until after the weekend to avoid items getting stuck in shipping. It's also important to consider shipping costs as part of the total price: One retailer might include shipping in the initial price, while another might not tack it on until checkout.
A special consideration with a sympathy basket is making sure it goes to the right place. You don't want to send a basket to a friend's home address if they're staying with family out of town. You’ll want to check the processing and shipping time before ordering a sympathy basket. Check the obituary first; it will likely have an address to send flowers and gifts. (If not, a quick text or email to express condolences and ask for the right address is OK.)
Why should you send a sympathy basket?
Sending a sympathy basket is a way to express your condolences and provide comfort to someone in mourning. “If you would ordinarily attend the funeral but are unable to do so, a gift is a way of letting the family know you care,” says Jodi R.R. Smith, an etiquette expert, author, and founder of Mannersmith. Even if you did attend the services, a sympathy gift is still appropriate later, since grieving doesn’t end after the funeral or memorial. Any outreach of comfort is usually much appreciated.
A sympathy basket can also be an appropriate gift not just to a mourner. A nice gift of food and drinks can help cheer up a friend or family member experiencing a difficult time for any reason, like the loss of a job, a breakup, illness, or other bad news. In a case like this, you should just make sure the basket you choose doesn't come with a ribbon or card that explicitly says "condolences" or references a funeral.
What should or shouldn’t you write on a sympathy card?
If the recipient is a family member or close friend, share something about the deceased that will bring up fond memories. Tell a poignant story or write about the person’s character traits that you admired. Offer support. Remind the griever that you want to help in whatever way you can, and let them know that they are not alone.
If you need a more generic message for a distant relative, work colleague, or other person you don't know well, don’t write “I know how you feel.” You may not actually know how they feel, because everyone's grief is unique. Instead, say something like “I can’t imagine what you’re going through right now. I’m thinking of you.”
What types of food and other items are most helpful in a sympathy basket?
Grievers usually get overwhelmed with baskets of sweet goodies like cakes, cookies, and chocolates that they end up giving away because they can’t eat it all. Perishables can spoil if not eaten, and sometimes proper storage is limited. Consider fresh fruit, something mourners often don't get enough of, or a less-perishable savory meal, like deli meats or smoked fish. Frozen meals that won't go bad and can be heated up whenever they're needed are a great option, too.
If you're sending a gift to a home that's hosting a large group of mourners, consider sending over a case of club soda or an assortment of flavored waters and soft drinks. People have to remember to hydrate, especially in stressful times.
Is it OK to send money with a card as an expression of sympathy?
Only if it is clear that there is a need and if the family has mentioned financial difficulties with the funeral or other future expenses. Money is a very sensitive topic, and you want to be completely sure the gesture will be well-received by the family and not cause embarrassment. Many families in this situation set up a fundraiser using an online platform like GoFundMe, which is a much less complicated way to offer financial support than giving cash in person.
Should you send thank-you cards to people who send sympathy cards and/or gifts?
As a person who's grieving, your own mental health is foremost, but yes, whenever possible, you should offer a thank you to those who sent gifts. If the task feels overwhelming, ask a friend for help; Having a support network is important in general.
When is a good time to send someone a sympathy basket?
You can send a sympathy basket at any time. Right away is fine, and so is later. You can even send something a few months after the loss, with a note like “still thinking of you.” The point of a sympathy basket is to give support to the person who's still here, not to mourn a death.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Writer and professional eater Christine Clark is an avid sharer and enjoyer of all things delicious. Her love languages are food and gift-giving. She has a cheese podcast, a fridge that is always too full, and a very lived-in kitchen.
This roundup was updated by Sharon Lehman, RDN, a registered dietitian and writer for The Spruce Eats. She both loves to give and receive food- and cooking-themed gifts. It was updated again by The Spruce Eats commerce writer Jason Horn, who hopes you found this story useful but is sorry about whatever reason you needed it.
Jodi R.R. Smith is an etiquette expert, author, and founder of Mannersmith.