It is extremely common, and at times essential, for food, meals and dessert items to be offered during a shiva. Over time, the presentation and availability of food at a shiva home has become a central focus point for the shiva planning process. Although traditionally the food and shiva meals are generally reserved only to provide comfort to the mourning family, in many instances the offering of food at a shiva has evolved in a modern way to extend to those making a shiva call. As a result, the potential need and planning for food and even engaging a shiva catering service is one of the top priorities for the shiva coordinator and the family. There are many considerations that must be given attention, such as the number of days sitting shiva, the number of people to plan for, as well as the different types of food options that can be found. In addition to meals, there are often sweets and other items including desserts, coffee, tea and soft drinks that are present throughout the shiva.

Types of Food

When preparing and coordinating the food for a shiva, the first decision that may be encountered is to choose what type of food the mourning family prefers and will find most comforting. Although there are many types of food that can be served at a shiva, the most common and customary types are traditional Jewish delicatessen foods. Deli platters and smoked fish, among many other traditional style foods, can inspire comfort to the mourning family with their familiarity. However, traditional food may not always be the preference of the family, and in this case there are many nontraditional and regional food options to consider, including Mediterranean. Although traditions provide a guiding framework, the appropriateness of shiva food may simply be measured only in regards to what the family prefers. If the mourners find comfort in, for example, Italian food then this may be an appropriate option for the shiva.

Both traditional and nontraditional food types may be found in kosher options. If the family keeps kosher, the caterer or restaurant must be the recipient of certification from a rabbi, rabbinical institution or kashrut supervision agency. The shiva coordinator may want to check for this information before making any orders.

Catering a Shiva

One of the easiest ways to ensure that enough food is present for the entire length of the shiva is to enlist the help of a professional catering company. During the search for a catering company, the shiva coordinator must first decide what type of food will be served. Before doing a general search for caterers or restaurants in the area of the shiva, the coordinator may want to consult the family, who may already have a favorite deli or restaurant that has the resources to cater a shiva. If not, then there are many resources that can be found online that may assist in the process of finding the right caterer. A quick search on resources like Google or Yelp will produce options that can be investigated further online or by phone. When investigating a catering company, it can be useful to ask them directly if they have experience and familiarity with shiva catering specifically. The family representative may also turn to’s list of Approved Providers in the Trusted Business Vendor Directory, which consists of high quality and trusted delis, restaurants, and catering companies in many cities across the United States that are familiar with the traditions, customs and time sensitive nature of a Jewish shiva.

Once a caterer has been selected, there are a few details regarding the shiva that the caterer may require. First, they will need to know how many days the family will be sitting shiva, and how many visitors should the food be able to serve. An approximate number of visitors that will be making a shiva call may also be needed. This number is often hard to land on, but a rough estimate may still be helpful. The mourning family and their representative may have the ability to select certain platters and dishes, in which case the caterer should be able to assist.

Desserts and Sweets

It is customary to see alongside the buffet style entrees, an assortment of fruits, dried fruits, nuts and sweets for the mourning family and visitors. Many catering companies and delis can provide arrangements for desserts and sweets, typically consisting of rugelach, cookies, and other baked goods. It is also common for those who are making shiva calls, and even those who cannot attend the shiva, to send condolence shiva baskets containing dessert-like items.