Seriously, nothing can be more helpful to a friend in need than a meal train. Taking the pressure off dinner and shopping so they can focus on what matters most makes all the difference. I’ve been on the receiving end of a meal train several times and I’ve seen what works well and what doesn’t. So, here are my top six tips to bless their socks off with the best meal train ever!
Set a schedule
Unless you’re serving a particularly large family, I always recommend an every-other-day approach to meal trains. Most people who bring a dish usually bring at least enough for two meals. There is nothing worse than making the recipient feel bad about wasting food that was lovingly prepared for them. When making arrangements, get a clear idea of when the family normally eats and the most convenient time to drop off food. For example, you might say something like “The Johnson’s like to eat around 5:30 or 6, meals can be dropped off any time after 4 but please allow enough cooking time if bringing something for them to cook in their own oven.”
Allergies and dislikes
Make sure you note any allergies or strong dislikes in the family. A beautiful tray of mac ‘n cheese if your gluten intolerant or a giant tuna-noodle casserole if you aren’t a fish person isn’t really serving the family well. If your designing a meal train for a family with a new baby, make sure to ask mom if she’s trying to avoid any specific foods. It’s fairly common for nursing moms to avoid garlic, onions or dairy.
In today’s fast paced, digital society, an online meal train tool is an absolute must to make your efforts successful. The ones I’ve seen used most commonly are Meal Train and Take Them a Meal – both are free. Personally, I like Take Them a Meal a little better because each participant doesn’t have to set up a password protected account which seems to make people a little more willing to participate. Once you’ve set it up its easy to share it with a variety of people through social media and email.
Both of these online tools have a field where the participants can say what they plan on bringing. Encourage people to plan ahead and use that field and not just write “TBD.” There is nothing worse than getting a bunch of the same sort of meals in a row. Even though you’re grateful, we all need a little variety. My husband’s family was once the recipient of a meal train that ended up being exclusively pizza delivery because the organizer used that as an example of an easy meal. They actually ended up throwing out whole, uneaten pizzas because they couldn’t finish them as fast as they were coming in!
Always encourage participants to bring their meals in dishes the recipient doesn’t have to return. Foil pans, paper bake ware, plastic bags, or cheap plastic storage containers are the best way to go. (Check out this great option from Amazon – Medium Baking and Take-out Pan.)
Bring a MEAL
Just like variety, remind participants to bring a whole meal including some sort of fruit or veggie (maybe even a sweet treat!) Some meals, like crockpot dishes or casseroles may be an all in one deal but, if you aren’t bringing one of those, don’t forget the rest of the meal. Eating healthy is always challenging but even more so in trying times.
There are six quick tips to make your next meal train the best it can be! Please share below if you’ve got any other tips to make a meal train run well!