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It takes a village, or so they say. When someone has surgery, loses a close family member, or has a baby, it is traditional to bring a meal to the family. What? It’s not traditional these days? Well, it should be. Often today it seems we say, “Let me know if you need anything…” and walk away. Yes, they need something. They need a lot. And one option: dinner. Or even better: a organized meal train. And if you need some meal train tips, you have come to the right place.
A meal train is a way to organize who can bring the family dinners and when. It is an easy opportunity to get involved and help out so that the family can concentrate on other things and still have a healthy meal.
Meal Train Website Options
There are a few websites out there designed to take make creating and joining a meal train easy. So instead of one person calling friends and family, relaying information, making reminders, etc, the website takes care of it. The websites can give allergy information, food preferences, and contact information for the family.
- Free for meal trains. $10 for Meal Trains Plus (childcare, vistors, rides, lawncare), free for Potluck organization
- Interactive Calender – either list view or calendar view
- Organizer can receive emails when dates are booked and cancelled
- You can send invitations via facebook/ email/ twitter
- Participants can make financial contributions (fees are deducted from the donations)
- Reminder emails can be sent one week and/or one day prior
- Can list meal preferences, allergies,
- If someone wants to give a meal who isn’t online, the organizer or the recipient can add them in.
- The recipient can create a journal for updates.
- Free to organize meal trains, errands, care, rides, and chores like laundry, cleaning, mowing.
- Can schedule as many meals a day as needed.
- Has an area for status updates and photos that can be uploaded
- The person needing help can contact all registered helpers at once via email.
- Area for dietary restrictions, allergies, preferences, dinner time
- Organizer can enter information on CareCalendar for others.
- Print out a paper copy of the calendar for a sign up sheet.
- Calendar Layout uses colors to show if the item is needed, filled, or just information.
- Gift shop for greeting cards and restaurant gift cards that can be mailed to the family.
- Three articles on the site give more information about meal tips, new moms, and the gift of meal trains.
- Email reminders sent
- Free for meal trains
- Has a section for tried and true recipes
- Can send a meal that has been cooked and flash frozen, ready to reheat and eat.
- Website maintains a blog with tips and news about the site
- Meal Calendar is only in list view (not calendar view)
- Reminder emails sent the day before
- Affiliated with the website Perfect Potluck for potluck organization
- Can schedule more than 1 meal per day
- You can send invitations via Facebook/ email
Tips for Donating to a Meal Train
Now, it is not easy to bring extra meals all the time. I should know. I am involved in 3 mom’s groups that do meal trains for new moms. So here are some meal train tips to make it easier. Plus, here is some etiquette involved with the whole process.
- Cook once, eat twice (or more). This is a help for you. If I am cooking for other families, I am going to make the same meal for my family. In fact, I might time it right to triple a recipe: make a meal for a mom, a meal for us, and one to put in our freezer. Or two moms and one for us. This way I am chopping and combining once and getting more out of it.
- Remember to double check food preferences and allergies first. The family might have some actual health concerns (gluten sensitivity, peanut allergy) or preferences (no mushrooms). Double check these before you pick a recipe.
- Add in a vegetable/side dish/ salad if possible. We all need our vegetables, right? A bag salad or some frozen broccoli isn’t hard to do. Or if you are feeling fancy, do roasted veggies or a small vegetable casserole.
- Deliver hot and ready. Most of the programs will let you know when the family eats dinner regularly. If you can get the meal there with little to no prep work to be done, fabulous. That makes it all the easier on the family. Of course, if there is any prep work to be done, make it easy on the family. I have dropped a casserole off earlier in the day with baking instructions on a note on top. Or if its just an hour early, give them a heads up and tell them to turn the oven on low to keep it warm. Speaking of heads up…
- Contact the family early in the day to let them know their meal is coming. It is good to give the mom a head’s up that the meal is covered for the day. Imagine knowing that someone signed up for that night’s dinner but not hearing any confirmation and so you really don’t know if you need to order pizza at 5 pm. So give a short text that dinner will be there at whatever time window they prefer.
- Drop off and leave.The family is very, very glad to see you, but this is not a time to expect an extended visit. You may be invited to see the new baby. You may not even see the baby or the mama. Whatever. It’s not about you. This is about giving a meal to a family who has other priorities at the moment.
- Don’t expect your dishes back. You can use recyclable foil containers or washable plastic ones. But don’t stress about how you will get your containers back. And please don’t send a meal in an actual casserole dish that you really do expect to be delivered back. Remember: this is not about you.
- You don’t have to cook from scratch. So let’s say you don’t have time in the kitchen to slave away. You can order takeout or a meal delivery service. You can get a simple rotisserie chicken, fresh tortillas, and a bag salad from the grocery store. Don’t get overwhelmed. The meal will be appreciated no matter what.
I hope this helps explain a few things about how meal trains work or how to set them up. Meal trains are a way to really connect with our fellow humans. They are invaluable. I hope you get the chance to contribute to one soon.
What did you think of these tips? Have you used one of these websites before? Comment below! And don’t forget to follow me on Pinterest! I’ve got lots of meals on there that are perfect for meal trains! Pin the image below to be able to reference these tips in the future.