Learn how to start a meal train; it's a special way to show someone and their family that you care for them during a time of transition or sickness by being sure they are well-fed and don’t have to worry about cooking, meal planning, or grocery shopping.
What is a meal train?
When friends are going through a time of transition or a difficult time due to sickness, we want to help them somehow. To help ease the burden, it is a great blessing to form a meal train for the family.
A meal train is when a friend or family member organizes several days to a few weeks of meals cooked and delivered to someone in need. For example, when someone is going through a major life event, like a child's birth, a death in the family, or recovery from an illness. Maybe they were injured or had a medical procedure and can not get the grocery or prepare a meal while they recover.
A meal train is a bright and caring way to make sure that a person and their family are well-fed and don’t have to worry about cooking, meal planning, or grocery shopping.
When would someone need it?
- The arrival of a new baby
- Death of a loved
- Financial difficulty
- Cancer Treatments
How is a meal train helpful?
An organized meal train makes it easier for the participants to know what kind of meal and when to take it to someone in need. A meal train helps avoid two dinners delivered to someone on the same day or three Mexican casseroles three days in a row.
How to start a meal train?
First, talk with the friend you would like to do a meal train for. Get the following information from them:
- When would they like meals to start
- How often would it be helpful to get a meal?
- Find out about any food preferences or allergies their family might have.
- Find out their preference for communication when the train starts.
- Get their phone number, email, and physical address
Meal train invitation wording
- NEW BABY: (Name) and (name) are excited to welcome a new baby into their family. Baby (name) was born (date) (time) and weighed ( #). We all know how exciting and challenging the first few weeks are when a new baby joins the family. Let's help them out by participating in their meal train.
- SURGERY: (Name) is having surgery on (date) and will be recovering fore (how long). Please join us in providing meals for (name) and the family. This will help ease the burden of meal preparations and allow the family to focus on recovery.
- ILLNESS: (Name) is not feeling well. Please join us in preparing meals for (name) and the family to help make meal preparations something they do not have to worry about.
How to communicate with participants
- You can do it the old fashion way via email, which is good because you can always refer back to what has been said. The participants can also make a reply-all and communicate with the whole group at one time.
- A group text message works well also. The nice part about this way is you can text reminders on meal days and double-check any last-minute details.
- Pass a signup sheet around when everyone is together. This one is a little more labor-intensive for the coordinator in charge, having to call and remind people.
- Use a service such as Take Them A Meal or Meal Train. I have personally used this for many years and found it very helpful for everyone involved. The service is free, and you can customize the dates and times the meals are needed and specify any food preferences, allergies, and more.
What questions should I ask the recipients?
Be sure and download a free printable questionnaire to have your recipients fill it out. You can get yours by joining my free member's printable library at the end of this post.
- Date it would be helpful for meals to begin:
- How long would it be helpful to receive meals?
- Which days of the week would you like to receive meals?
- Time you'd prefer food to be delivered:
- Address -- including landmarks and color/identifying features of the house:
- Home and cell phone numbers; which one is better to use?
- Email address:
- Would you like the meal provider to contact you when they're on their way? Is it better to email, call, or text?
Number of people serving a meal to
- How many adults and how many kids?
- How old are the kids?
Food allergies and preferences of anyone eating the meal:
- Food allergies (circle all that apply):
Wheat/Gluten, Dairy, Soy, Egg, Tree Nut, Peanut, Fish, Shellfish, Other
- Foods you can’t get your kids to eat:
- Do you like spicy foods?
- Favorite foods/meals
- Special diet requests: (circle all the apply): Vegetarian, low fat, low salt, low carb, sugar-free, no desserts desired, vegan, organic, other
- Do you like ethnic foods? Asian, Mexican, Mediterranean, Italian, other
- Are there any meats you do not eat?
- Do you enjoy fish /seafood?
Sometimes people want to provide carryout/delivery if they are too busy or are out of town:
- Does your family have a favorite take-out restaurant? Please list the name, location, and phone number, as well as some menu items your family enjoys.
- Do you have a favorite restaurant that delivers? Please list the name, location, and phone number, as well as some menu items.
Coordiate on food preference and allergies
As the organizer get with the recipient beforehand and ask for any food likes or dislikes. Check if any family member has food allergies. Then let your participants know before they sign up for a meal.
Working out a drop off time
Deliver your meal ready for the table: If possible, bring your meal warm and ready for the table at the requested time.
Don’t stay long: Your goal when taking the meal is to deliver the food and then be on your way. This is not the time for an extended visit with the recipient. It might help to stay, do a little cleaning, or a load of laundry in some cases. However, it could be exhausting instead of helpful as a general rule if everyone bringing a meal stayed for a visit each day.
Give a note: It would be nice to add a note in your basket, letting the recipient know you are praying for them and giving them contact info if they need your help in the future in any way.
Once the meal train is created, the recipient should be invited to a text or email group. Any communication needed for the whole group should be sent to everyone; this way, there is no miscommunication.
The organizer should then text or email an individual reminder to each participant 2 days before their meal is to be delivered. It would also be good to text or email the morning of the delivery if any complications have arisen.
Finally, decide with the recipient if they would like a text or email on the delivery day to plan accordingly. The organizer should notify them who will be bringing them a meal and what time it will be delivered. It would be good to do this the evening before or the morning of the delivery.
Free planner tools for organizing a meal train
Be sure and download the free meal train planner in my member's printables library. There are sign-up sheets for participants, a questionnaire for the recipient, meal tags for the containers, allergy alert tags, and a special call tag to give with your name and number on if they need anything.
Containers to take food in
Packing the meal for delivery: After preparing your meal and packaging the items, put everything you need to deliver in a box, basket. This will make it easy to carry into the home and a lesser chance for spills.
Use containers you don’t need back: Whenever possible, use disposable containers. Cold foods work well in disposable plastic containers with lids; for hot items, use aluminum pans and foil to cover the tops. This makes it nice for the recipient; they do not have to worry about washing the dishes or dealing with returning the containers.
Label everything: Place the name of the food on each container. Make sure any reheating or baking instructions are included on the container. Be sure and date whatever you send, so it’s easier for the recipient to determine how long leftovers are good.
How long should you bring meals?
If someone is recuperating from an illness, a week or two of meals might be sufficient. However, an entire month would be thoughtful and helpful for new parents since they are probably sleep-deprived.
Free printable meal train planner
Get your planner in my members-only printable library. Get the password at the end of this post.
9 TIPS FOR MEAL DAY PREPARATION
- PLAN FOR THE DAY YOU SIGNED UP: Be sure and look at your own calendar before you signup to be sure you have time to prepare a meal. Decide on your meal ahead of time and do your grocery shopping before the day you need to cook the meal. Be sure and add nonreturnable food containers to your grocery list.
- BE SURE AND PAY SPECIAL ATTENTION TO THE RECIPIENTS DELIVERY REQUEST: Note the time they requested their delivery and whether they care if the meal is delivered warm and ready to serve cold so it can be heated up at a later time.
- PACK THE MEAL IN NON-RETURNABLE CONTAINERS: Using disposable containers whenever possible makes it easier for the recipient. They will not have to worry about washing and returning containers.
- PACKAGE YOUR ITEMS CAREFULLY: Make sure the lids close tightly, and the containers are not too big or small. This will ensure a spill-proof delivery.
- INCLUDE PREPARATION INSTRUCTIONS: If your dish needs to be reheated or toppings and dressings need to be added, be sure to include instructions to avoid any confusion.
- DOUBLE THE RECIPE: It's just as easy to cook one meal as it is two when you double the recipe. You can serve it to your own family or freeze it and give the recipient the freezer meals.
- KEEP YOUR VISIT SHORT: Unless you have previously arranged a visit with the family or are providing additional care, such as cleaning, it’s best to be in and out as quick as possible.
- Make Breakfast: It might be nice to provide a few breakfast items for the following day. Something as simple as muffins or quick bread and some fruit might be a welcomed meal.
- DON'T STRESS: Life happens. If last-minute circumstances cause you not to cook, order some take out and drop it off. Or you could even have a meal delivered to their home.
Don't just give a casserole dish
Try something different: create a food bar that the recipient or family members can set everything out and custom-make each family member's meal.
- SUB SANDWICH BAR: For large families, send them all the fixings to set up a sub sandwich bar. Start with various sub rolls, then in individual disposable containers, place items like shredded lettuce, sliced cheese, tomatoes, pickles, and peppers. For condiments, buy small mayo and mustards, then top it all of with some bags of chips.
- SALAD BAR: A salad bar is nice for the health-conscious recipient. You can chop vegetables like cucumber, onions, tomatoes, broccoli, peppers, then put them in individual disposable containers. You could do roasted chicken shredded, ham, salami, or any other sliced meats for protein. Top it off with croutons and a few varieties of salad dressing.
For more food bar ideas you can take to a meal train recipient be sure check out these:
Meals for cancer patients
Cancer patients are generally not feeling well, and many foods upset their stomachs, or they are just not hungry. If you can, ask them what sounds good to eat. You can fix something for the patient and then send a different meal for the rest of the family.
When I was taking chemo, nothing sounded good. I really lived on juices and smoothies. Try making a batch of my Green Juice Recipe To Kick Nausea. Take it in pint-size jars so they can sip on it over a 24 hour period. You also might want to try sending one of these 25 Drinks That Help With Nausea
Also, cancer can be a long and emotional journey, but with this 12 Ways How You Can Help A Cancer Patient list, you can make a difference in someone’s life by giving encouragement, sharing sorrows and joys, and understanding their needs
What are good meals to take somoen?
One very thoughtful way to help extend the meal train is to provide freezer meals for the recipient and their family. For example, this can be done before a baby is born, cancer treatments start, or a surgery. This frees the person from worrying about meal details in the days to come.