The Best Meal Train Ideas and 20 Recipes You Need to Try

Meal Trains are a wonderful way for communities to come together and help a family in need.

When I had my first baby I was so thankful when a friend put together a meal train for us because it gave us dinner without us having to do anything!

I’ve also participated in meal trains over the years and have learned quite a few tips and tricks, as well as what makes a good meal train meal (and what to avoid).

In this blog post, I’ll share with you everything you need to know about meal trains, how to organize one, tips and tricks I’ve learned, and the best meal train recipes to make (that aren’t all pasta!).

meal train recipe and guide pinterest pin

Want to save this post?

Enter your email below and get it sent straight to your inbox.

Save Recipe

What is a Meal Train and How Does it Work?

A Meal Train is when a group of people plan schedule meals to make for a family in need. I

t’s usually started with a spreadsheet or sign up list on paper.

Why is it Called a Meal Train?

Despite the name, meals aren’t delivered on a train. The name comes from the words “meal” and “chain”.

How to Organize a Meal Train (And Who Should Organize Them)

Organizing a meal train is easy! Create a signup list and share it between those that would like to participate. The list can either be handwritten or digital.

Mealtrain.com, for example, is a great site that can help you coordinate the meal train. Not only does it let others schedule their drop-off dates, but it also lets people contribute towards gift cards, as well as lets the family in need put notes of any dietary restrictions or special needs.

If you decide to create your own spreadsheet (Google Sheets is also a great free tool to use), you’ll need to collect the following information:

Name

Meal they’re going to make

Date they’re going to make the meal for

Place the signup list in a place where people will see it or send it out through e-mail or social media.

Remember to send out reminders to people after a few days if they haven’t signed up yet.

If you’re organizing a meal train, also remember to include information on the family-like how many members of the family (designate between kids, adults, and babies), any food preferences or dietary considerations, as well as any other special considerations.

Plan to have 3 meals a week for the family in need, since most of the dishes will have a good amount of leftovers.

Related Post: 40 Easy and Delicious Postpartum Meals to Prep

Who Are Meal Trains For? 

Meal trains are for anyone! They’re a great way to help out the family of a new baby or to send meals to those recovering from surgery, or to grieving families.

They can be started by anyone! Friends, family, members of the community or churches – really anyone that wants to coordinate can!

Meal Train Etiquette

While there isn’t any official meal train etiquette, here are some hints to help you make sure your meal train goes off without a hitch:

Don’t plan to eat with the family when you deliver a meal. Unless you’ve heard that they’re welcoming visitors or other such information from them that would imply this, it’s probably best to ask if they would like some company before popping on over.

If you’re asked to bring over a meal, and can’t make it one evening, let the organizer know immediately so that he or she can find someone else!

Be considerate of food allergies and sensitivities. If a family member has severe allergies to certain foods, they might not want them in the home at all.

While a meal train is really helpful because you can bring bulk meals that will feed large families for several days’ time, if someone with severe allergies or sensitivities is involved, it’s probably best to send only single-serving meals.

Ask the family before stopping by to drop off the meal. Call or text the family to see when a good time is to do a drop-off, or coordinate with others on the meal train to coordinate one time to drop everything off.

Consider bringing over disposable plates, napkins, drinks, etc. This will help make clean up much easier for the family.

You could also offer to stop by and help cleaning up but keep in mind the family might not want visitors.

How Long Should a Meal Train Last?

There’s no set amount of time a meal train should last, but generally, they should be at least a week or two of meals.

Consider doubling up your recipe and providing a frozen batch for the family to have once the fresh batch runs out later on.

How to Ask for a Meal Train

If you’re in need and would like a meal train organized for you, ask a close friend, family member, or church member if one could be organized for you

. Otherwise, reach out to a local charity and see if they are willing to organize one.

It’s not recommended to start one yourself and can be considered tacky.

Meal Train Tips and Tricks

Here are a few of my favorite meal train tips and tricks

Having a few freezer meals for crazy days can be a huge help! Families might have a ton of food arriving and not able to eat it all.

Consider making something the family could freeze and use later on.

Not a good cook? Try a gift card instead! With the popularity of services like UberEats and DoorDash, you could gift the family a gift card to one of these services or to their favorite restaurant.

Avoid giving gifts like food subscriptions or things that require the family to actually cook the meals.

Make your dish in a disposable container or one that you don’t mind not getting back. Families receiving meal trains are usually very busy and might not have time to return casserole dishes to you.

You could use a disposable container like this one or pick up a container from the Dollar Store.

Be mindful of what others are contributing to the meal train. Check the meal train list before bringing anything over so the family doesn’t receive too much of the same dishes.

Pasta dishes are usually really popular to bring so I usually try to avoid bringing meals like this so the family can have something different.

Don’t deliver a meal if you or someone in your house is sick. Keep others healthy by staying home if you don’t feel well.

Let the family know you’re not feeling well and reschedule the delivery.

Make a meal that has more than 1 serving. Make a larger batch of the meal so the family can have some leftovers for lunches and dinners for later on in the week.

You could also make a dish in 2 separate containers so the family can eat part of it that night, and freeze the extra batch for later.

Label the dish and include clear cooking instructions. If you’re making a dish the family just has to cook, make sure to label the meal and include clear and easy-to-follow instructions for the family.

You could use an index card and attach it to the side of the dish. You could even include the ingredient list and how you made the dish so the family could make it on their own later on!

Don’t limit meals to just dinner. You could also offer to bring some breakfast items (like bagels, pastries, hard-boiled eggs, etc.) or some healthy snacks.

Disposable plates and drinks are also great ideas!

Consider one drop-off for the week. If the family doesn’t want a lot of visitors, consider organizing a one-day drop-off where one or two people can collect all the meals for the week and do one drop-off.

This would be best for frozen meals or meals the family can make easily on their own. Fresh dishes should be dropped off the same day.

How To Say Thank You for a Meal Train

If you’ve received a meal train, the best way to say thank you is to send the organizers a card and let them know how the meal train helped you and your family.

Best Recipes for Meal Trains

Here are the best recipes I’ve found to make for meal trains!

Easy Meat Lasagna

slice of meat lasagna
Recipe and Photo by Food Meanderings

This easy homemade lasagna is made meat (ground beef) with fresh lasagna noodles, fresh spinach, mushrooms and Parmesan cheese.

It’s and easy oven ready/no boil lasagna recipe that’s make-ahead, freezes well and is perfect for feeding a crowd or taking along to a potluck!

Click here for the recipe

Slow Cooker Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes

scalloped potatoes in a crock pot
Photo and Recipe by Platter Talk

These slow cooker scalloped potatoes take little effort to make and will feed a crowd for just a few bucks, making them a perfect choice for any meal train.

Click here for the recipe

Keto Lasagna

slice of keto lasagna on a white plate
Photo and Recipe by The Short Order Cook

This keto lasagna is easy to make & tasty simply fantastic.

It’s a great dish for a meal train recipient that may be in a low-carb or gluten-free diet.

Click here for the recipe

Vegan Lasagna Rollups

vegan lasagna rollups on a plate
Photo and Recipe by Champagne and Coffee Stains

Vegan Lasagna Roll Ups are a delicious and easy plant based dinner that even the pickiest eaters will love.

They’re perfectly creamy and packed with healthy vegan ingredients.

Click here for the recipe

Ham Tetrazzini

ham tetrazzini in a bowl
Photo and Recipe by Beyond the Chicken Coop

Full of comfort, this Ham Tetrazzini is an easy make ahead meal that can be reheated when ready to eat.

Click here for the recipe

Cheddar Brats and Peppers

sausage cheddar brats peppers
Photo and Recipe by Barber Family Kitchen

Easy, simple and very delicious – this brat packed-meal is full of flavor and easy to make.

Take it to the next level by adding seasoned rice!

Click here for the recipe

French Beef Carrot Stew

bowl os french beef carrot stew
Photo and Recipe by Go Healthy with Bea

This classic stove top paleo beef stew recipe is perfect for a nice dinner or lunch.

This one pot French beef carrot stew is hearty and super easy to make.

Click here for the recipe

Instant Pot Chicken Burrito Bowls

close up of chicken burrito bowls in meal prep containers
Recipe and Photo by Champagne and Coffee Stains

Instant Pot Chicken Burrito Bowls are an easy to make healthy meal that’s so customizable!

Top with your favorite toppings – like cheese, guacamole, rice, or tortilla chips – and you have a complete meal!

Click here for the recipe

Quick Red Beans and Rice

red beans and rice inside a dish
Photo and Recipe by Nibble and Dine

This is an easy and quick recipe for red beans and rice, with bacon for extra richness and smoky flavor.

This recipe travels and reheats well, and can be made in only about 30 minutes!

Click here for the recipe

Instant Pot Vegetarian Chili

instant pot chili with an instant pot in the background
Photo and Recipe by Champagne and Coffee Stains

This is the best and easiest vegetarian chili recipe! It’s protein packed with black beans and pinto beans and perfectly seasoned and flavorful.

Vegetarian chili is the ultimate comfort food and is guaranteed to be a hit at your next potluck!

Click here for the recipe

Sweet Potato Tortilla Soup

tortilla soup in a bowl with a spoon and cheese on top
Recipe and Photo by Champagne and Coffee Stains

Instant Pot Tortilla soup is an easy and delicious dinner the whole family will love.

Customize it with your favorite toppings for the perfect week night meal!

Click here for the recipe

Homemade Chicken Soup

bowl of chicken soup
Recipe and Photo by The Forked Spoon

This Homemade Chicken Soup Recipe is my absolute favorite and so easy to make from scratch for any meal train.

Made with a homemade broth and filled with onions, carrots, celery, and juicy shredded chicken, stay warm this winter with this beloved chicken soup.

Click here for the recipe

Tomato Basil Pasta

tomato basil pasta
Recipe and Photo by Honest and Tasty

This one-pot pasta dish is simple yet incredibly addicting and flavorful! Great ingredients, minimal effort!

Click here for the recipe

Chicken Enchiladas with Salsa Verde

chicken enchiladas on a plate
Photo and Recipe by Honest and Tasty

Make a big batch of these chicken enchiladas and call it a night because you will be supremely satisfied and it’ll be a big hit with everyone who tastes it!

Click here for the recipe

Tuscan Roasted Chicken Thighs

tuscan roasted chicken thighs
Photo and Recipe by Queen of my Kitchen

 A fabulous make-ahead chicken dish with a delectable sauce. Perfect for meal trains.

Click here for the recipe

Healthy Breakfast Burritos

freezer burritos
Photo and Recipe by Nkechia Jaeroh

Homemade healthy freezer breakfast burritos are easy to make, tasty, and perfect for breakfast meal prep!

These freezer breakfast burritos are packed with nutritious ingredients you will love!

Click here for the recipe

Pastelon (Puerto Rican Plantain Lasagna)

pastelon on a plate
Photo and Recipe by Sense and Edibility

This freezer- and make-ahead-friendly plantain casserole can be kept on hand for all your future meal trains.

Click here for the recipe

One-Pot Mexican Casserole

Mexican casserole with avocado
Recipe and Photo by Luci’s Morsels

A delicious one pot dinner with all your favorite mexican flavors topped with melty cheese. Serve with sour cream and avocado for true deliciousness!

Click here for the recipe

Vegetarian Enchilada Casserole

vegetarian enchilada casserole
Photo and Recipe by Chef Savvy

This easy Vegetarian Enchilada Casserole is layered with black beans, corn, green chilies, enchilada sauce and corn tortillas! It’s an easy vegetarian meal the whole family will love!

Ready in 40 minutes or less, and perfect to freeze.

Click here for the recipe

BBQ Chicken Cassserole

bbq chicken casserole
Photo and Recipe by Wholesome Family Living

For classic American taste that is a crowd favorite dish, make this easy BBQ chicken casserole for your next meal train! It is easy to make it fit into a variety of diets and is allergen friendly!

Click here for the recipe

Tater Tot Casserole

tater tot casserole for meal train
Photo and Recipe by The Gunny Sack

Tater Tot Casserole has a creamy layer of ground beef, Italian sausage, green beans and corn topped with crunchy tater tots and melted cheddar cheese.

Click here for the recipe

Bacon Cheeseburger Casserole

bacon cheeseburger casserole
Photo and Recipe by Wholesome Family Living

For burger taste without the grill, make this bacon cheeseburger casserole for a meal train dish everyone will love!

Final Thoughts

Meal trains are a great way to help people in need. They’re also perfect for helping families who have been through major life changes and can’t cook.

I hope these tips and tricks help you!

Am I missing anything? Let me know your favorite meal train tips and tricks or recipes in the comments below!

Pin for Later

Save this post on Pinterest to come back to later

meal train recipe and guide pinterest pin

Author

  • Ali Van Straten

    Ali Van Straten is the founder and journalist of Champagne and Coffee Stains. She is a Peloton expert, certified running coach and certified nutrition coach. Champagne and Coffee Stains provides information and resources on Peloton Interactive, running and recipes.

Want to save this post?

Enter your email below and get it sent straight to your inbox.

Save Recipe

Similar Posts

One Comment

  1. Karen Carpenter says:

    If you have a real dish that you don’t want back (I sometimes keep one or two in the pantry. for such purposes.) Expressly state on the dish no need to return. If the family ends up freezing it, they are likely to forget that you said no return, etc. I usually like the disposable pans with foil top. BUT these can be flimsy when full of food so brace them with cardboard underneath or cookie sheet you don’t want back. (See note above about labeling. I tape a copy of the recipe listing the ingredients and bake/reheat instructions to the lid. This helps the family in case there are any unlisted food allergies or personal dislikes etc and makes it easy to warm up if frozen. If you don’t tape anything be sure to use a sharpie to label.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *