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!).
Table of Contents
- What is a Meal Train and How Does it Work?
- Why is it Called a Meal Train?
- How to Organize a Meal Train (And Who Should Organize Them)
- Who Are Meal Trains For?
- Meal Train Etiquette
- How Long Should a Meal Train Last?
- How to Ask for a Meal Train
- Meal Train Tips and Tricks
- How To Say Thank You for a Meal Train
- Best Recipes for Meal Trains
- Final Thoughts
- Pin for Later
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. It's usually started with a spreadsheet or sign up list
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:
- 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.
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
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!
Slow Cooker Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes
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.
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.
Vegan Lasagna Rollups
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.
Full of comfort, this Ham Tetrazzini is an easy make ahead meal that can be reheated when ready to eat.
Cheddar Brats and Peppers
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!
French Beef Carrot Stew
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.
Instant Pot Chicken Burrito Bowls
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!
Quick Red Beans and Rice
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!
Instant Pot Vegetarian Chili
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!
Sweet Potato Tortilla Soup
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!
Homemade Chicken Soup
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.
Tomato Basil Pasta
This one-pot pasta dish is simple yet incredibly addicting and flavorful! Great ingredients, minimal effort!
Chicken Enchiladas with Salsa Verde
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!
Tuscan Roasted Chicken Thighs
A fabulous make-ahead chicken dish with a delectable sauce. Perfect for meal trains.
Healthy Breakfast Burritos
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!
Pastelon (Puerto Rican Plantain Lasagna)
This freezer- and make-ahead-friendly plantain casserole can be kept on hand for all your future meal trains.
One-Pot Mexican Casserole
A delicious one pot dinner with all your favorite mexican flavors topped with melty cheese. serve with sour cream and avocado for true deliciousness!
Vegetarian Enchilada Casserole
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.
BBQ Chicken Cassserole
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!
Tater Tot Casserole
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.
Bacon Cheeseburger Casserole
For burger taste without the grill, make this bacon cheeseburger casserole for a meal train dish everyone will love!
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!
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