What is a Meal Train and How to Organize One?
Cooking is associated with emotions and love. Especially home-cooked food is considered a token of love expressing care. A meal train speaks volumes about this idea.
You might have heard of a meal train. What is it? It is one of the most appreciable trends that highlight the compassion and care among members of a community. There is so much more to it than just sharing food.
If you have been curious about them, this article is for you. Here is everything you need to know about a meal train and tips for organizing one.
What is a Meal Train?
A meal train is a creative way of helping a friend or relative in need by sharing food. It refers to a series or course of cooked meals delivered to someone in need. There are many events in life when they might be unable to prepare food for themselves for any reason.
It might be a baby's birth, someone’s death, an injury, illness, or any other reason. In short, it can be any type of life change why they need an extra helping hand. It becomes difficult to perform routine tasks during hard times such as family loss or health issues. One such thing is eating, which is a necessity for life. This is where meal trains come into action.
What do Meal Trains Symbolize?
A meal train is a way of assuring that they are not alone in their suffering and you care about them. Through a meal train, you ensure that the person or family eats well without worrying about groceries or cooking. It is usually organized by a group of people.
They coordinate together and perform their due role in bringing the idea of a meal train to reality. The people working together on this task may be friends, family, relatives, or strangers. The idea is to share warmth and love through meals.
How Long Should it Continue?
The length of a meal train depends on the person in need and the providers. It may be for a day or two or may continue for over a month. Usually, they are continued for a week or two. You can adjust the timing according to the need of the person. They may run for a longer period of time.
In case of home shifting and death, two or three weeks are enough. A postpartum meal train usually continues for four to six weeks. If there has been a health issue, it may continue for a month or more. The number of meals also depends on the need and what both parties have agreed on. You may only volunteer for dinner or all three meals.
Steps to Set Up a Meal Train
Do you need step-by-step guidance to set up a meal train? Here you go. You can follow the following steps to ensure a smooth meal train.
- Invite Volunteers: The first step is to gather a team of volunteers who will help you with the meal train. You can invite your relatives, family members, friends, or neighbors. Once you have gathered the team, you can proceed further.
- Create a Meal Plan: The next step is to create a schedule or plan. Create a spreadsheet and include the delivery date and time, description of meals, and the person who will cook the meal. You may customize it as you find convenient.
- Assign Duties: one person must take charge and delegate duties to all members. Coordinate with your team and decide who will prepare what. Assign each day or meal to a member to ease the burden.
- Equip yourself sufficiently: Your meal train requires more than just planning. To execute your plan, you will need several pieces of equipment. Make sure you have them in hand. For instance, you might need containers, a cooler, plastic wrap, tin foil, storage bags, and other packaging materials.
- Execute your plan: Once you are all set to set up your meal train, execute your master plan.
- Follow up: You must also take the responsibility to oversee if everything is going according to plan. Keep a check on daily progress and offer help to any member if they need it. Motivate and appreciate them for their contribution.
Online Meal Train Apps
You can use online programs and apps to be more organized in your meal train planning and execution. They are available for free and paid options. The following are the most popular options to consider.
This is probably the most popular option on this list. You can use it for free or at a reasonable price of $10. It aims to connect the recipients and helpers to bridge the communication gap. It ensures that there is no confusion around the whole preparation and delivery process. It includes email reminders, digital gift cards, and online calendars to help you with scheduling.
Care Calendar is another free option that facilitates more than meal planning. As the name indicates, it allows you to schedule visiting your ailing loved ones. It is an online program to enhance communication between both parties. The tasks are scheduled, and volunteers can choose according to their convenience.
Take Them A Meal
Do you need an interactive calendar to organize your meal plan? Take Them A Meal might be the right option for you. It is a well-designed and easy-to-use program. You can use the calendar to include key considerations such as allergies or any other special instructions. After creating a schedule, you can collaborate with other members.
It brings all the important aspects of the plan to a single platform. You can then share it with all members. It prevents the repetition of the same meals or late food deliveries.
10 Tips for Organizing a Meal Train
Here are some amazing tips if you have been thinking of organizing a meal train. By following them, you can ensure a foolproof meal drop off for your loved ones. Have a look at them.
1. Do your Homework
The foremost thing you need to know is who is in need of food. When you know that for whom you are organizing a meal train, the rest of things get a bit clearer. For instance, are you cooking for a large family or a couple? Do they have any specifications regarding their food? Are they allergic to some ingredients? Are there any kids in the family? Can you use dairy products or not?
There might be some religious considerations, such as Muslims eating halal food only. Some might be vegetarian, while others might be lactose intolerant. Missing this essential information can kill the real idea behind this initiative. You must know the dietary needs of the recipients. You can simply ask them to know all these details. There is no use in providing food that they do not or cannot eat.
2. Extra Attention for Kids
Mostly, when you organize a meal train for a family, there are kids included. Preparing food for kids requires a bit more attention. You have to take care of their taste as well as their health. Especially when parents are away or sick, kids do not pay much attention to their food.
Include some yummy and healthy food items for kids. Ask them about their preferences and include them whenever possible. Make sure you do not put any ingredient they are allergic to. There is a variety of options available for kid-friendly meals. Cook what is convenient for you and accepted by the kids.
3. Use Disposable Dishes
Do not use the dishes you expect to get back. It might be difficult for the recipients to take care of the dishes and return them separately to each volunteer. They may not remember what belongs to whom. If you are organizing a meal train for your neighbors, it is easy to get your dishes back. Still, it does not look good to make them worry about returning your dishes.
A better idea is to deliver food in disposable containers. It will create convenience at both ends. Neither will you have to worry about getting back the dishes nor will they for washing and taking care of them. Another idea is to use inexpensive dishes that you can collect all at once. They can be reused for other meal trains also.
4. Decide a Drop-off Time
Drop-off time is yet another important consideration. Decide this in advance. You should coordinate with the recipients and know when they will be at home to receive the food. Their timing may vary based on their jobs. It also depends on when you will be free. Therefore, it is important to coordinate and agree on a mutual time when both parties are available simultaneously.
If your timings do not match, you can rely on some makeshift arrangements. They might leave a cooler outside their house. You can leave food in it as per your schedule, and they can receive it according to their convenience. Take care of their privacy and personal space.
5. Occasional Gift Cards
A meal train does not mean restricting yourself to home-cooked meals. There might be some days when you cannot or do not want to cook. It is fine. You may order food from a trusted restaurant and deliver it. You may add a gift card to allow them to go out and have a pleasant dinner. This way, they can have what they like and want to eat.
You can also adopt it as an option for meal train members who are not able to cook. They can simply send ordered food or restaurant gift cards when their turn comes. Make sure the food does not contain anything prohibited by the recipients.
6. Keep a Diverse Menu
Would you like to eat the same meal straight for a week? Most probably not, even if it is your favorite. Keep this in mind. Design the menu as you would design for your family. Keep it interesting and diverse.
If the recipients have some specifications regarding their food, consider them. Sometimes medical considerations may limit you to some specific meals. In that case, prefer the prescribed menu. You may sometimes add a dessert or a snack for the kids.
7. Label your Dishes
Nobody knows if the dish needs to be baked, reheated or frozen until you mention it. Avoid delivering any meal without labelling it. There might be kids in the family or others unaware of these considerations. Write clearly on the dishes how you want them to be treated before eating.
You may also include a list mentioning any instructions regarding the complete meal. Try your best to prepare easy-to-eat meals without many requirements. It is necessary to avoid wastage and ensure the health of the recipients and the safety of food.
8. Fresh and Frozen Meals
It might not be possible for you to deliver hot and fresh food all the time. There is no issue in scheduling a combination of fresh and frozen meals. It creates convenience at both ends. The recipients can keep it and eat it whenever they want. Make sure the frozen items are also easy to heat and do not involve much frying or baking.
9. Use Containers with a Strong Lid
While dropping off food, it is important to take care of its safety. Make sure you do not spill it. To ensure this, you need to use strong lid containers. They keep the food fresh and secure and avoid spilling in case of liquid food. You may even tape them down to ensure extra safety.
10. Communicate Well Wishes
It is important to take care of your loved ones and be there for them when they need you the most. Along with meal trains, offer them your words of kindness and consolation. If it is a positive life change such as home shifting or baby birth, congratulate them and offer your best wishes.
You may also send them a bouquet or a small gift. Another creative idea is to include a small card with each meal. Write something on it that cheers them up or relieves their sorrow. These are the things that bring out the best inside us and build long-term relations.
Whether you consider cooking a love language or not, meal train is the most creative and graceful way of helping others. The most important thing to consider is planning and organizing. Get everyone on the same page, divide tasks, monitor, and you are done. It is one of the best activities you would never regret doing. Involve children to teach them a lesson of caring for others when they need you the most.
Meal Train FAQs
What is the objective of a meal train?
The objective of a meal train is to help someone in need of food at difficult times. A group of friends, family or relatives prepare and deliver meals until the need is fulfilled.
Can a recipient set a meal train for themselves?
Yes, the recipients can set up a meal train for themselves. The idea of a meal train is to offer a helping hand. Therefore, usually, it is set up by others.
How long should you meal train for baby birth?
It is better to meal train for a month or one and a half months for baby birth. This is enough time for the mother to recover. You may adjust it after coordinating with the recipient's family.
How do you invite someone to a meal train?
You can invite someone to a meal train by connecting with them through social networking sites, email, phone calls, or a direct face-to-face invitation. You may use an online app that makes it easy to reach out to people.
Can you organize an online meal train?
Yes, you can organize an online meal train. There are plenty of free and paid apps to help you in this regard. They eliminate the confusion and worry usually involved in meal train planning and organization.