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9 Tips for Organizing a Meal Train

Want to get a group together to help a friend in need? Organize a meal train to bring them food. Here's how to coordinate a meal train and tips for success.

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Female Neighbor Helping Senior Woman With ShoppingDaisy-Daisy/istock/getty images plus

What’s a Meal Train?

When a loved one is going through a challenging time—maybe they’ve had a baby or experienced a loss in the family—it’s common to bring them a meal. Meal trains are a way for multiple people to coordinate that meal sharing. Setting up a meal train ensures that your loved one is fed and helped out during their difficult time. (Here are our best meal train dinner ideas.) Follow these tips to make the most efficient, helpful meal train.

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How to Set up a Meal Train

Generally, one person coordinates friends and family to start a meal train. Chat with your group to decide who’s available to share food, assign days for each person to drop off meals, and share meal details so your friend doesn’t end up with 10 different lasagnas.

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Young black woman reading a problematic text message on her mobile phone while working at home.skynesher/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Tools for Organizing Your Meal Train

A simple group email can suffice, although it can be easy for details to get lost in the thread. A shared Google spreadsheet provides the information at a glance. You can also try an official planning tool, such as Meal Train, which has a paid version or a free alternative.

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New family member, baby girlStefaNikolic/iStock/Getty Images Plus

How Long to Meal Train?

This really depends on your group’s capacity, as well as the situation of the recipient. For someone recuperating from an illness, a week or two of meals might suffice. For new parents, an entire month or two is so thoughtful and helpful (and for them, it’ll pass in a sleep-deprived jiffy)! These are the foods new parents really want.

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Red pepper wrapKarinaUrmantseva/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Coordinate on Food Preferences and Allergies

Give your loved one a heads up to expect a meal train. If you’re not familiar with their dietary restrictions or concerns, make sure to ask ahead of time, and spread the word to the group. Find easy ideas for gluten-free, dairy-free and vegetarian recipes.

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Blue plastic ice containment box.Ninja Artist/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Coordinate on a Drop-Off Time

Check with the meal train recipient to see what days of the week and times of day are best for dropping off meals. If they work full-time or have other commitments, they may prefer a drop-off in the evening or early morning. Don’t be offended if the person would prefer a cooler left on the porch rather than a visit.

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The classic Sicilian dish made with rigatoni pasta, fresh eggplant, onion, basil, olive oil, and mozzarella cheese.boblin/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Provide Frozen and Fresh Meals

A hot, steaming meal is appealing and very welcome—but so is a frozen, wrapped-up meal ready to reheat when it’s convenient. These are our favorite freezer meals. Be sure to include a clear label on every item, including the date you made it and warming instructions.

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Packed meals in plastic boxespitpilai/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Use Containers You’re Willing to Give Away

While some meal trains participants may get every dish back, it’s a real possibility that dishes and storage containers might get confused in the course of the train. Use disposable pans and trays, if you like, or these reusable storage containers. Just don’t use your favorite heirloom dish.

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Different types of veggies each in a platic container FotografiaBasica/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Think Outside the Casserole Dish

Don’t get stuck in a casserole rut. It’s totally welcome to share a mix of foods, like plain fresh fruits or snack foods, are ideal. Give them sandwich fixings: a bag of rolls, lunch meats and cheeses. Or a ready-to-make salad: a bag of lettuce, container of chopped-up vegetables and a jar of salad dressing they can toss together at mealtime.

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Shot of an unidentifiable businesswoman accepting a pizza delivery from a delivery man in the officePeopleImages/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Bonus Points for Gift Cards

One of the most popular items in a meal train? A restaurant gift card: treating them to a night out at a favorite restaurant is a nice change. Some meal trains also include options for monetary donations instead of meals, so meal train participants can drop off take-out if they don’t have time to cook. (If you spring for pizza delivery, here’s the chain to call.)

Kelsey Rae Dimberg
A former in-house editor at Taste of Home, Kelsey now writes articles and novels from her home in Milwaukee. She's an avid cook, reader, flâneur, and noir fanatic. Her debut novel, Girl in the Rearview Mirror, will be published in June 2019 by William Morrow.

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