Meal trains are commonly organized after significant life events, including birth, adoption, surgery, illness, death, divorce, new job, or moving to a new community. Caring friends, family, co-workers, congregation members, neighbors, and communities show their excitement or compassion though the organized delivery meals.
During significant life events, schedules and routines are often disrupted and the cooking of a healthy meal may become very difficult. The organization of a meal train helps ensure that during these challenging times, a nourishing meal is provided to those in need. The meal train also allows for friends, family, co-workers, congregation members, neighbors, and community to show their support for those during significant life events. This sharing strengthens friendships, neighborhoods, and communities.
The meal train is typically organized by a friend of the family (organizer) who has knowledge of the recipient’s meal preferences, allergies, schedule, calendar, and knows who should be included. With this information, the organizer creates a meal sign up calendar of the available days and known meal preferences. Then, s/he contacts friends of the recipient to let them know that a meal train has been created and to ask if they would like to participate in bringing a meal to the friend in need (recipient). The organizer keeps track of the days that are booked and what meals will be given and communicates the information to the meal recipient and other participants. Additional friends and family who would like to participate after the initial invitation contact the coordinator to learn the specifics of the meal train.
The following are items that should be considered to ensure success of a meal train.
- Date when the recipient would like the meals to start
- Date the recipient would like to stop receiving meals
- Booked vs. available nights
- Time the recipient eats dinner
- Food allergies
- Dietary restrictions (vegetarian, vegan, allergies, etc.)
- Food preferences
- Take-out preferences
- Meals already delivered
- Number of people the meal should feed
- How much the giver should bring
- How long the giver should stay when dropping off a meal
- Is there anything else that is needed (groceries)
- Conflicts with the giving parties’ schedules
The success of a meal train is dependent on the organizer’s ability to keep careful track of changes to the meal sign up calendar and to be able to relay this information to both the recipient and friends of the recipient. Recently, the internet has played an important role in facilitating meal train creation as sites now offer shared real-time calendars to ensure information is communicated between parties promptly.
- When dropping off a meal, plan not to stay more than 10-15 minutes. This will obviously depend on your existing relationship, but it is safer to expect that the meal recipient is not ready to entertain yet.
- Arrive at the requested time.
- Make enough for leftovers. Freezable meals are also nice.
- Don’t forget the extras like drinks, condiments, salad dressing, and dessert!
- If there are children in the household, consider including a special toy or treat for them to help with what may be a transitional time.
- If you plan to have something delivered (e.g. pizza), make sure to pay for a tip in advance and specify the delivery time.
- If possible, deliver your meal in a recyclable or reusable container.
- Be sure to label any items that you would like returned to you. Include a large paper bag that the recipient can use to store your items until you can coordinate a pick-up date in the future with the recipient.
- Include clear preparation instructions, i.e. "Bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees."
- Consider including a note or a card to the recipient wishing them well.
- Have a map to the recipient’s house and a phone number in the event that something comes up on the day of delivery
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