The arrival of a new baby. Loss of a loved one. Financial difficulty. Illness. Hospitalization. These are just a few of the situations that bring out a family’s need for assistance with meal preparation. In these times, we as friends, neighbors, and community members are given the holy opportunity to extend a hand in loving assistance. When we plan or participate in a meal train program, we can help alleviate the worry about cost, time, and energy of meal preparation for those in need. We are able to show the mercy and love of God to those around us by providing for the basic human needs of others.
It Takes a Village
I was once blessed to be a part of an amazing group at my parish called St. Anne’s Circle. These ladies know how to take care of families! Whether it was to celebrate the birth of a baby, help out during chemotherapy months for our friends, or provide meals when a family member had passed away, the Moms’ Meals Coordinator (yes, that is an actual board position in this group!) would set up a meal calendar online to care for the family. All of the ladies in the group would pull together and make sure that people were fed and needs were met.
How to Start a Meal Train
Being in that group for over ten years and preparing countless meals (not to mention the years I spent as the Coordinator myself) taught me a few tips and tricks about the art of meal delivery. As with most things, planning ahead and using the proper tools for the job are key. I’m excited to share with you what I’ve learned!
The Two Best Meal Train Organizational Websites
First, there’s Meal Train. When you’re organizing a calendar of one meal per day, the service is free. You can customize the dates and times the meals are needed and specify any food preferences, allergies, and more. The service interfaces well with other social media outlets to make sharing a breeze. Volunteers are emailed one week and then again one day before their requested date. The layout and design of this site is really nice and can even be set up using pictures for a more personal look. Meal Train is very user-friendly and has great tutorials and video demonstrations, too.
Another option for meal calendar organizing is Take Them a Meal. Similar to Meal Train, this is a free service with customizable dates and times and a place to share preferences, allergies, and delivery instructions. You can set up reminder emails for your volunteers and can also password protect your calendar in order to keep information private. An added bonus to this service is the treasure trove of recipes and blog posts of suggestions to make the volunteer experience easier!
While Meal Train appears shiny and considerably more technologically advanced than Take Them a Meal, both offer a convenient and free service. That said, you can’t really beat Take Them a Meal in the returning customer category. Over one million meals have been organized through that site!
Tips for Meal Preparation and Delivery
- Think ahead when you sign up for a date. Look at your own calendar to check your availability. Know what you’d like to cook and check what others have already signed up to bring. Try to avoid repeats! There really is such a thing as too much pasta or chicken.
- Pay special attention to delivery requests. Note the time they have requested for their delivery and whether they care if the meal is delivered hot or cold.
- Be particular about the food containers you choose! I always try to use disposable containers whenever possible. That way, I don’t have to remember to track down dishes that I need back and the family with a new little one or ill family member has fewer dishes to do.
- Package your items carefully. Make sure lids close tightly and containers aren’t too big or too small. Learn from the time I ended up with meat gravy all over the trunk of my car! It was an ugly, ugly mess and my van smelled for months.
- Include preparation instructions. If your dish needs to be reheated, a topping needs to be added, or a salad mixed in a certain way, it’s best to include those instructions to avoid confusion.
- Double the recipe! So often it’s just as easy to make a double batch of a recipe as it is to make a single. Whether you keep the second half for your own family to eat or send it along ready for the receiving family to put in the freezer, doubling is best.
- Make note of special circumstances. How many kids and adults will be eating the meal you prepare? Are there food allergies? Things that the kids just won’t eat? It would be a shame to make a meal that the family couldn’t eat.
- Keep your visit quick. Unless you’ve previously arranged a visit with the family or are providing additional care, it’s best to be in and out as quick as possible.
- Make breakfast instead of dessert. If you like to bake, consider making some muffins or quick bread for the family to enjoy the next morning!
- Don’t stress if something comes up. Things happen. Kids get sick and life gets hectic. If circumstances change at the last minute, don’t stress. Offer to order pizza or deliver carry-out from their favorite restaurant. It might be just hit the spot!
Favorite Recipes and Meal Ideas for a Meal Train
Most people who love to cook have their go-to recipes and crowd-pleasers. In our group, certain people were known for certain items and it was always a treat to know that you were getting to share in the deliciousness. But if you need a little inspiration in the kitchen, here are some easy favorites that I frequently use.
- The Best Sloppy Joes from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe – Served up with some cut veggies, applesauce, buns, and chips or pretzels, this dish is a winner. Bonus: It makes a ton!
- Pioneer Woman’s Macaroni & Cheese – Pair this comfort food with a warm green vegetable in the cooler months or a tossed salad in the warmer ones and your friend will love you forever.
- Mom’s Deep Dish Pizza Casserole – All this easy dish needs is a side salad!
Some other favorites I’ve made include breakfast casseroles for a “breakfast for dinner” night, meatloaf, barbecued pork sandwiches, or chicken sandwiches. Take Them a Meal recently published a blog post with helpful dinner ideas, too.
The Ministry of Feeding People
I can honestly tell you than feeding people in need is one of my very favorite things to do. Jesus told us that whatever we do for others, we do for Him. I hope that, if you see a need or are given the opportunity to help in this way, you now feel a little more prepared to do so. A little grace and a little mercy served up in a tasty dinner sure is good for the soul.
Beth Williby is a mom of four pretty amazing humans and has been married to her college sweetheart for almost twenty years. She does her best praying through singing and feeding the people she loves. Having grown up in the Midwest, she now calls Northeast Florida home. You can find out more about her here.