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The Do’s and Don’ts of Meal Trains

I’ve been a part of a large moms group since I was pregnant with my first. So I’ve been involved in many meal trains. And while I’m no real expert on this, I do feel like I’ve learned a lot along the way. I’ve been the giver of a less than stellar meal, and I’ve been the recipient of some as well. And on the flip side, I have received some meals that were fantastic, and I don’t necessarily just mean the food. 

I now know that the key to a really well-received meal train has some important things to consider, but the main point is just thinking through the details, and think about how you would want to receive a meal from someone when you need it. Here are some do’s and don’ts I have picked up along the way: 

Do communicate.

Especially with the person you’re bringing the meal to, or whoever was put in charge of handling that. Let them know the day of when they can expect you and make sure that works for them. Ask them any more specific questions you have regarding the meal you’re bringing, but keep in mind they may be occupied otherwise. 

Don’t stay forever when you drop a meal off.

Read the room, and the vibe.

If the baby is really fussy, just politely set the meal up, congratulate the parents, and excuse yourself. The general rule of thumb is to stay no longer than 15 minutes. You probably brought a hot meal and it would be good if the recipient could eat it that way.

You aren’t the only one dropping meals off; and having visitors everyday can begin to wear on people. Then the meal train feels more like a burden than a blessing. 

Do think of the whole family. 

Bring enough for the amount of people listed, and potentially leftovers.

If the family has kids, be sure to think about them. My kids are sometimes hesitant to eat other people’s cooking. I like to include some healthier snack options of fruit or kid friendly meal option. Try to make it a back up, meaning that whatever you bring for the kids doesn’t have to be eaten right away in chance the kids do eat the dinner you brought. Think along the lines of chicken nuggets, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, etc.

Don’t no-show.

This has to be the biggest don’t on the list.

I know that things come up and sometimes you just completely space that you signed up to bring someone a meal. I have unfortunately been there, and I have also unfortunately done that. Before you sign up, check your calendar (seems somewhat obvious) but this is often what gets me in trouble. Don’t sign up for a Tuesday, when Tuesdays are your most hectic day.

Most meal trains will send you email reminders a week before, and even the day before. Which is so helpful when you are grocery shopping and preparing. Set a reminder the day of in your phone.

I have felt awful those few times I have just completely dropped the ball. That family was counting on me to bring them a meal, and I failed them. The thought doesn’t count in this instance. 

Do read the instructions.

The header is where so many of your questions can be answered.

And if you feel like you have no idea what direction to go, that space will help to give some ideas. Typically it includes the family’s favorite types of food, their least favorite types, and any allergies or dietary preferences/restrictions. If you love to make your famous spaghetti, but the meal train says the family doesn’t particularly love red sauces, then choose something else. Again, think about how you would want to receive a meal from someone. 

Don’t assume you have to cook a meal. 

If cooking isn’t something that you are into, and especially don’t want to bring someone else your food, don’t think you can’t participate in a meal train! You absolutely still can!

Sometimes it is just plain easier to swing through a Chick-fil-a, or order a pizza, and bring that over. Keep in mind that sometimes having food brought from a restaurant is a welcome treat for everyone. It doesn’t mean you care any less than someone who made food.

If you do want to still bring a good home-cooked substitute then swing into Costco or try Kilyn’s Kitchen! They have a great pre-made meal section and is so easy to heat up, or freeze! BONUS! Do keep in mind the heating time required and maybe ask if you can drop the dinner off sooner. 

Do go the extra mile, if you can.

Think about the next morning and bring some bagels or something easy for them to eat.

One of my dear friends actually did this for me after I had my last meal train. It was so thoughtful and really made me feel like she wanted to make sure I was taken care of.

Or you can also bring a dessert. There is something so comforting about dessert whenever you are going through something. But really the most simple thing to do is bring a full meal, with a side dish and maybe a salad along with the main dish. 

Do ask the family if you can set up the dinner.

Sometimes, they would prefer to do it. This especially applies if you don’t know the family that well. Some people just prefer to not have people come into their home.

They feel they need to be a good host/hostess, and when you need a meal train it means that you are the one being served. Some meals require some explanation, or specific set up. Therefore, in case the family would just prefer to put it together themselves, include a notecard with instructions of heat times and temperatures, what things are, and how you typically enjoy that meal. 

Don’t assume it means you can hold the baby, or ask a bunch of questions about labor and delivery.

Remember you are blessing the family, not demanding information or holding rights. Basically, don’t assume you are getting anything other than the good feeling of helping someone out. If they offer for you to hold the baby, then BONUS! 

People mean well, I really do believe that. And as cliche as it always sounds, it really is the thought that counts. Don’t be afraid to set one up for a friend, either. It’s as easy as asking them a few questions to see what works best for them. That’s the majority of the work, the rest just blesses them. 

Happy meal training! 

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3 Responses to The Do’s and Don’ts of Meal Trains

  1. Rachael August 9, 2018 at 6:53 am #

    I would add to take disposable dish ware. I waited until the last minute once and couldn’t find disposable dishes. I felt so bad that the mom had to wash and return my dishes!!

    • Katie
      Katie August 9, 2018 at 8:50 am #

      Yes that’s a great “do” as well! Thank you!!

  2. Karin Rivera August 14, 2018 at 8:38 pm #

    Piggy-backing off of the disposable serving dishes note, it can be super helpful (and fun) to provide paper plates & napkins. There are fun and cheery patterns to choose from, and they help with easy clean up, that kids can join.

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