Have you ever made soup for a sick friend? Or picked up ice-cream because your girlfriend had a sore throat? That’s what meal trains are all about. It’s neighbors helping neighbors in times of need—a great way to help out and show your sympathy.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What to Consider Before You Bring a Meal
- Meal Train Ideas for New Parents
- Meal Train Ideas for Sick Friends or Family
- Meal Train Ideas for Grieving Families
- Meal Train Ideas for Coworkers
- Kid-Friendly Meal Train Ideas
In the past, meal trains were based on the old phone tree system your parents used. Now, they’re organized online. With a quick search, you'll find a few (free) websites to organize your meal train. Once you discover how easy this makes your life, you'll never go back to phone trees.
What to Consider Before You Bring a Meal
When you make a meal train online, first, you organize a calendar where people can sign up for days and times. That means no calling, leaving messages, then waiting to hear back from everyone. As you organize, here are a few things to consider:
- What's the best drop-off time? Morning or afternoon?
- How long should people stay? 10–20 minutes?
- What if no one answers the door? Leave it at the door, then send a text?
Once you’ve sorted out the logistics, consider the menu. You'll want to list likes and dislikes, allergies, and even dietary considerations. That way, no meals go to waste. Things to consider:
- Are they vegetarian?
- Do they hate spicy food? Love sweet food?
- Any known allergies?
A few etiquette extras. Make a note not to arrive unannounced or sick when dropping off meals, and don't overstay your welcome. Also, make sure everyone brings the dishes in sustainable containers that they don't need back. Avoid extra stress!
Now that you know the drill, here are a few ideas to help you decide what’s on the menu.
Meal Train Ideas for New Parents
New parents don’t get a lot of sleep. That means low energy and little ambition to cook big, time-consuming meals. Make sure to consult the meal train for allergies or sensitivities with the newborn.
1. Seven days of mason jar salads
Greek, salade niçoise, cobb, Ensalada Noche Buena, Thai noodles, Caprese, and ginger-ramen salads all make excellent mason jar options.
Some advice: use fresh organic ingredients and layer the dressing on the bottom to avoid soggy salads.
2. Don't forget the flowers (fudge and snacks)
Flowers brighten any room. A basket of protein-packed chocolate snacks will help with some low-energy and droopy eyes after some long, late nights with a new little one.
3. Fruit smoothies and cold-pressed juice basket
Juices and smoothies are the easiest way to quickly get in those vitamins and minerals that energy-drained parents are lacking.
Make sure to label the ingredients and date the jars if you’re making them yourself.
4. Keeping' it sweet and cold
You have to admit, nine months is a long time to watch other people enjoy mimosas. This simple recipe just needs a few splits of prosecco and pulp-free orange juice.
Advice: pack the basket with icepacks so it’s ready-to-serve. As a bonus, the new parents can use the packs later to help with any swelling or soreness.
5. Mom's lasagna
There’s an unwritten rule somewhere that says you have to share homemade lasagna if it’s that good.
Plus, who doesn't love leftover lasagna? Don't forget to include the baking instructions!
Meal Train Ideas for Sick Friends or Family
You know them better than anyone. You know exactly what they need to feel better.
Even if you’re a terrible cook or you burn the dish just a little, your friend or family member will appreciate anything you do for them.
6. Slow-cooker chicken noodle soup
Your friends and family may not care if you spend a little extra time preparing this for them at their house.
Just use their slow cooker and then set a timer to make it effortless.
7. "Just like Mom" care basket
True mom-style care includes ginger ale, soda crackers, and yogurt. But don't stop there. Add in the hard candy, lozenges, mentholated rub, a heating pad, and some Epsom salts.
8. Chicken tortilla soup
If you don't want to bring a giant soup pot, you can prepare this in just three containers. Put the chicken in one, the dry soup ingredients in another, and then the refrigerator items in the third.
If the recipe is complex, include step-by-step stove-top cooking instructions.
9. Mason jar chili with cornbread muffins
If your chili recipe has bragging rights, then it's just selfish not to share it. Advice: include some fresh-baked cornbread muffins.
10. Cool that fever
Frozen fruit pops and sorbet will help with fevers. Include a special bowl for the sorbet so that every time they need some comfort in the future, they'll think of you and your kindness.
Meal Train Ideas for Grieving Families
Carbs are comforting. So bread and other hot pasta dishes are some of the best funeral foods for grieving families. Even if you’re stopping by for just a few minutes, don’t forget to make the rounds.
If you can’t find the right words to say, you can always leave your condolences in a simple card.
11. Meat, cheese, and sweets tray
Charcuterie is catching on. And grief can lessen people’s appetites. So, put together something they can nibble on throughout the day.
You can stick to the standards or go for something more adventurous if you know they’ll appreciate it.
12. Seven days of soups
Comfort soups might look different depending on your background. So before you make a giant pot of tortellini soup, check with the organizer of the meal train website.
Bringing both frozen and fresh container options just in case is a wise move
13. Breakfast quiche
Breakfast meal train ideas are so much easier than you think. For some, all you need is a great recipe and a muffin tin. Not everyone is a fan of asparagus or goat cheese.
So keep the recipes basic and simple unless you know the recipient’s palette well.
14. Homemade pasties or pot pies
If you’re Michigander, you already know how comforting a pasty (aka pot pie) is on a cold day—or when you need to feel closer to home.
If you’re not very good at making pie crusts, you can buy the premade ones to avoid the stress.
15. Greek chicken (pasta) salad with lemon
This salad is healthy, hearty, and the lemon adds a nice brightness to the dish. You can deconstruct the salad for the travel and refrigerator time.
Definitely keep the lettuce (greens) in a separate container.
Meal Train Ideas for Coworkers
To find out what your coworker’s likes and dislikes are, double-check the sign-up sheet online. If nothing is listed, they’ll likely appreciate any one of the choices below.
This soup is easy, light, brothy, and delicious. Look for the vegan version that cuts down on all of the oils and fats from the meat, which can wreak havoc on sick bellies.
If you’re going with meatballs, frozen will cut the cooking time in half.
17. Flavored water basket
When you’re not feeling well, staying hydrated is key. So load up a basket of flavored waters to keep your coworkers healthy and hydrated. Advice: skip the bubbles unless you know your coworker is a fan.
18. Bloody Marys
They’re not just for hangovers. There’s an actual science to the Bloody Mary! This drink is full of antioxidants, lycopene, vitamin E, folate, potassium, manganese, fiber, and vitamin C to name a few.
The only part of a Bloody Mary that’s not so good when your sick is the vodka. Go for the non-alcoholic version.
19. Ramen jars with chopsticks
The vegetable and protein combinations are endless! Make it easy: put the broth in a separate container and bring chopsticks in case they don’t have any.
20. Kansas City BBQ basket and sweet tea
If you’ve ever been to Kansas City Plaza, you’d understand. If not, here’s your chance to give it a try with some online recipes.
Advice: deconstruct the ingredients as much as possible and bring washable napkins.
Kid-Friendly Meal Train Ideas
While some kids are notoriously picky eaters, allergies are your biggest concern. Check with the meal train coordinator if you want to make something off the list.
If you want to go the extra mile, stick around and keep the kids entertained for a moment. Their parents will be able to get some chores accomplished.
21. Easy to make mini pizzas
When the little one is feeling a little better, this will get them out of the bed so mom or dad can wash their sheets.
If you want to make it fun, send over the deconstructed version so they can sit down in the kitchen and assemble as a family.
22. Chicken and spinach carbonara
Kids love buttered pasta. This version just takes the base and adds some other nutrients to get them up and going.
23. Bubbles and chocolate-dipped frozen bananas
Every kid loves to blow bubbles. And every kid loves something cold when they’re not feeling the best. Some advice: cut the bananas in thirds or quarters before you dip and freeze.
24. Flavored pancakes with dippers
Pre-griddle some pancakes so mom or dad doesn’t have to work extra. If you make a few flavors like banana or peanut butter, you’ll hit the mark with at least one.
They will last longer if you freeze them, but they taste so much better when they’re fresh.
25. Muffin-tin cheese-only lasagna
Small portions for small eaters are the way to go! Plus, what kid doesn’t like pasta? Pre-boil the noodles to save yourself some cooking time.
Food from the Heart
It takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a community to show love and support in times of need no matter what age we are. Pay it forward so that one day you will have the love and support you need when you are sick or grieving.