Whenever a difficult or tragic circumstance arises the first thing people ask is “how can I help?”. People often offer food or bring meals when someone has an illness or a family member passes away. However it is not really much help at all if everyone shows up at the same time with food, you can run out of fridge/freezer space and much will go to waste if it can’t all be eaten in time. That is where a meal train comes in. A simple way to organize all of the offers of food so that the family gets help when they really need it. In this blog post we will cover how to easily organize a meal train using free apps that are available to help keep everyone organized. And don’t worry I will give some delicious suggestions for meal train meals like this family friendly Easy Chili Recipe.
How to Easily Organize a Meal Train with Free Apps
What is a Meal Train?
So what exactly is a Meal Train? A Meal Train organizes meals for friends or family after a death in the family, birth, surgery, illness or any significant life event that requires some extra help. I have been part of several meal trains to support other moms in my community, some of whom I have never met, because supporting others in our community by providing a meal during a difficult time is least I can do. The circumstances around why the meal train have varied from unthinkable tragic loss of a child, a sudden death of a father, and an unexpected NICU stay with a newborn. When there is an outpouring of support ti can be helpful to organize it so that the family is not overwhelmed all at once. With most meal trains a group of people come together to support the individual or family by providing 1 meal a day. Know someone who could use a little support? I encourage you to start a meal train and reach out to friends and family of the person needing the support to join in. Don’t worry it doesn’t take much to start up a meal train, and I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how many people are willing to help out.
Tips for Organizing a Meal Train
Talk to the family – while many offers of help are well intentioned it is important to talk to the family first to see if they are open to this sort of generosity. Don’t push it and let them know that their will be minimal work on their part, just re-heating the food when they are ready to eat. It may also be helpful to let them know that this will help keep the people who want to help organized so they don’t end up with 5 meals 1 day and none the next.
Get Numbers – Find out the number of people who will be at the house for the meals to get an idea of how large the meals should be. For example, are there family coming to stay from out of town to help care for children while a parent is in the hospital? Get an approximate number is helpful for people who will be providing the meals
Food Preferences and Allergy Check – Do a quick check with the family to see if their are any allergies, or any foods they do not eat.
Get Organized – Decide how you are going to track the Meal Train. You can use a shared spreadsheet on Google Docs or a free meal train app that makes it easy to track who is signing up for which day. Check out the list below for some free apps you can use for Meal Trains.
Get prepared– A great way to organize the train is to put a cooler at the drop off location so that if the family is out or if they would rather not be disturbed there is a safe place to drop off the food. A couple ice packs placed in the cooler daily will keep everything fresh until the family brings the meal inside. A sign on the top of the cooler can be flipped over to let the family know the meal has been dropped off and is waiting for them.
Get creative – If everyone makes chili for the Meal Train it will get boring pretty quickly. The goal is to have easy meals on hand that just need heating up with minimal prep work. Remember the family is going through a stressful time, so this is not the right time for a complex meal that takes a lot of time for them to prepare. Check out the Meal Train meals below for Inspiration.
Free Apps for Organizing a Meal Train
If love Google Docs then the quickest option may be create a public spreadsheet with a row with the dates meals are needed. Then people would complete the columns beside the date they are choosing with the who is providing the meal and what they are providing (to try to avoid duplicates).
I have used the website MealTrain.com for a couple of Meal Trains I have participated in and it provides a easy to navigate user interface where you are able to quickly see what dates open to provide meals and sign up for a date that works for you. MealTrain.com also provides an email confirmation and an email reminder the day before your selected Meal Train day.
If you are organizing the meal train, remember to include instructions such as:
Please leave meals in the cooler on their front porch at any time. Flip sign on top of cooler to say “dinner’s ready”. Don’t use containers or dishes you’ll need back; dollar stores have great disposable foil trays, etc. No allergies, no preferences; choose your favourite meal to make and I guarantee it will be hit and greatly appreciated.
The link for to the Meal Train calendar can easily be shared via email or social media so that people can easily sign up to support the family needing a helping hand.
If you know a family who could use a helping hand, I encourage you to start up a Meal Train. This aids others who want to help but are just not sure how to be able to offer a token of support in the form of a meal, while easily keeping everyone organized so not to overwhelm the family. Your thoughtfulness and organization will be appreciated by many. I hope this blog post outlines how to easily organize a Meal Train with a Free Apps, if you have any questions about setting up a Meal Train ask them in the comments below!
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