There are all sorts of moments in life where our family, friends or even acquaintances need the help of a meal train. Recently, I have had the honor of gifting some meals to friends adjusting to life with new babies. Keeping in mind that these are new moms and families I have tried to be creative with meals that are nutritious, fast, freezer-friendly, and most importantly for new moms… can be eaten one-handed. A new baby at home is such a joyous reason to set up a Meal Train (or Care Calendar or Sign up Genius or LotsofHelping Hands). However, there are also all sorts of reasons someone could need their loved ones to lend a helping hand and give them a little extra care. Recovering from an accident or injury, the death of a loved one, adoption, job hardship, divorce are all reasons someone could benefit from one fewer item on their list. When my mom passed we had many family and friends who gifted us with meals and I am pretty sure my dad didn’t have to cook for months. Looking back, I can’t even imagine how necessary that was for my dad with three kids and the world turned upside down. It doesn’t have to be a meal, either. Some of my friend’s parents went to Costco and were BEYOND generous. They appeared with an entire car full of pizzas, frozen lasagnas, burritos, berries, pre-made salads, packaged snack foods. Anything and everything a family with kids could want to take one more burden off of my dad. I can’t emphasize enough how extremely generous this was. I’m not saying you have to arrive with week’s worth of food. This is about the thought. Anything you can do helps. Having spent some time recently considering what makes a good meal train gift, I have some tips and tricks for you.
CHOOSING WHAT TO MAKE FOR THE MEAL TRAIN
- Don’t Cook? Don’t shy away from the gift of takeout. Everyone loves the ability to pick up the phone and order exactly what they want. I am a huge fan of gifting an Uber Eats gift card here in Seattle. This is also a great idea if co-workers are looking to pool money together for a gift.
- Be Creative. Pick a Theme. Most of the online meal train tools encourage you as a gifter to enter what you are bringing. I highly encourage adding a quick list of what you will be bringing to ensure someone doesn’t end up eating the same meal multiple nights in a row. Pasta, Casseroles, and Quiches are pretty common. Take a moment to be creative and pick a different theme. What about a Greek Feast complete with a Mediterranean salad (so many fresh vegetables), hummus, pita, and some spiced meatballs?
- Follow the Dietary Restrictions. Most meal trains will include any dietary restrictions in their description. Even if you know the recipients incredibly well, hard times can sometimes cause an adjustment to eating habits. Some foods won’t agree with new moms. Take note and adjust accordingly.
- Don’t ask them what they like to eat. This is likely an overwhelming time. So much so that they are asking others to help feed them. We’ve all been in the grocery store starving and completely overwhelmed by the choices only to wish someone would tell us what we want (Oh… Is that just me?). You are that someone swooping in to feed them. Follow their dietary restrictions and just give them whatever sounds good to you.
- Disposable containers only, please. Don’t force the family to keep track of what needs to be returned. If you absolutely must send something in a container you want back include a paper bag with your name written largely on it so that they can place the item in the bag and hide it away. In my opinion, you are now responsible for asking them for that item back.
- Freezer-Friendly is the way to go — This is another bonus category. If you are making enough for leftovers, pack them separately so that they can be frozen instead of taking up precious refrigerator space.
- Do all the assembly. Things should be dump-and-go. Nothing should require more than 1-2 quick, easy, mindless steps.
- Do they have kids? Don’t forget about them. Consider them when you select what to bring — nothing too adventurous or spicy or if you are feeling up to it, a special meal just for the kiddos and something more fun for the adults. Also consider that the adults likely won’t have time for their normal grocery store trip. Throw in a few squeeze fruit pouches, yogurts, popsicles, and kid-friendly beverages.
- Throw in some Fresh Fruit and Veggies. Many gifted foods are heavy, comfort type foods. Consider including a salad and even some additional produce. Be sure that all of it is washed, cut and ready to go so that all they have to do is open the container and eat.
A LITTLE SOMETHING EXTRA
- Breakfast — This is my personal favorite. Dinners are always taken care of, but no one ever talks about breakfast. This is truly a “go above and beyond” suggestion. I love to include pancakes layered with wax paper so that can be pulled out individually, muffins, breakfast sandwiches that are all ready to go in the freezer and eaten as needed.
- Drinks and Dessert— Whether they are store bought or homemade everyone loves a pint of ice cream, dozen cookies, or few cupcakes. Drinks are another item that isn’t commonly included. Do you know someone loves something in particular? Pack one of those along. They likely don’t have the time to get out and pick up that favorite beverage and would be delighted to see it in their bag. A gallon of milk or juice is also a thoughtful touch, especially if they have kids at home.
MEAL TRAIN DELIVERY
- Pay attention to the requested meal time. If you plan to deliver outside of that time frame, be sure to let them know and provide instructions on what needs to be refrigerated until dinner time.
- Don’t Stay. Drop the food and head out. If this family was going to host you, they would be preparing the meal. Better yet, suggest that your friends leave a cooler on their front porch for people to deliver without disturbing them.