Meal Train Ideas: 100+ Recipe Ideas to Share Meals with Friends

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Updated: Feb 14th, 2024

One of the joys of having a community is having a network of people who can help in little ways when life feels overwhelming. Another joy is being a part of a community that can cumulatively shepherd someone through a hard time.

One of the ways to show up for someone is by cooking meals to take to someone

However, there are many other ways to give aid: manage the meal train setup, taking a vehicle to the mechanic, ringing someone up, completing and sending an application, or shopping for groceries. In essence, there is no shortage of ways to show support to the individuals we care about. So, what method do you plan on using to lend a helping hand?

There are plenty of ways to support the people we are close to — how do you show your care?

Benefits of Bringing a Meal to Someone

Supporting our loved ones through a big life change can come in many forms – from being a listening ear to lending a hand, from reminding them that they are not alone to running errands and even calling to check-in.

To some, cooking a meal, packaging it up, and dropping it off might feel like a simple act. We are so comfortable cooking that it hardly feels like a burden, and those are precisely those of us who should be leaning into this way of showing up for the ones we love. 

Undoubtedly, receiving a meal is a great comfort to people in the thick of a life transition. When someone is going through a big life change, they may be too busy or overwhelmed to think about food or cooking. Bringing a meal can be a great way to help them and let them know we are there for them. 

The final thing I will say about bringing a meal is that it isn’t overwhelming to the recipient, or at least doesn’t have to be. People in crisis can feel overwhelmed at the outpouring of support or have difficulty letting someone help them. Keeping the actions simple, like delivering a single dinner, might be the difference between someone accepting help and not accepting help.  

What to Consider When Bringing a Meal

When wanting to show your support for someone during a difficult time, many options exist beyond being the one to cook a meal. Take a moment to think about what your strengths are. Do you like to cook? If so, then go ahead! If not, what other skills do you have that could be useful? 

Consider volunteering to deliver meals made by your cooking-savvy pals, or you can even offer to be a cleaning crew for someone else making food. Alternatively, you could always send your friend a delivery or grocery gift card. No matter how you choose to help, it’s sure to be greatly appreciated.

Alternatively, take the initiative and volunteer to coordinate a Meal Train, Care Calendar, or Lotsa Helping Hands account. Talk to them about dietary restrictions, how they want the meals delivered, and other details. Offer to be the coordinator for the entire meal train; this could be what your friends are looking for relief from.

Meal Train Ideas

Meal trains are a great way to organize meals for someone in need. A meal train allows friends and family to sign up to bring a meal at a certain time. This way, the recipient doesn’t have to worry about making their meals or asking people to bring them food. Meal trains can also be a great way to get friends and family involved in the recipient’s life change.

Meal trains can be organized online through Meal Train, Care Calendar, or Lotsa Helping Hands. These services make organizing meals easy and tracking who has signed up to bring what. 

The Best Meals to Take Someone During a Big Life Change

When it comes to a great meal train meal, it is essential to consider all the recipient’s requests. This is not the time to experiment with something out of the ordinary or push their boundaries, but rather to provide something that will bring comfort and that they will undoubtedly enjoy. Additionally, the meal should be delivered promptly and be a full meal for the entire family.

I prefer to deliver meals that can be frozen if the family doesn’t finish the entire meal. 

Don’t forget something fresh! Many meal-train recipients have endless pasta dishes, casseroles, and soups. Don’t forget to include some fresh-cut fruits and vegetables, a salad, or roasted vegetables. 

Creating quick, easy, comforting, and healthy meals is important. A meal can emphasize one of these categories more than the others, but bringing them all together into one dish is possible.

Are you the “cooking friend”?… I am.

You may have heard that it is customary to provide someone with a meal in the event of a major life event, such as a death in the family, a new baby, or a medical diagnosis, and this article will assist you with doing just that. Nonetheless, be aware that you can be a great friend and help out in ways other than bringing food.

We all have our strengths, and as my friends will tell you – I am the “cooking friend.”

Not only am I the one to happily drop by with a meal, cook a meal for a friend of a friend, or host everyone for dinner. I am also the friend everyone texts with food-related questions or when they need recipe ideas. 

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve received a message that says, “I need to take J+R a meal. Do you have any ideas?”

So, I spent some time and put together this list. 

The list below is the one I share with friends when they need ideas of what to make for themselves, each other, and loved ones. 

From quick and easy meals to healthy meals and everything in between, here are the best meals to take someone during a big life change.

Below is My Personal List of Meal Train Ideas

Wholesome Soup and Stew Recipes for Meal Train

When offering support to a friend in need, a warm and comforting soup or stew can be just the thing to show you care. Whether it’s a classic chicken noodle soup or a hearty beef stew, these dishes are sure to bring comfort and warmth during challenging times. So, gather your ingredients, simmer them together, and present your friend with a delicious bowl of homemade goodness.

One of my favorite ways to package and gift soups/stews is to freeze them in these Souper Cubes and then pop them out, store in ziplock bags and drop them off. This way the recipients can pop out one meal at a time.

Not finding the soup you are looking for? Here are a few more long lists of soup recipes that might have the perfect option for your friend: 30 Soup Recipes from Modern Proper, Feasting at Home Soups and Stews, and Pinch of Yum Soups

Rice Casserole / Rice Dish

When gifting a rice dish for a meal train, consider making a flavorful fried rice dish or a comforting rice casserole to provide a delicious and hearty meal for the recipient. Include a note with reheating instructions to make it easy for the recipient to enjoy the dish at their convenience.

Delicious Pasta Dishes and Pasta Sauces

Pasta dishes are a go-to option for meal trains and a comforting choice for many. Whether you prepare the components or the entire dish, it’s a quick and easy way to show someone you care. And if you’re whipping up a classic like spaghetti and meatballs, why not make a double batch and save some for yourself? It’s a win-win situation that’s sure to satisfy everyone’s cravings.

Pasta Bake

Pasta bakes are a fantastic meal train delivery option because they are comforting, easy to reheat, and loved by many. There are various ways to deliver baked pasta to someone in need. You can send it hot in a disposable metal casserole dish for immediate enjoyment. Alternatively, you could provide it prepped but uncooked with clear cooking instructions on the package. Another option is to deliver prepped and uncooked pasta in smaller disposable baking dishes, allowing the recipient to freeze some for later use. For added convenience, you can deliver pre-frozen pasta in Souper Cubes for easy storage and cooking from frozen. One of my favorite choices is lasagna roll-ups that can be individually frozen on a cookie sheet and then cooked as needed. To complete the delivery, include a jar of sauce and a bag of mozzarella for a complete meal package.


Sometimes, it’s nice to have a meal that can be assembled however they like. Consider sending cooked pulled chicken or pork without sauce, allowing your friends to add their preferred sauce, such as BBQ, teriyaki, or buffalo. You could also provide a bottle or two of sauce for convenience. Another option is to buy a rotisserie chicken or packs of pre-pulled rotisserie chicken from Costco. Alternatively, cook chicken breasts or pork in a slow cooker/Instant Pot, shred them, allow them to cool, and then package them up for your friends. To complement the protein, include a few packs of frozen rice or quinoa. You could also include a box of greens and a bag of tortilla chips for added variety. By providing a protein, a grain, a bottle of sauce, and some cut veggies, you can help your friends create multiple meals throughout the week.

You can eat sloppy joes on buns, but we often eat them on potatoes/sweet potatoes out of the freezer. Just wash the potato, poke a few holes, and microwave for 3-5 mins (depending on size). Mash the potato and top with warmed-up sloppy Joe mix for a quick lunch/ dinner. 


In my opinion, a stir fry is the perfect mix of healthy proteins, veggies, and comfort food. Don’t forget to include some frozen rice packs!


Casseroles are easy to assemble ahead of time, making them a great meal to drop off to a friend. They can be prepared and gifted at room temperature. The recipient can either bake it immediately, store it in the refrigerator for a day or two, or freeze it until ready to enjoy. This makes them a very versatile meal to gift. If you buy the Souper Cubes, freeze them like this 


When gifting burritos or wraps for a meal train, it’s important to consider what ingredients will freeze well. Opt for roast veggies, quinoa, rice, beans (canned is great), and meat (such as rotisserie chicken tossed in taco seasoning for a quick option). However, be sure to leave off toppings like sour cream, guacamole, and lettuce when freezing to maintain freshness. This way, the recipients can simply reheat and enjoy a delicious and convenient meal during a busy time.

Meal Packs

When gifting meal packs for a meal train, I recommend preparing multiple meal packs of the same dish (2-3 servings) and cooking one serving for your friends to enjoy on the evening of the meal delivery. Make sure to include side dishes like a green salad or mashed potatoes to complement the main dish.

Your friends can consume one serving and store the remaining two servings in the freezer for future meals. For recipes that can be cooked in a slow cooker, Instant Pot, or oven, you can prepare the ingredients ahead of time. Simply place everything in a bag, freeze it, and then dump it directly into the cooking appliance when ready. If cooking from frozen, allow for additional cooking time, or defrost the packs in the refrigerator overnight before following the regular cooking instructions.



Looking for a thoughtful and delicious gift to bring to a meal train? Consider gifting a homemade curry dish that’s sure to warm hearts and bellies alike.

Baked Potatoes

When gifting a baked potato dinner for a meal train, consider turning a simple baked or sweet potato into a full meal by adding all the fixings. This hearty and customizable option is sure to be a comforting and satisfying meal for those in need.

Spaghetti Squash

Spaghetti squash?! Yes, this is one of my favorite ways to mix it up after a family might have had too many pasta nights. Cook a spaghetti squash, shred and mix it with sauces, cheese, meats, and other fillings. The recipients can easily bake them or freeze them for another night. 

I freeze them in their skins. Pull the whole filled half of the squash out of the freezer and allow to defrost in the fridge overnight. Then bake or microwave. 


For a vegetarian meal train, consider preparing dishes like vegetable stir-fry with tofu, lentil soup, quinoa salad with roasted vegetables, stuffed bell peppers with rice and beans, or a hearty vegetable lasagna. These options are not only delicious but also nutritious and satisfying for those following a vegetarian diet. You can also cook a batch or two of beans for the family to use when topping bowls and salads or eating with a spoon as a snack.


Breakfast and snacks are often overlooked when planning meals, but they are actually some of the items that receive the most appreciation. One easy way to prepare for busy mornings is to make a batch of pancakes or waffles ahead of time. Simply cook, allow them to cool, layer with parchment paper, place the paper in ziplock bags, and store in the freezer. This way, you can easily grab a delicious and satisfying breakfast without any hassle.


Salads can be a welcome addition to any meal train! When everyone is trying to prep meals, vegetables, and fresh produce can often be forgotten. Here are some of my favorite salads that hold up well for a few days.

You can dress beforehand using a hearty green such as kale or cabbage. Otherwise, pack the dressing in a container on the side! 


Remember snacks! You can make cookies or energy balls, but my tried-and-true tip is to use chopped fruits and vegetables. 

Yup, you read that right. I get rave reviews from new parents about washing, peeling, chopping, and prepping fruits and vegetables for them. I cut grapes into small sections and wash them, chop strawberries, cut oranges into small bite-sized pieces, and peel and chop carrots or peppers. 

Cookies of all kinds. Just make the dough and freeze it in balls. Pull one out at a time and bake.

Tips for Bringing a Meal

Gifting a friend a meal train dinner? Read my full guide on meal train etiquette. This post has everything you need to know. I’ve got all my tips, tricks, and considerations listed out for you.

In the meantime, here are some basics. When bringing a meal to someone during a big life change, there are a few things to remember. First, ensuring the meal is properly packaged and labeled is important. This will help ensure the meal is safe to eat and can be easily reheated.

Additionally, include instructions for reheating and/or preparing the meal. This will make it easier for the recipient to enjoy the meal. Finally, make sure to include a card or note with the meal. This will make the gesture even more meaningful and show the recipient how much we care.

Frequently Asked Questions

What type of meals should I bring to a meal train?

  • Take into account the recipient’s food preferences and any specific requests listed on their meal train page.
  • Consider the recipient’s favorite cuisine type, whether they prefer warm or cold meals, and their go-to dishes.
  • Assess your own availability in terms of time and budget for the meal train contribution.
  • Select a meal that is easy to transport and reheat for the recipient’s convenience.
  • Be mindful of any dietary restrictions or preferences the recipient may have.
  • If the family has children, ensure that the meal will also be suitable for them.
  • Choose meals that can be reheated multiple times and will provide the recipient with several servings.
  • Keep in mind that cooking is not a requirement – takeout or pre-made options are also excellent choices for a meal train contribution.

How should I package the meal for transport?

Choose containers that are disposable, durable, and leak-proof. It’s best if these containers can also be placed in the fridge for storing leftovers. Make sure to label the containers and their contents for the recipient’s convenience. If you happen to be giving them dishes that you would like back (although it’s not recommended), consider placing a piece of blue tape with your name on them.

Can I bring dessert or side dishes along with the main meal?

Absolutely! Bringing along dessert or side dishes to complement the main meal is always a thoughtful gesture. Don’t forget snacks and breakfast items, too – they can make a big difference. Even if they’re not the main focus, these additional items can contribute to a meal train drop-off. Another idea is to prepare and deliver pre-cut fruits and vegetables ready to enjoy straight out of the container. It’s all about making things easier for the recipient and providing them with various delicious options.

How far in advance should I prepare the meal before bringing it?

It’s best to prepare the meal as close to the delivery time as possible to ensure it stays fresh and delicious for the recipient. If you need to prepare the meal in advance, consider freezing it and providing reheating instructions for the recipient. This way, they can enjoy a freshly prepared meal at their convenience.

What should I do if I am unable to participate in the meal train?

If you cannot participate in the meal train but still want to help, consider sending a gift card to a local restaurant or grocery store that the recipient can use to purchase meals or groceries. You can also offer to help with other tasks, such as running errands, doing chores, or providing childcare.


Every gesture, no matter how small, makes a difference. When people we care about need help, trying and tackling everything at once can be tempting. However, it’s important to focus on what we can do best and get other people involved to help in their small ways. 

Bringing a meal to a friend can be a major comfort, but there are many other ways to show your care. Whether it’s participating in a meal train, cooking, managing and organizing the meal train setup, or doing something else that can help, the main thing is that you’re making an effort. And it’s easier for us to show up in a way that allows us to contribute meaningfully.

Listen to Episode 4 of the Friendship IRL Podcast – How to Navigate Big Life Changes with Friendsto learn more about to be there for someone during a big life change.

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Hi! I'm Alex.

I am just a person who has spent an extraordinary amount of time trying to understand some of the relationships that I hold most dear. I invite you to join in on the conversation below in the comments section below.

Ask questions, leave comments, share critiques or give advice. All are welcome.

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Hi. I'm Alex.

I'm just a gal who cares deeply about community + friendship. Why? Well, I didn't have a healthy support system growing up.

So I built one... out of friends. I believe a healthy support system is the ultimate self-care.

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