Hop on a Meal Train Like a Pro

Bowl of chili with white dish towel and red Le Cruset Dutch oven
Photo by Becca Tapert on Unsplash

If you’ve had a baby recently, or if you have friends having babies, you’ve probably heard of Meal Train. This website helps friends and family coordinate meal deliveries for people who have experienced a recent life change (a birth, a death, a surgery or a major illness, for example) and could use some relief from the daily work of finding their next meal.

I was lucky to have wonderful friends who brought enough food to our house after my daughter was born that I didn’t cook a single thing for a month. And I’ve had the honor of reciprocating many of those friends’ generosity when they had babies of their own. When you’ve had a long day of sweet baby cuddles but also consistent fussing, a hot meal that the new parents don’t have to prepare themselves is the best gift – to receive or to give.

If you’re participating in a meal train there are several things you can do, besides cook up (or order up) something delicious, that will make the meal even more enjoyable for the new parents. Here are 10 tips for participating in a meal train like a pro:

10 Tips for Participating in a Meal Train Like a Pro:

1. Know the dietary preferences or restrictions of the meal recipients.

This is THE MOST IMPORTANT tip by far. Be aware of any food allergies, health or religious restrictions or simple preferences, and honor those. Are they allergic to shellfish or nuts? Choose a dish that does not involve either. Are they vegetarian? Make sure what you cook doesn’t even use animal-based ingredients like chicken or beef broth. Do they or their children dislike eggs? Don’t bring over a quiche, no matter how much your family likes your Grandma Flossie’s recipe. In short, respect their dietary restrictions and preferences. When in doubt about whether or not an ingredient is kosher, ask them. They will be more than happy to explain further what they can or cannot eat.

2. Bring a well-rounded meal

Protein, carbohydrate, vegetables, and fruit. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Salad kits and pre-cut fruit bowls from the supermarket save you time while supplying the nutrients we all should be eating regularly. Breastfeeding moms especially need complete meals to fuel their milk supply. Find some recipe inspiration here.

3. Don’t like to cook, but still want to contribute?

Ask if the family is okay with meals you pick up and deliver from a local restaurant. You could also offer a gift card to a restaurant that delivers (or at minimum, offers takeout). Homemade meals are delicious, but so is food from their favorite eatery.

4. Check-in with your recipients the day you’re bringing food over.

Tell them when you plan to be there. Use their preferred mode of communication, whether that’s a phone call, text, Facebook message or carrier pigeon.

Personally, I recommend texting because most new moms leave their phone ringers on silent so that incoming calls won’t wake a sleeping baby. It’s also the most immediate way of reaching someone.

Confession time: When my child was a newborn, I used Snapchat with my friend group to (over)share pictures of my baby. One of those friends, who is an excellent cook, was scheduled to bring us a meal one day. All day long she sent me Snaps of the elaborate meal she was cooking for us, including a Snap of her loading everything into her car to head over. However, my newborn was cluster feeding that day and I wasn’t checking Snapchat at all because I was preoccupied with my baby’s needs. When dinner time rolled around and my friend still hadn’t shown up, we piled into the car to find some takeout, miffed that my friend had “forgotten” to bring food. Not more than two miles into our drive, Chef Friend called me to say she was at our house, had left our meal on the front steps, and would just have to meet our baby another time! We felt terrible we doubted and missed her, especially after I discovered all her Snaps the next day. The moral of the story? Trust your friends to fulfill their meal train obligations, and ask them to communicate with you in your preferred way!

5. Deliver the meal while it’s hot.

Unless the recipients have made it clear cold dishes are acceptable, or it’s okay to drop off frozen or ice-packed food for later consumption.

6. Ask where to leave the meal if they’re not home.

If you’re unable to drop off food when the recipients are home, ask them where to leave it, and drop it off in a disposable (or better yet, returnable) cooler so the food stays warm/cold until they arrive home.

7. Large portions are always welcome.

Pack enough portions for the family to eat right away in one container. Pack the rest of the servings in a freezer container for later.

8. Write the date and what’s inside on each container.

This is so helpful to new parents in those foggy newborn days if you’re delivering enough food that it’s likely some of it will go into the fridge as leftovers.

9. Use disposable containers. 

That way, you don’t have to make an extra trip back to their house to pick up your dishes, and they don’t have to spend time doing dishes. If using single-use plastics bothers you the way it bothers me, Amazon offers affordable, biodegradable single-use containers.

10. Bring something extra, such as dessert or muffins for breakfast.

New parents usually appreciate having something sweet to indulge in during late-night feedings or a breakfast item they can easily grab during the morning rush. (But see tip No. 1 again, and make sure they’d be okay with an extra treat!)

A meal train is one of the best gifts you can offer new parents, or anyone going through a rough life transition. Consider these tips your ticket to runaway meal train success!

Have I left out a helpful tip that you swear by? Help us all out by leaving your meal train pointers in the comments!