Meal trains are versatile gifts – they are incredibly helpful and appropriate to give someone both in times of grieving and in times of joy. If someone has lost a family member, gained a family member, fallen ill, or experienced a surgery, a meal train can be a huge service to them.
Organizing a meal train is a gift that keeps on giving: although you may only make one meal for your recipient, you facilitate many more meals coming to their table. But organizing can also be tricky (or, as one person desperately described it to me, “a logistical nightmare”). The key to organizing a meal train is to be as prepared as possible. So, if you’ve decided to organize a meal train for a friend or family member, here are three preparation tips to consider to make the process as successful and peaceful as possible.
First, collect information from the recipients. If the precipitating event is something you can anticipate (i.e., a surgery or the birth of a baby), you can do this even a month or so in advance. If the precipitating event was unexpected (i.e., the sudden death of a loved one), you will be working on a shorter timeline. In either scenario, you’ll need to gather some key information from the recipient, including:
- what allergies the family has
- food likes/dislikes of each family member
- how many people will be eating
- the timeframe for dropoff that will be most convenient
- what days of the week meals would be most useful
- (if the recipients don’t specify, three days a week – including one weekend date – is a good default)
- when, relative to the precipitating event – birth, death would be most helpful for meals to begin
- (if the recipients don’t specify, four to six weeks starting a week after the event is a good default)
- the family’s favorite takeout restaraunts in the area and typical orders from those restaraunts (this information will be particularly useful for out-of-town loved ones and non-chefs!).
Second, set up the meal train signup. There are two parts to the setup: choosing a format and practicing.
Choosing a format entails deciding how participants will sign up for your meal train. I do not recommend doing this over an email chain, as the information can get quickly overwhelming for everyone involved. A shared document can work, but there are also many websites available that offer meal train signup services.
(Personally, I prefer websites that send automatic reminders to participants, so I don’t have to do it myself. I also prefer sites that allow participants to list what they are bringing; that way, people tend to avoid bringing the recipients three tuna casseroles in one week. I also prefer free websites. All this taken into consideration, I tend to use Take Them a Meal.)
Then comes practicing: create and try out your meal train signup ahead of time! You won’t know what challenges will arise until you do, and it’s better to figure that out before the recipient needs meals rather than after. Don’t worry about people finding the train online before you send it out; most meal train websites will let you keep a train private until you are ready to send it to the world, and if you are using a shared document, you can always keep it private.
Third, start a list right now of people and groups you will invite to participate in the meal train. Here are some places to consider when deciding where you’ll send the meal train signup:
- the list of attendees at a wake or baby shower
- the recipient’s social media page
- your own social media page, if your circles overlap with those of the recipient
- the recipient’s workplaces
- other organizations the recipient is a part of – churches are a great example.
I hope these three preperation tips help make your meal train organization experience smooth. Thank you for the effort you are putting into helping your loved one!
This is the first part of a four-part series on meal trains. Check back next Sunday for tips on how to be the best meal train participant you can be!