A meal train is a great way to help out friends or family members in need.
Typically, meal trains are most helpful during a major life event (in this case, a new baby). By providing food for a new family during a demanding time, meal trains help relieve some of life’s stress by eliminating decisions like grocery shopping, what to have for dinner, etc.
Perhaps the most important tip for a helpful meal trian is getting the timing right. For new parents, setting up a meal train a couple of weeks after postpartum is usually perfect timing, but don’t be afraid to ask the parents what they’d prefer.
As for length and frequency of the meal train, four to six weeks long is a generous rule of thumb, and dropping food off two or three times a week is another helpful guideline. Again, though, don’t be afraid to ask the parents what would help them most!
On that note, here are some more helpful tips for meal train foods, etiquette, and more:
Our 13 Best Meal Train Tips
1. Find a time that works best for the parents
To make your meal train as convenient and helpful as possible, coordinate ahead of time with the parents about what time is best to bring food. Setting up a time that works for them is a great way to go the extra mile and make things easier for them.
2. Ask about dietary restrictions and food preferences
It’s always best to bring food that everyone can enjoy. To do this, it’s a good idea to ask in advance about any dietary restrictions or food preferences your meal train recipients may have. If there are any restrictions or preferences, don’t worry! There are amazing swaps, substitutes, and recipes out there on the internet for any diet.
3. Make something homemade
Takeout is convenient, but new parents are capable of ordering takeout themselves. They’re less likely to have the time necessary to prepare a nice home-cooked meal. That’s where you come in!
4. Bring greens
There’s nothing wrong with “classic” meal train foods like lasagne and casseroles, but consider that this may be what everyone else is also gifting them.
Put yourself in the new parents’ shoes: it’s not necessarily great to only receive heavy, calorie-laden meals. New parents are already sluggish! Greens or other lighter foods may be a welcome change of pace.
5. Make enough for leftovers
What’s better than one meal that you didn’t have to plan for or prepare? Two meals that you didn’t have to plan for or prepare!
You can help new parents get more mileage out of your meal train by preparing enough food that they’ll have a few servings leftover.
6. Don't forget dessert
Treating new parents to something sweet is always a nice touch. Remember our earlier note though that this doesn’t have to be something super heavy or unhealthy.
Instead, you can find naturally sweet desserts in a wide variety of flavors, like Maxine’s Heavenly cookies, which are especially good for dietary restrictions and good for lactation.
They also make great meals when you're in a pinch, one friend of our team said Maxine's was clutch when she was too tired and busy to make lunch. She just grabbed a cookie and kept working.
7. Don't hold the baby unless it's offered
Every parent is different when it comes to their child. Not everyone wants a bunch of people touching their new kid, especially given the recent pandemic. It’s best to respect this and not ask to hold the baby unless they offer the idea to you first.
8. Wash your hands before holding the baby
On a related note, if you do end up holding the baby make sure your hands are clean! The recent pandemic aside, this is always a good practice. It takes time for a newborn’s immune system to develop, and you don’t want to be the reason they get sick.
9. Ask what the parents are feeling up to
It’s thoughtful to ask ahead of time if the parents are feeling up to having dinner with you, or if they just want you to drop off the food and go. If it’s the latter, don’t take it personally! Being a new parent can be draining and overwhelming, and sometimes the best gift you can give is the ease of a relaxed meal dropped off at their convenience.
Another tip: leaving a cooler on the porch can make it easy to drop meals off if parents are working, can't come to the door, or simply aren’t feeling up for a social meal.
10. Be a helpful guest
If you do end up staying for dinner, clean the dishes after you’ve finished eating. This simple gesture will go a long way in relieving some of the parents’ extra work.
11. Don't overstay your welcome
Whether you’re staying for dinner or just dropping some food off, remember that new parents are tired. While some socializing may be a welcome break for them, it’s also likely that they need their rest.
So when they start yawning, head out and leave them to have some much-needed rest and relaxation.
12. Don't give the parents unsolicited advice
“The worst vice is advice.” Although you mean well and may be able to provide some helpful advice, realize that new parents are constantly inundated with information and responsibility. If they want advice, they will ask for it.
What they are unlikely to ask for it help. Which brings us to our next tip:
13. Ask if the parents need help with anything else
Ask if there’s anything you can help with before you leave.
These can be simple things like sweeping, taking out the garbage, or doing a load of laundry. Ask what’s needed, and let them know you’re there for them if anything comes up that they may need a hand with.
Meal trains are a great way to help out new parents, and we hope this post also gave you some ideas on how you can make your meal train as helpful as possible.
Remember to go the extra mile by asking what your recipients are feeling up to and how you can help, and make sure to respect their wishes during such an overwhelming time.