Mastering the meal train changes how we care for each other in times of need. Read on for tips on the best ways to use a meal train app and what to avoid.
Mastering the Meal Train
When you have a baby or experience a crisis, chances are people show up with food. While this used to require phone calls and the risk of too much lasagna, Meal Train and other meal schedule apps make providing meals easy and straight-forward. Here are some meal train tips and dinner ideas for helping families when they need it the most.
Home-cooked comfort food hits the spot with new moms and families with kids. Tacos, baked ziti, and rotisserie chicken are all easy, crowd-pleasing favorites to bring to families. Pasta casseroles are easy to both freeze and reheat as leftovers. Bring a vegetable as a side, or fresh fruit, a win even with kids who have plenty of food aversions.
Enchiladas and burritos work well as a whole family dinner and also can be served individually. With new parents, or families recovering from COVID, schedules are off, and food is necessary at all times, with little prep. These Spinach and Chicken Burritos can be eaten together or one-at-a-time over a long, sleepless week.
Soups and chilis also work well after a new baby, during an extended illness, or after a death. When you make a big pot of something hot and yummy, groups can eat it for days or freeze it for later use. This white chicken chili recipe is a go-to for meal drop off. It’s not too spicy, perfect for freezing, and if you double your batch, it dishes out comfort for days.
As a thoughtful bonus, bring along a few items for breakfast. Breakfast happens every single day and we all know how quickly the milk and cereal disappear. A bag with frozen waffles, fresh bagels, and orange juice could mean more than an elaborate dinner dessert.
Freezer-Friendly Tips for Meal Train Meals
When families are receiving meals, the fridge can fill up fast. Making freezer-friendly meals allows families to store food for later (when the meal train is over) and reduces the risk of food waste. Families who have an extra garage freezer can easily store extra casserole dishes or soup containers for the weeks ahead. To make freezer-friendly meals, consider making an additional casserole already wrapped for the freezer that they can bake later. Or include zip-loc freezer bags with your meal, so people can dish extras into the bags to freeze for later. If possible, use containers that are freezable and that you don’t need back. That way, families don’t need to find Tupperware or plastic wrap to freeze meals, and they don’t have to worry about storing and then returning borrowed dishes.
Cheesy Chicken, Broccoli, and Rice Casserole
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 cups diced rotisserie chicken
- 1 tsp Italian seasoning
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 2-1/2 cups chicken broth
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1-1/4 cups white long grain rice
- 2 cups fresh broccoli florets cups fresh broccoli florets uncooked
- 10 oz. Condensed Cream of Chicken Soup
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese separated
- 1 cup Ritz crackers for topping
- 2 tbsp butter for topping
Cheesy Chicken Broccoli Rice Casserole
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
- Cut chicken into small pieces and season with Italian seasoning, garlic powder, and salt and pepper to taste.
- Add the chicken broth, olive oil, and rice to the pot and boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.
- Tightly cover and cook for 7 minutes.
- Add the broccoli and replace the cover. Cook for 8 more minutes. Do not stir.
- Turn the heat off and leave the pot covered. Let the rice stand for 10 minutes without stirring.
- Add the cooked chicken, soup, milk, sour cream, and half of the cheddar cheese.
- Transfer to a lightly greased 9 x 13 casserole dish. Top with remaining cheese.
- Cover and bake for 15 minutes.
- Melt the butter and crumble up the crackers. Combine to form the topping for the casserole.
- Top the casserole with the crumbled cracker topping and bake uncovered for 10 additional minutes.
Take Out and Drop-Off Dinner Ideas
Several popular restaurants now offer family meals for easy take out and drop off. Often the meal train scheduler will list the family’s favorite spots on the sign-up page. Gift cards are always a generous option, but keep in mind, when things are stressful at home, the fewer decisions needed, the better.
Door Dash and restaurant gift cards do require that families order and facilitate payment. Use discernment in knowing if this family would benefit more by a meal showing up on the porch, with no further work required.
Zoe’s Kitchen, Moe’s, and Panera offer great family-friendly meal bundles that can include sides, drinks and fruits, and vegetables. Be sure you keep in mind food allergies and dietary restrictions when ordering, and be aware of what other people on a meal train signed up to bring. When you’re in recovery, you don’t need multiple days in a row of Moe’s and their small containers of sour cream and salsa.
Fewer Decisions for Mastering the Meal Train
Remember, when you need some extra help, the best meal is the one you don’t make or make any many decisions about. When you bring a meal train meal, make it as ready as possible. Don’t drop off the box of pasta, if you can go ahead and make a pasta dish. Boiling water is not hard, but it’s one more thing to do.
Connect with the meal schedule coordinator with any questions. Don’t text the family. As grateful as they are for your help, they need to be focused on recovery and coping. Texts with questions create extra stress.
Drop the meal off as ready as possible, provide any instructions and freezer bags and then leave. Know this: what you’re doing is everything to the people inside. When you don’t need extra information, a formal thank-you, or your crockpot back, it makes the gift that much greater.