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Food: Meal Train

A Meal Train is a simple website where friends and family members can arrange meals for a person or family in need.  It’s a beautiful and simple way to offer support to a friend who needs it.  The bonus is that it works for strangers as well.  A mom recently posted on a neighborhood website that her neighbor was going through a hard time and needed support—could the street come together and provide meals for this family for a month?

Within 3 days 40 freezer meals were dropped off to the house.

Making a 2nd dinner for a friend or even a stranger is a beautiful way to build community.

Because of my wide and diverse group of friends, I probably receive at least two meal train requests a week.  It has become such a part of my life in the past years that my husband and even my children see me cooking and always asks “is that food for us or someone else?” before getting excited about dinner.

But sometimes it’s overwhelming.  Often it’s been 3 o’clock and I’ve just remembered that I’ve promised a meal to someone across town by 5PM.  And yes, I have even forgotten a meal (twice) and guess what?  Even that turns into a wonderful way to practice humility and check your pride issues.  (All the time, God is good! Even when you’re mortified!)

Since I’ve been planning and signing up for and sometimes failing and sometimes succeeding at meal trains for a while now, I offer you my best practices:

  • Schedule your meal trains for every other day. There always (always!) ends up being too many leftovers and nobody likes to throw away food that was given to them as a gift.
  • Long-term meal trains should include breakfast options. Allow and suggest that participants make a ton of pancakes or breakfast burritos—mornings are hard for new moms and grieving families too.
  • Always have a go-to, easy to make, FAST meal option. My favorite is spaghetti and meatballs (I always have spaghetti and frozen meatballs and garlic bread in my deep freeze) in the Instant Pot (IP):
    1. Add frozen meatballs to cover the bottom of the IP.
    2. Break up spaghetti into shorter pieces and throw into IP, enough to fill about ½ way up the pot. Cover with at least 1 (maybe 2) jars of marinara sauce.  Add a little water if needed.  Basically you want the tops of spaghetti to have a some sauce on it, but it doesn’t need to be immersed.
    3. Set your IP on high for 22 minutes. Allow steam to release naturally.
    4. Start to finish this should take 45 minutes or so. It’s a super quick meal—stop at the store on your way to drop off and grab a bag of salad and a baguette and you’re good to go!
  • Sign up for every meal train you receive—not just the ones for friends you adore. I often see meal trains fill up very quickly for everyone’s favorite friend at church.  An unknown person sometimes takes an extra push to fill.  Encourage your friends to sign up.  Just that conversation in the doorway, while dropping off a meal at someone’s house, can be the start of a new friendship and a chance for that newer friend to feel a part of your community.
  • Anonymous meal trains are totally ok. Sometimes a friend is only willing to confide in you that thins are really hard at home right now.  Set up the meal train for “A Family in Need” and have all meals freezable and delivered to your house on a certain day of the week.  Later, you can deliver to the family in need.
  • UberEats/Pizza delivered etc are totally ok too! Plenty of my mom friends who work full time still participate in meal trains and have a standard order they place and the families who receive the meals are still thrilled to not have to cook!  My favorites are:
    1. Dominos (1 large cheese, 1 breadsticks, 1 salad)
    2. Chipotle (kids large quesadillas (1 serves 2 kids), 1 steak bowl, 1 chicken bowl
  • Pray for those receiving and making meals. I’ve made it part of my daily prayers to pray for those who receive the meals and those who take the time to cook them.  Both are receiving and giving a grace.

A meal might seem like a small thing, how can a pot of spaghetti change the world anyway?!  But recall the words of a very generous and giving woman: “Never worry about numbers.  Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest to you.” Saint Mother Teresa

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Kristen Hamill

Kristen Hamill teaches Natural Family Planning in Colorado with her husband, John. In addition to raising their four young children and working part time in a tearoom, Kristen teaches Catechesis of the Good Shepherd and is an avid runner, skier and healthy living enthusiast.

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