How to Organize a Meal Train

June 02, 2021
How to Organize a Meal Train

Written by Robert Peterpaul 

Reviewed for Medical Accuracy by Lea Ann Biafora

When cancer jolts life off the tracks, it throws the most basic of tasks out the window. A question as simple as "What's for dinner?" weighs a whole lot more in a new world ablaze with treatments, fatigue, and anxiety. 

Cue: meal trains! Organizing meals for a person in need has been a lifesaver for centuries. If someone you know is in the thick of it, this is one of the best ways to take action and support them. Get well food delivery is a great way to show that you care.

Here’s distilled a guide to organizing an effective meal train for someone with cancer, in three easy steps:

Step 1: Determine your destination.

Identify the struggling friend or family member and their best contact information. This may seem like an obvious step, but hey, the meal train doesn’t leave the station until it has a destination. Plus, you want to find out where and when to drop off the meals (as the family could be out of town, staying somewhere closer to a hospital, etc.); any allergies or aversions the receiver might have; and, most importantly, if there’s already another meal train already on the tracks. In that case, you may be able to hop on board.

Step 2: Gather your conductors. 

All aboard! Rally your group of good samaritans. Start within the receiver’s community and mark down who’s willing to participate. From there, create a group email or text thread where you can collaborate and divy up duties. This will also be a great place to finetune how many meals will be distributed per week and the duration of the train’s run. 

We inevitably suggest making a shared calendar or spreadsheet to assign dates. Be sure that people write in the specific meals they’re making so the person/family doesn’t wind up with casseroles for months. 

If you’re looking for a user-friendly online tool to use, Meal Train has a paid and free version.

Step 3: Pull into the station!

Once you’re organized and ready to run, see these tips on the actual process of making a meal train for someone with cancer. You want to make it as easy for the receiving end as possible.

  • Give items in dishes or containers you don’t expect to get back.

  • If no one’s home all day, consider getting your meal train group to donate a cooler that can sit on the donee’s porch. This way, you can leave meals inside with an ice pack, and no one has to worry they’ll spoil. It’ll also take stress off the person coordinating their meals—especially in a COVID world.

  • A piping hot meal seems ideal as get well food delivery, but consider freezing the food. This way the family can heat it up whenever it’s convenient for them. Or do both! You can donate a meal for them to enjoy that evening and an additional frozen one. Make sure to include easy instructions on how to warm it up, if necessary!

Overall, don’t feel like you have to whip up a gourmet meal for the meal train. In fact, it’s perfectly fine to donate the family’s favorite take-out order, or even a gift card to their favorite restaurant. Sometimes, those are appreciated even more. Remember, if you’re reading this, your heart is in the right place, and that’s a fast track to making someone feel supported.

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