You get that email from church letting you know that so-and-so’s family needs meals for the next three weeks as they adjust to having a new baby at home. You click the link and sign up for a couple of the days.
But then you begin to wonder… how can you make it truly special for them? More than just a meal?
Meal trains have become a practical, tangible way to come alongside someone who needs a little extra support: The parents bringing a new baby home. The father who lost his job. The woman who is caring for an elderly parent. The one who is receiving cancer treatment. Those who are grieving the loss of a loved one.
Homemade meals can be an encouragement to those going through many different situations. By scheduling who is bringing the meal each day, we ensure that each day is covered and that the load is shared among caring friends.
And while you can, indeed, simply make a meal and drop it off, I’ve learned there are some things you can do to show the family you care by paying attention to a few special details.
A lot of times, meal trains will list directions to follow in regard to dropping it off: when, where, what to use as far as dishes, notes of allergies, etc.
Take the time to read through those guidelines and then follow them.
You might want to make your amazing chicken dish recipe, but if it’s high in sodium and the individual isn’t supposed to eat high sodium foods, then don’t make it.
If they want you to drop the meal off on the front porch without ringing the doorbell, then resist the urge to knock anyway to see how they are doing. They might very well be getting some much-needed rest before the rest of the family gets home.
Following the directions you were given shows that you cared enough to read them in the first place. Plus, it demonstrates that you want to help them in a way that is truly helpful and not just in a way that works for you. Trust the system and guidelines they have in place. They are there for a reason.
Provide Everything They’ll Need
Think about any condiments or extras that complete the meal–jelly, jams, salad dressings, dipping sauces–and package them in small containers with enough for the family to enjoy without having a ton of extras to fill up their fridge.
Have you ever eaten a salad without your favorite dressing? If people are stuck at home, they may not have the condiments that make your meal especially tasty. So go the extra mile to find out what their favorite salad dressings and toppings are, and then include those in your delivery. It will help the family (especially any picky eaters) to fully enjoy the meal.
And maybe even pack the salad ingredients separately so that picky eaters can put their own salad together in a way that sounds good to them.
The same could go for homemade pizza toppings, soups, etc. Just consider the family members and package the meal in a way that is best for them.
Make a Favorite Family Recipe
If possible, ask the person receiving the meal train (or the one setting it up) if the family has any favorite meals. Go the extra mile and see if you can get their specific recipe, or even the dish they usually make it in.
By making a meal that is familiar and homey, you provide an extra touch of comfort they are probably missing by receiving a bunch of meals from other people. Especially for any kiddos who are picky eaters or missing their regular meals.
Include a Hand-written Note
You may not get the chance to visit with your friend due to their illness or restrictions, but you can still let them know you care by writing them a letter. Share what has been going on in your life, let them know you’ve been praying for them.
You can even write out a prayer. I bet they would save that and tuck it inside their Bible.
Not sure what to write? Just be real. Authentic. Loving. Kind. Let them know they are not alone. That you are cheering them on. That you love them.
Are there open days after you bring your meal? Is your meal a particular family favorite? Make an extra large batch so they’ve got enough for leftovers. This helps provide for those meal gaps, as well as for other meals that may not be covered on the meal train, like breakfast and lunch.
Provide a small container or two they can use to refrigerate any extras so they don’t have to go searching for one of their own. By keeping it small, you ensure your leftovers won’t take up a lot of room in their fridge, but will be able to be tucked in wherever there is space.
Similarly, you can also include things like muffins, fresh fruit, crackers, and cereal to help with breakfast and snacks.
And If You Don’t Like to Cook…
There are plenty of ways to support a family if you don’t like to cook. Consider sending restaurant gift cards, having their favorite pizza delivered (be sure to cover the delivery tip so they don’t have to), or supporting them in some other way, like watching their kids for an hour or two, driving them to doctor’s appointments, or mowing their yard.
Whatever you choose, be sure to think about the family in need and what is best for them. For ideas, check out our list of 92 Ways to Encourage and Support Others.