If an older loved one is recovering from illness or going through a challenging time, it’s a kindness to prepare and deliver meals for them.
Setting up a meal train is a great way to ensure that your family member gets to eat on a regular basis through their difficult time with minimal effort on their part.
A meal train is typically set up by family members and friends who organize and cook a series of meals to be delivered to your relative in need.
In this article, we will discuss tips for getting a meal train started and maintaining it efficiently.
How to Know if Someone Could Use a Meal Train
Here are some tips to help you decide if someone you care for could benefit from a meal train:
- They are having difficulty getting to the grocery store.
- They have mobility issues and are unable to leave their house.
- Cooking for themselves is a challenge.
- They have a tendency to eat unhealthy or unbalanced meals.
- They could do with some help with more nutritious meals containing fresh vegetables and fruit.
- They have dietary requirements that make meal preparation challenging for them.
How to Set Up a Meal Train
The first thing you need to decide is how many cooks are going to participate in your meal train. Once you have your team assembled, it’s time to figure out how many meals you are going to prepare and how often. For example, some meal trains prepare breakfast, lunch, and dinner on a daily basis, some prepare the main meal, while others prepare large meals that can be frozen, two or three times a week.
It’s best to coordinate a weekly mean plan with your team so that your loved one doesn’t end up with five different pasta bakes in the same week.
Meal Train Tools and Resources
While email will suffice to keep everyone coordinated, there are special tools available to help you streamline your meal train. This will also prevent information from getting lost in your group’s email thread.
Or, consider an all-inclusive caregiving tool like WayWiser where you can organize a meal train with the shared calendar, relay dietary needs, meal ideas, or share grocery lists with the notes and lists, and communicate within their private activity feed – even sending photos of what’s been delivered.
Here are a few guides that can help you plan age appropriate meals to be sure your loved one is eating healthily:
- Fueling Your 50’s
- Healthy Spices for your 60’s
- Sustaining Your 70’s
- Energizing An Aging Brain in Your 80’s
How to Plan Your Meal Train Menu
Before you get into the kitchen, you’ll need to let your team know about any special dietary needs that your loved one has and also any particular food likes and dislikes.
It’s also a good idea to plan ahead of time how long you are going to run the meal train. Perhaps you will decide on a week or two while your loved one recovers, or if your relative is going through long-term difficulties such as dementia, you may decide you want your meal train to be permanent.
It’s a great idea to have everyone write down what they intend on cooking so that the person under care receives a variety of foods.
What to Bring With your Meal
When you’re preparing homemade meals for your meal train, it’s best to make meals that require little or no extra preparation other than reheating. However, a few extra components may be appreciated. For example, a bagged salad, a loaf of bread, or a small dessert.
Don’t forget to bring any condiments, such as sour cream, guacamole, or salad dressing.
Simplify things by making a meal that will last for two sittings, so that you don’t have to cook every day.
Important Tip: Label all containers with the contents, date, and heating instructions so that your loved one knows exactly what it is, how old it is, and how to prepare it.
You also might want to consider using containers that you don’t need back. You can find plenty of disposable food containers on Amazon or your local grocery store. Try to find some that are microwave safe (or oven safe – like those made from tin – if need be).
Keep Communication Flowing
This is where using an app like WayWiser really comes in handy. Check in with your meal train team regularly so you can make sure that everything is running smoothly, and people are not running out of ideas on what to cook.
Also, be sure to check in with your loved one and see which meals are their favorites, which ones they didn’t really care for, and to see if they have any specific requests. Surely you’ve been ill before yourself and you know that sometimes there are certain foods that are comforting while others will make you feel even worse. Ask them what’s working!
Meal Train Menu Ideas
The best meal train meals are ones that are easy to prepare, simple to reheat, and scratch that “comfort” itch. This is why one-dish meals such as casseroles or lasagnas are favorites and this probably isn’t the time to test out the newest Michelin star meal you’ve been wanting to prepare.
Here are 10 ideas to whet your appetite:
- Leek and potato soup
- Beef casserole
- Chicken pasta bake
- Beef enchiladas
- Pork tenderloin and roast vegetables
- Vegetable lasagna
- Meat loaf
- Chicken noodle soup
- Chicken parmesan
- Beef stew
Meal Train Assistance
If you are providing a meal train for an older person, when you deliver the meal, you may want to ask them if they need any help with the preparation. For example, serving the meal, reheating, and setting the table. Some people may prefer to do this for themselves, while others may be glad of assistance.
Depending on their condition, particularly if they have any physical limitations, consider purchasing a few appropriate adaptive utensils for your loved one as well. These can help them feed themselves without the need to feel embarrassed asking for help.
A meal train can be a real boon for someone who is older, ill, or recovering from an illness or surgery. All it takes to coordinate is the dedication of a few friends or family members and you can rest assured that your loved one is getting healthy meals daily for as long as they need help.