10 things to Consider When You've Signed Up for a Meal Train

Sometimes eating can be a total hassle.

When grieving, our brains are focused on a million other things like funeral plans, family coming into town, going back to work for the first time in weeks, or kids. And with all of that floating around in there, it’s nice to have even ONE thing taken off of our plates: Cooking.

When you think about it, by the time you get to sit down for a meal you have to make a ton of tiny decisions: Am I hungry? Do I want to eat RIGHT now? What do I want to eat? Do I have stuff to make that? If yes, do I want to cook? If no, do I want to go buy the groceries or just order take out? And then… IF and when you get to cooking or venturing out into the world, it’s an effort before you even get to eat.

Because of the fact that ALL of those tiny decisions can become annoying or exhausting when you’re grieving, meal trains and food runs can be a huge way to support a person who is overwhelmed by a ton of other responsibility and stress.

If you’re getting involved with a meal train, there are a few things to consider and plan for though. Below, I’ve outlined things to think about before you sign up, as well as things to do and bring if you’re taking on the responsibility.

1. If there’s a point person organizing, go through them for questions and logistics.

Even if you’re really close to the person you’re cooking for, It’s great when people want to consider dietary restrictions, drop off times, and preferences, but I can say from experience that immediately after a loss your phone is blowing up with questions and condolences… so it’s nice to have a break from answering the same questions twenty times a day.

2. If you’re the person in charge of organizing, consider using dedicated sites like MealTrain or GatheringUs.

They centralize the responsibility, information, communication, and duties so that (hopefully) questions, confusion, and 10 people bringing over containers of chili can be avoided. These sites also help answer questions about dietary restrictions, party size, allergies, location for things to be dropped off, and contact info.

Before you cook something up, ask yourself a few questions:

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3. How much storage space do they have?

Even if you think three deep-dish tuna noodle casseroles are what could help, consider:

1.) they might already have a ton of food

2.) their freezer might be full

3.) you could break up some of the food to be eaten immediately and/or frozen

4. Do they have a microwave?

Yes, some people still live without microwaves. So if what you’re bringing over is best heated up in the microwave, offer them ways to heat up or cook the food in the oven or stove top so that they don’t feel overwhelmed.

5. What foods do they *actually* like?

If your person is a vegan, don’t bring them tuna noodle. If your person hates vegans, don’t bring them a bag of salad. The thought counts… until you offer something that hurts.

If you know them well enough, consider what they will actually eat AND enjoy. Having something to eat that brings you comfort because you LIKE it can be really uplifting and special when you’re swimming in a sea of booze and frozen stews.

6. Are they eating themselves or feeding a ton of people?

When my mom died, there were quite a few of us in town, so it was great to have big portions of food that would feed a ton of people. Then everyone left and it was just me and my dad with a fridge and freezer FULL of food that we didn’t necessarily want to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day.

7. Are there other things they might need?

Sometimes people DON’T need a ton of food. What they need is toiletries for their family that’s flown in last minute, cleaning supplies (or service), or games to keep kids occupied. They might also like cooking / fresh food and just want an assortment of ingredients or groceries delivered.

If you get the feeling that your person (and their fridge) might be overloaded, consider reaching out to someone about supplies that could be more helpful than yet another hamburger casserole.

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8. Are there kids to feed?

One thing that people often forget is that food we (adults) like to eat might not be desirable for kids. If you know that the person involved might be entertaining kids, bring some foods that are appropriate for easy kids meals.

9. Could you bring them something fresh instead of frozen / refrigerated?

Not everyone needs the food they’re eating to be freeze-able. If your friend loves things like fresh bread or fancy juices or hearty salads, don’t deprive them of those things. Also, snacks and meals that you can throw in a purse, diaper bag, or backpack can be super helpful for days spent running around or back at work, so think of easily scarfed or office-heated things that’ll give them energy on those busy afternoons.

10. Things to include with your meal:

  • List of ingredients (so that they can be aware of of who in their household can / can’t eat it)

  • Heating / cooking instruction basics

  • Tupperware/dishes you don’t care about (even if you think that sending your dish in your dead grandma’s baking pan might be “thoughtful” or “special”, remove the pressure that they’ll feel to return it)

  • Tupperware/dishes that are portioned (for storage in both fridge and freezer)

  • Serving utensils (no one but the Barefoot Contessa has enough serving spoons to feed 10 people three meals a day without doing dishes constantly, so if you can throw in some tongs or spoons to make it easier, do so)

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