Little Pea turns 4 this May and still those 6 weeks' worth of ladies stepping forward to show their love through casseroles and a friendly visit remains one of the most generous things I've ever experienced in my life.
I was more than pleased to participate in our group meal train and provide dinners for new moms home with their sweet babies but being on the receiving end of the dinner deliveries was humbling and heartwarming in a way I'm unable to adequately describe.
While every single crumb of food was appreciated beyond words, I also learned a thing or two on how to make sure the meals I delivered to others were the best they could be. Today I'm sharing those lessons in this "The Ultimate Meal Train Ideas List" in hopes that it makes that task easier for you and tastier for the recipient.
Does your playgroup or church have a mommy meals or meal train program? What do you call it? Seems everyone has their own special name!
Do you have a favorite meal you like to bring to new moms? Leave a note in the comments and add to the resource!
P.S. This post is dedicated to each of my dear friends in playgroup. You know who you all are. And to the ladies of my Book Club who extended those 6 weeks with another week and half with the meals you brought.And lastly to my friend Kristina, who knows way more about mommy meals than I ever wish she did. Thanks so much for your advice and help on this post.
The Ultimate List of Meal Train Ideas
How To Organized A Meal Train
1. Which meal train web site to use:
Step 1 in setting up a meal train schedule for your playgroup or ladies club is to figure out how to organize the deliveries. We used Care Calendar but there are lots of free meal train web site options out there:
2. Decide the frequency of your meal train deliveries:
We used a Monday, Wednesday, Friday delivery system because most meals are plentiful enough to allow for a night of leftovers. This helped reduce waste and extended the duration of help. We also assumed that weekends would be spent with visiting family or just giving the family some space and privacy.
3. Ask about meal train food preferences and aversions:
Before you and your friends cook the first meal, have the meal train organizer interview the family about dietary restrictions and food preferences once and then label the meal calendar clearly so that everyone knows how to respect their wishes.
Requests like, "Not too spicy, no seafood, please avoid ranch flavoring" were common among the new moms receiving our meal train dinners. Be sure the recipient is honest and open about what doesn't go over well with her family. This saves everyone from guessing what to make for their contributions and ensures that every meal gets used!
4. Set the standard for what makes a meal for your meal train:
Our playgroup established right off the bat that our Mommy Meals required 3 main parts. This allowed for the recipient to be completely covered and always knowing what to expect from her meal delivery.
The 3 elements of a meal train dinner:
- main dish
- side dish: salad, veggie, or fruit
5. Announce the meal you'll contribute to the meal train:
Be sure everyone that signs up on the meal train website labels their day with the name of the meal they will be bringing. This helps to avoid repeition of the dinner deliveries. You wouldn't want 2 lasagnas arriving in a row. It also allows you to be a little more creative if you see they've had too much of a certain meat or cuisine.
Be considerate of the big picture when selecting your meal train contribution. Notice they've had a lot of Mexican food? Maybe fajitas aren't your best bet. Notice a week worth of pasta before your date? Maybe try a rice-based dish.
The Meal Train Menu: Think outside the casserole pan!
This is the area I had the most to learn about the whole concept of mommy meals. I used to be more concerned about food that would travel well and that would be easy on the recipient to get to the table. To me, the thing that fit that criteria best was ALWAYS a casserole.
Then my friends arrived bearing truly creative meal train ideas. I realized how wonderful a wide variety of dinners can be after a few too many nights of pasta-themed dishes. The list below does feature some pasta and some casseroles, because that's just tasty stuff! But look closely at the list of meal train dinner ideas and you'll find some great unique recipes for mixing in if you find your recipient's calendar has too many noodles.
Nothing on this meal train list requires more than a simple reheating, popping in the oven to bake, or a simple boiling of water for noodles. Just be sure to wash and prep/chop everything you possibly can. You want to deliver a meal that mostly just needs final assembly on a plate.
30 Days of Meal Train Recipes:
These are some of our all time favorite meal train recipes, you'll spot a few casseroles but lots of creative dishes to bring to new moms.
- Taco Bar: prepared meat filling, tortillas, homemade salsa, corn, and chopped/prepared veggie toppings
- Pulled pork, buns, crash hot potatoes (bake them yourself, let the recipient reheat in the oven to keep crisp) with baked potato dip, broccoli slaw
- Bolognese sauce with gnocchi
- Taco chili, Cornbread
- Baked enchiladas
- Chicken fried rice, egg rolls
- Sloppy joes, buns, baked potato wedges
- Lasagna roll ups, salad greens
- Old fashioned beef stew, french bread
- Crock pot chicken soup with fresh bread
- Mustard glazed salmon with arugula and oranges
- Tuscan chicken soup, fresh bread
- Gnocchi, lemon & dill soup, homemade scones
- Simple quiche with fresh fruit & salad greens
- Alfredo chicken and rice casserole
- Chicken gyros kit: include fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, pitas, homemade tzatziki sauce
- Asian chicken pasta salad
- Roasted sausages, apples, potatoes
- Sweet and sticky chicken with peanut noodles
- Shrimp with lemony orzo & roasted tomatoes
- Chicken tettrazini
- Lightened chicken pot pie
- Baked chicken spaghetti
- Teriyaki chicken, Roasted peppers & pineapple, jasmine rice
- Chinese pork noodles
- Spicy lemon and garlic shrimp, crusty bread
- Italian beef sandwiches, bbq chips, hot peppers, cottage cheese
- Stuffed peppers with turkey sausage & couscous
- Slow cooker jambalaya & rice, fruit
- Meatball sliders with hawaiian rolls, mozzarella cheese, salad greens
- Baked potato bar: includes cheese, crisped bacon, green onions, pulled pork or chicken topping, chopped veggies, etc.
Meal Train Side dishes: Alternatives to a bag of salad mix
Side dishes are a perfect opportunity to make your meal train delivery shine. With just a tiny bit of extra effort, this dish gives you the chance to show you really cared enough about the details of the meal to make it tasty.
- Veggie tray with simple sour cream dip mixed with seasoning: this is great because it can be used for snacks the nextday as well
- Fruit platter with strawberry cheesecake dip: perfect for pickier eaters to eat as a side or a dessert and gives mom a break from the nightly veggie fight
- Strawberry mango salsa with cinnamon pita chips: great as a dessert or side dish if your main meal has tons of veggies in it
- frozen steamer bags of veggies: this lets the family store it for later if they already have too much salad they are trying to eat up
- any fresh fruit: already washed and prepped for eating (I remember nearly crying with joy over a bag of clean, cut strawberries)
- homemade salsa with chips: great for snacks the next day, too
- If you do make a salad, try to do a creative one with homemade dressing. Storing the prepped ingredients separately allows the picky eaters to toss and build their own unique mix.
Meal Train Desserts: beyond chocolate chip cookies & brownies
Unless you are famous for your cookies or brownies, I really recommend surprising the family with something more unique for your meal train dessert. Bonus points for a dessert that can be frozen and enjoyed in the future if they have too much on hand now.
- root beer floats
- simple berry and cream cheese tart
- lemon bars: oh goodness gracious try this one, it rocks
- ice cream sandwiches, popsicles, or fudgesicles
- fruit crisps: apple crisp or cherry crisp
- poundcake sundaes: like this peach one or try a pineapple upside down sundae
Awesome Meal Train Extras:
The single most memorable thing one of my friends brought on top of her meal was homemade strawberry scones, raw and ready to be baked or stuck in the freezer for the future. Having something fresh and homemade out of my oven for breakfast with none of the kitchen mess was such a blessing. She also brought a jar of homemade strawberry freezer jam which was the trigger for my passion for making it myself every year since.
These extras are totally optional but for a friend who needs just a little extra special something, consider adding:
- hard boiled eggs: great go-to snacks for the whole family the next day
- Sweet Chex mix or maybe even this totally addictive Honey Sriracha Chex Mix
- birthday cake popcorn
- homemade blueberry scones: assembled and frozen
- fresh cherry and almond streusel coffee cake
Meal Train Transportation: Getting the food to the table
Knowing I'd be making a steady stream of these Mommy Meals for my playgroup meal train, I got into the habit of keeping these disposable kitchen supplies on hand at all times:
- Aluminum casserole pans, bought in bulk at Costco: I use them for baking the casseroles and as a delivery system for meals with lots of pieces
- Disposable storage containers in various sizes
- Zip-top baggies
- A roll of masking tape: for marking food with baking instructions, storage tips, and the date so the recipient can figure out the expiration date
The most important tip is to deliver your meal train dinner in 100% disposable containers. The last thing you want to do is burden your recipient with worrying about returning a special dish to the proper giver.
Extra thoughtful touch: If you know the family is going through an especially trying time, you might even consider delivering a pretty package of disposable plates and utensils to give them a night off from dishes.
If you're looking for even more ideas and recipes, be sure to sign up for my email newsletter! I share weekly inspiration for celebrating the seasons and family-friendly meal ideas you'll love.
Have a great suggestion for me to add to the list of meal ideas? Leave me a note in the comments and add to this resource!