Tuesday, April 24, 2018

When Your Friends Organize a Meal Train

When your friends bless you with great food!

I must begin this post with a shout out to my Peoria Cooperative Academy sisters, who provided meals for us for two weeks after Larry returned from the hospital.  I learned much from their encouragement and gifts of time and love to our family.

Meal Train is a free website that allows you to create a place to organize meals for friends after a birth, surgery, or illness.  The organizer can send e-mail invites with a special link for your meal train to any number of people.  When your friends go to the link they can view available days, your food preferences, and any other special instructions like what time of day to deliver the food and your phone number to call with any questions. 

Having just been through two weeks of Meal Train, I have tips for both those giving and those receiving meals.


1.  Get rid of your prideful excuses!  

Receiving meals from friends is a humbling experience.  You tend to believe that you are "inconveniencing others", that you "don't really need help", that "people will find your dietary specifications hard to follow."  These are exactly the thoughts that flew through my mind when my friend, Kim, suggested that they form a Meal Train for me for two weeks.  

Okay, let's just nip my incorrect thinking in the bud!  NOT allowing those who love you to feel that they can take minister to you in a real, genuine, and meaningful way is unkind on your part!  Yep!  Your friends need to feel needed and you DO need their help.  So, let them do it!  

2. Narrow down your needs. 

 Decide if you need to focus on the needs of your children or your family member who is returning from the hospital.  Larry came home with very specific dietary needs.  I just could not ask friends to count units of Vitamin K in the foods that they made.  However, if you all hate green peppers and onions then you really don't want to suffer through two weeks of stuffed peppers.  So, narrow down your preferences to a couple of general guidelines.  I decided to specify that whole food and vegetarian were best for us.  Other than that, I left it up to them what they cooked and brought.

3.  Keep a list of who brought what.

You will want to take time to send thank you notes to everyone who took the time and energy to prepare food for you.  You can get packages of 8 thank you notes for a dollar at Dollar Tree.  (Love that store!)  Make a short note of what they brought so you can add something personal like, "The children all loved your spaghetti and meatballs!"  I put the thank you note inside of any glass or non-disposable dishes that needed to be returned to that person.  That way the thank you was stored with their washed and dried dishes. 


1.  When in doubt, ask questions. 

Carefully read any dietary needs. If you are using Meal Train, the organizer can add a list of preferences on the main page.  If you have any questions, contact the family ahead of time.  I had several friends who threw me an e-mail several days in advance of their day to bring food.  Be sure to ask brief, specific questions.  People who have an ill loved one have limited time to answer e-mails.  For instance, "I'm making your homemade pizza next Tuesday night.  Are mushrooms okay for everyone?" is great.  But, a three paragraph e-mail, which requires a lot of mental thought and energy to answer is probably something best saved until later.  

2.  Recipes please! 

My kids loved some of the meals so much that I wound up calling, e-mailing, or texting friends to ask for their recipes.  If you have a signature recipe, be sure to make a copy and just include it in the box or bag when you drop them off.  Here's where this also came in handy:  Larry was and is on a very specific diet.  But, there were several items that friends brought that he could eat.  However, unless I had all of the information on ingredients, sodium content, etc. I could not let him eat it.  Friends who provided a list of ingredients or (even better) the actual recipe, were greatly appreciated.  After I had this information it was a piece of cake to see if Larry could eat it or if I needed to prepare something else for him to eat.  

3.   Instructions please!

Several of my friends included reheating, cooking, assembling, or other special instructions.  This was super helpful.  It might be several hours after they delivered their meal when I finally served it.  Oral instructions had faded long before that!  Written instructions are best.  Some friends actually wrote the instructions and attached the instructions to the item.  For instance, "Heat at 375 degrees for 20 minutes" on the garlic bread.  Or:  "Can be frozen for later use." on the chicken casserole.  You can hand write the note and tape them to the front of the item.  Or if your item is wrapped in foil, I had several friends who wrote instructions on the foil with a black marker.  This worked really well.  Easy to see and the instructions couldn't get lost.  

4.  Keep visits short.  

Whoever you are providing meals for is probably a little overwhelmed. Their home may not be "company ready."  Unless you are a really, really close friend or relative (I mean the kind who comes over in the middle of the night when your husband is working third shift and you are incredibly sick with the stomach flu!) don't plan to stay more than five or ten minutes when dropping off your box or bag of food.  Your friend loves you, but their time and attention are elsewhere right now.  If possible, bring your meal in disposable containers, so that the recipient doesn't feel the need to "catalog" which dishes go back to which friends.  If it is tupperware or ziplock, label the top of each container with the contents.  This makes it super easy for your friend to stick leftovers in her fridge and find herself or direct children to them later.  

5.  Include a personal note.  

I loved the short notes of encouragement from my friends. These were such a blessing.  Even if it is written on notebook paper, please do write a short note that says you are thinking of them and praying for them. 

That's it from me!  Your turn.  Have you been blessed by friends with meals?  Do you have any tips and suggestions from the giving or receiving point of view?  I'd love to hear them!  Comment below in the comments.


Do all to the glory of God,


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