When Sara Lunt had twins, a friend set up a meal delivery schedule for her. Having scheduled meals took the pressure off feeding her family and “it was something to look forward to. It usually is a dish that people love making so you get a lot of delicious and thoughtful meals,” says Lunt. Meal delivery schedules make a great baby gift. Friends and families are excited about a new arrival; dropping off dinner is a helpful way to show love and support to the new (or newly expanded) family.
Set it up online
Online sites like www.takethemameal.com and www.mealtrain.com make creating a meal schedule particularly easy and efficient. New parents-to-be can set up an account themselves, but they may find it helpful to have someone else serve as the administrator. That way, when the baby arrives, parents won’t have to deal with updates or questions. The administrator can change preferences, answer questions or add anybody who can’t get online to the schedule.
After her experience on the receiving end, Lunt has volunteered to set up meal delivery schedules for friends and expectant families at her children’s school. “It’s such an easy and supportive way to help a new family,” she says.
Once an account is set up, friends and family can be invited to participate through email or social media. They log in to choose an available date and indicate what they will bring. While listing what they will bring isn’t required, it helps ensure variety for the family. The services even send an email to help people remember to bring their scheduled meals.
Food for thought
Before asking people to bring a meal, you’ll want to sort out a few details:
Food allergies and preferences - If your family has any dietary restrictions (vegetarian, gluten-free, no nuts), you can note these when you set up the account. You can include favorite foods or other guidelines too. These notes help people choose foods that your family can and will eat.
Frequency of meals - You probably don’t need meals every day. Every other day or a few times a week often works well. You may have help some days and can plan on cooking then. Also, many people will bring enough food for you to have leftovers. Some of these can be frozen to give you easy meals when you need them.
Drop-off time and location - Request that people drop off food within a certain time range to make sure dinner is there when you are ready to eat. Lunt set up a cooler on her porch for people to drop off food. She appreciated the meals and the support, but she wasn’t always up for visitors. Families should take the time they need to recover, rest and set their own new rhythms. If you prefer that people drop off food without visiting, set that expectation in the sign-up form.
If you don’t have a safe area for people to leave food, make arrangements to minimize disruption. If possible, have meals delivered when somebody else is home. If you need to meet people at the door, you can still thank them for the meal without inviting them in for a visit. On the other hand, if after a day home alone with the baby you are starved for company, drop-offs will give you a chance to see somebody frequently.
Perhaps one of the most challenging things about a baby meal schedule is knowing when to start it. Takethemameal.com suggests setting up your account based on the baby’s due date and getting two people to commit to bringing the first two meals. Another tip they offer is to have those first two people freeze a meal ahead of time so that they have something to deliver on short notice. They recommend not sending out information about sign-up until the baby arrives - using the freezer meals to bridge the gap until the schedule gets rolling.
Lunt’s approach is to choose a start date a week before the delivery date. She starts the sign-up process about a month before the due date. If the baby isn’t born by the start date, she emails people asking them to choose a later date. Lunt recommends checking with the family before you email the group to let them know the meal train has started, noting, “You don’t want to be the one making the baby announcement!”
Food is one of our basic needs, but meal trains offer more than that. “Because I was nursing two babies, I was surprised how hungry I was and the meals were nourishing in so many ways. We had recently moved back to the area so it really made me feel like part of the community,” says Lunt. They say it takes a village to raise a child; in this case, it takes a village to feed a family.
Sara is a freelance writer. Her favorite meal to deliver to new parents is Shepherd’s Pie.
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