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Everything You Need to Know to Set Up a Meal Train

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Regular meal drops can change your entire fourth trimester. 

The fourth trimester is a time when night and day blur into one. An absolute fog of sameness. A period where new parents try to decode their child's circadian rhythms whilst simultaneously appeasing an onslaught of visitors. My feeling is this, if your house is going to be a constant revolving door for the first few weeks, then make it work to your advantage - ask your guests to bring food. No one enjoys ingesting a sub-par, cold meal from Uber Eats ordered at 5pm but eaten at 9pm. Believe it or not, it can be hard for new parents to make time to eat.

In the past 18 months, I have cooked over 40 meals for new mums and been a part of at least 20 meal trains. This is partly because I run a birth education course (Radiant Birth) but mainly because I believe in the power of food. Nothing says “I’ve got you” like a home-cooked meal for new parents. In those first three months, getting to the shops or considering what to cook often goes into the “too hard” basket, so filling that basket with a meal can nutritionally and emotionally support a whole family.

So WTF is a meal train? Simply, it’s your friends bringing meals for you and your family after a new baby arrives, but in an organised, scheduled way, so you’re nothing goes to waste and you always have good food. First thing to know, it’s not a new concept. If you go back to traditional Jewish culture, a version of the meal train occurs during Sitting in Shiva (a time just after the death and when a family is mourning). During this period the community steps up for the grieving family showing support through the bringing of meals. A meal train is typically organised by a friend or family member who allocates and schedules other friends and family to deliver meals to someone in need and, in this case, after birth.

If you have friends asking what they can get you for your baby, perhaps ask for a meal train, or make it your gift to someone you know who is about to give birth. As someone who has most certainly “been there cooked that” here are the golden guidelines to making a meal train work like a well-oiled machine.

How to start a meal train

Start strong

Everyone loves a strong and confident leader, so it's always best to choose someone to take the reins. Meal trains setups work best by:

  1. Starting a group email with a small group of close friends/family.
  2. Once your participants are confirmed, you can create a Google spreadsheet or use the Meal Train app. Make it official.
  3. If you start a Google spreadsheet, set iCal invites to remind the participants when they’re up.

Confirm your start date

When organising Phoebe Simmonds’ (co-founder of The Memo) a meal train in preparation for her son Remy we worked it in with a time that suited her. It was timed for when her partner Shaun returned to work, at five weeks postpartum and went for seven weeks, a meal being dropped off every Tuesday by a member of her team at The Memo. Sometimes it was eaten straight away (a breastfeeding mother’s appetite is like no other) or that evening as a family. Birth is unpredictable and so start dates should be loose and moveable with meal trains. If your friend had a complicated birth, perhaps they need the help immediately or if they have family visiting and helping out for the first few weeks, wait until they leave to help with the first few weeks flying solo. Keep communication lines open. After all, postpartum is forever.

Consider their boundaries and be accountable

A meal train is a lovely way to connect and meet with the new baby but it is not an open invitation to visit. Don’t be offended if the family prefers you pop the meal in the cooler left on the porch. Remember, newborns' behaviour is unpredictable and some days are just a hazy mess when you don’t want to see anyone. If you do see them, make it quick, light and cheery. This isn’t the time to tell them about your latest life drama. Also, be on time. If you say you’ll drop off lunch, then arrive at your designated time. There might be ravenous mother on the other side of the door counting on that sandwich.

One pot wonders for the win

Gluten-free, veggo or no onions? Consider the family eating requirements before cooking. Think outside the token lasagne and contemplate what you’d like to eat. Make your meal abundant so there are leftovers. Jessica Prescott’s One Pot Wonders is one of my fave postpartum recipe books. Like the rules from our Golden Months, keep food warm, nourishing and rich in nutrients. If you can’t cook, that’s totally OK. There are many great groceries, local butcher shops and delicatessens that provide amazing precooked meals. A spinach and fetta quiche with some greens is a perfect lunch for new family.

Toddlers don’t like chilli

Phoebe also has an older stepson Tyler (5) who, like most young kids, isn't the most adventurous of eaters. Tylers likes and dislikes were circulated when the meal train was being established. Young kids are often fussy, so be sure to make something the whole family will enjoy. Chicken and sweet corn soup is a good option so is butter chicken or coconut-based curry, without the chilli.

Say goodbye to your containers

Use disposable or simply containers that you are not precious about. You probably won’t see them again In the immediate future, but what goes around is truer for Tupperware than anything else.


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