Our Best Meal Ideas for Meal Train

If you’ve signed up for a meal train but aren’t sure what to make, you’ve come to the right place. This post is chock full of our best meal train ideas, including easy dinner recipes, comfort food, soups, healthy recipes, and options for families with dietary restrictions.

Whether it’s a grieving family, a new mom, or someone who is ill or recently had surgery, providing a meal is a practical and tangible way to care for someone you love.

Showing Love through Food: Our Best Meal Train Ideas

A collage of recipes that are great for meal trains.

Long before the Internet, communities showed their support for families in crisis by bringing them food. While much of the organizational work is done online through sites like MealTrain.com now, the heart of the matter is the same: Food is one of the few things that feels possible in impossible situations.

Food is comfort, nourishment, and a show of love when words fail us.

When I had a miscarriage, a friend brought over all the fixings for a salad, along with a giant loaf of bread. Ten years later, the details of that meal are still etched in my mind.

It’s not the taste of it that sticks with me (though it was delicious). It’s the way it made me feel: supported, held up, encouraged, less alone.

Needless to say, we are big fans of a meal train, but we also know making a meal for another family can be stressful. From finding the time to prepare something to wondering what to make and how to deliver it, preparing food for other people can bring up all kinds of kitchen anxiety.

Over the years, we’ve learned a lot about how to make giving a meal easier, and it’s something we find immense joy in. We hope these recipes, along with our tips for packaging and delivery, will make participating in a Meal Train a gift for both you and the receiver.

Our #1 Easy Meal to Deliver to Friends: Shredded Beef

Shredded beef served on top of egg noodles.

This Shredded Beef recipe is the most popular recipe on our entire site, and for good reason. We’ve found it’s especially perfect for sharing for a few reasons:

  1. It’s made in the slow cooker with just 10 minutes prep, so you can set it in the morning, and not worry about it all day.
  2. It’s super versatile. Pair it with egg noodles or pasta, serve with Creamy Mashed Potatoes, load it on buns with slices of cheese, or make tacos, taco salad, or burritos with it.
  3. It makes a big batch and freezes well. This recipe is perfect for a large family, but we also love that it freezes so well. If they have leftovers or simply don’t feel like eating that night, this beef can be frozen for several months and taken out whenever it’s needed.
  4. It’s gluten and dairy free, so it can work with a variety of dietary restrictions.

Comfort Food for Grieving Families

  • Cottage Cheese Lasagna– You absolutely cannot go wrong with a big, cheesy lasagna. It’s a bit of a labor of love, but it also tastes like love, if you know what I mean. Pair it with garlic bread and an easy garden salad or store bought bagged salad.
  • Company Casserole– This is similar to lasagna, but easier to make. It is rich and cheesy and saucy and feeds a large family. Definitely pure comfort food!
  • Mom’s Best Easy Meatloaf– It’s a classic for a reason! We love gifting meatloaf, because it can easily be made ahead of time and reheats well. This cheesy mini meatloaf is especially great for kids and can be frozen for later.
  • Creamy Mushroom Chicken and Rice– Super savory, comforting, and warming. We love this one pot meal.
  • 5 Ingredient Tortellini Bake– This saucy, cheesy, ground beef casserole is the easiest thing in the world to make, and it’s always a hit with kids! Omit the meat to make it vegetarian friendly!

Soup Recipes for Meal Trains

Easy chicken noodle soup in a Dutch oven with a ladle scooping some out.

We love making soups for a meal train, because they’re usually fairly easy to make and travel and reheat well. Make them a complete meal with salad and crusty bread. Here are our favorites:

  • 30 Minute Chicken Noodle Soup– Made with a rotisserie chicken, this is classic comfort food you can make in a jiffy. Pro tip: Package the noodles separately from the broth (tossed in oil so they don’t stick), so the noodles don’t soak up all the broth before it’s eaten.
  • Creamy Turkey Soup– Comforting without being heavy, you can make this veggie packed soup with turkey or chicken.
  • Creamy Enchilada Soup– We love this cheesy ground beef and veggie soup with a Tex-Mex flair. Great paired with tortilla chips, cheese quesadillas, or gluten free cornbread.
  • Creamy Sausage, Sweet Potato, and Kale Soup– This recipe always raises some eyebrows until people try it! It tastes SO delicious and is full of nutritious ingredients.

Healthy Options + Meals for Families with Dietary Restrictions

Make restaurant quality salads at home with this Copycat Northstar Chopped Salad loaded with dates, goat cheese, avocado, and corn!
  • THE BIG SALAD– Many folks receive a lot of casseroles and heavier foods in a meal train, so a salad can be a very welcome addition! We always pre-chop the ingredients (except the avocado), and package them separately to avoid a soggy salad. This salad can be made vegetarian and is gluten free.
  • Vegan Lentil Soup– This is our go-to for families with multiple dietary restrictions. It is vegan friendly, gluten free, dairy free and so delicious. It pairs well with grilled cheese sandwiches, good crusty bread, and/or an easy vegan salad.
  • Grilled Mexican Chicken– We love making a big batch of this marinated chicken to share. It’s gluten free and dairy free and great in tacos, fajitas, or by itself with some Black Bean and Corn Salsa on the side.
  • Roasted Vegetable Pasta– This lighter pasta dish is vegetarian and full of veggies. This one is especially great in the summer months. Use gluten free pasta if needed!

The I’ve Got No Margin, But Still Want to Help Meal

Listen, sometimes we really want to help, but we’re also overwhelmed or over-scheduled ourselves. Hear me in this: There is no shame in that store-bought or gift card game. Here’s my favorite meals to deliver when I don’t have extra time.

Breaded chicken on top of a Caesar salad kit.
  • Any of these Frozen Breaded Chicken recipes, but especially the Chicken Caesar Salad and Quick Chicken Parmesan. You can also use pre-made grilled chicken for a healthier option.
  • Rotisserie chicken or Lunch meat + Hawaiian Rolls + Sliced cheese + Cut veggies and/or cut fruit
  • Rotisserie chicken + Prepared mashed potatoes (Bob Evan’s are really good!), Salads, Coleslaw, or Pasta or Potato salad
  • Costco’s gigantic chicken pot pie- It’ll feed a crowd and is super comforting.

Helpful Extras to Include if You Can

If you have the time and/or money, here are some extras you might consider including in a meal package that are always appreciated.

Orange muffins stacked on a cooling rack.
  • Fresh fruit– After I had my babies, I CRAVED fresh fruit like nothing else. Having cut fruit available in the fridge was a huge blessing. A giant bowl of melon, pineapple, berries, or other fruits is a wonderful addition to a meal and great for any kids in the house.
  • Easy breakfasts– Something that’s freezeable or easy to grab and go is always welcome. We like to give Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins, Orange Poppyseed Muffins, Lemon Blueberry Loaf Cake, Sour Cream Banana Bread, Lemon Zucchini Bread, or Healthy Pumpkin Muffins.
  • Cut vegetables– See the fresh fruit note above! Having easy access to fresh vegetables is so helpful!
  • A meat and cheese plate– After my dad died, someone brought over a giant tray of meats, cheeses, crackers, and veggies. We were all so sad and there was so much to do and think about. Having that in the fridge helped made it possible to grab something to eat quickly when our decision making and emotional tanks were absolutely empty.

My Favorite Desserts to Take to Friends

Thick and chewy cookies and cream cookie balancing on top of a glass of milk.
  • Frozen cookie dough-I have frozen cookie dough on hand almost all the time, so this usually doesn’t add extra work to a meal. These Giant Chocolate Chip Cookies and Oreo Chocolate Chip Cookies are my go-tos. I freeze the cookie dough balls in a freezer bag with the timing and oven temp on the front, so people can make cookies fresh whenever the need arises. You can browse all of our cookie recipes here, or learn more about freezing your favorite cookie recipe here.
  • Crazy Cake– This chocolate sheet cake is the easiest to make and is vegan friendly too! Pair it with store bought or homemade frosting for a simple dessert.

Packaging for Delivery and More Meal Train Tips

  • Containers– In general, I try to use disposable containers or containers I won’t need back, which makes it easier for both me and the receiver. We save all of our takeout containers for this purpose. Soup containers are especially useful for soups, plus things like shredded beef or taco meat. It’s also helpful to have a few foil pans and ziplock bags in various sizes on hand. Small jam jars are super helpful for homemade dressings or sauces. You can also buy these plastic containers for sauces or soups online.
  • Package things like salad in separate containers. Toppings like cheese, tortilla strips, chopped fruits or veggies can go in separate plastic baggies or containers.
  • Save sturdy paper bags or free totes (we seem to pick these up from random events throughout the year) for easy transport.
  • Plan for more time than you think you’ll need. I might be the only one who needs to hear this, but I always underestimate the time it will take me to make and package everything. Plus, I never plan for traffic, which is often an issue at dinnertime.
  • And finally, our motto for delivering meals: Show up. Bring food. Only stay if invited. Remember that this is about them, not you. Your presence is always better than platitudes.

Thanks for sharing your love through food!

All proceeds from this post through July 2024 will be donated to World Central Kitchen in support of their mission to be “first to the front lines, providing fresh meals in response to humanitarian, climate, and community crises.”

One Comment

  1. I absolutely LOVE this post! We have a Meal Train in progress right now for a friend who had surgery. The Meal Train website makes it easy to organize, and THIS POST makes it easy to volunteer to bring a meal. So many helpful ideas! I never would have thought about sending frozen cookie dough with instructions so they could bake just 1, or as many as they need in just a few minutes! Cut up fresh fruit or veggies is also so good to send for healthy munching. And of course, the Shredded Beef!!! Such a practical, great post. ❤️

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