When life gets rough, you can count on Southerners to form a meal train.

By Southern Living Editors
February 16, 2020
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For many Southerners, cooking is a love language. Whether it’s a plate of biscuits, a warming pot of soup, or a decadent layer cake, homemade food is often how we show people that we care.

There’s no better example of this than a meal train. Typically organized by a friend or family member, a meal train is a way to organize a series of meals that are cooked and delivered to someone in need. When someone is going through a major life event, like the birth of a child, a death in the family, or recovery from an illness, injury, or medical procedure, a meal train is a smart and caring way to make sure that person is well-fed and doesn’t have to think about cooking, meal planning, or grocery shopping.

Zucchini, Squash, and Corn Casserole
Credit: Hector Sanchez

A meal train can provide meals for a few days, or much longer. It can include breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but typically focuses on dinner. Organization is the most important thing to keep in mind when setting up a meal train. No one wants to receive five straight days of macaroni and cheese, or a container of beef stew if they are vegetarian. A sign-up sheet or Google doc is the easiest way to make sure that people don’t make the same dish and that enough meals are being taken care of. There are also several online resources for setting up and organizing meal trains.

If possible, the meal train organizer should reach out to the person in need to make sure they don’t have any dietary restrictions in their household and find out when it would be most convenient to drop off food. If the person isn’t up for having visitors, it’s better to leave the food at someone’s front door. (Although you’ll want to make sure they are home and able to get the food, especially if it requires refrigeration.)

The next step is to find recipes. A good meal train dish will be something that is portable, easy to reheat, feeds an entire family (if needed), and is comforting. Casseroles fit the bill, but can seem a little monotonous, especially a few days in a row. Other ideas: a large main-dish salad with dressing on the side, pastas that taste good hot or at room temperature, a frittata or quiche, roasted chicken and vegetables.

Although the purpose of a meal train to provide an actual meal, include a surprise if you can. A bouquet of flowers, a note, a bottle of wine, or a batch of cookies are all thoughtful additions.