Meal train etiquette - the rules of giving

There was a death on our block and it reminded me of a topic I've been dying to write about - meal train etiqeutte. Wait. Was there an awkward pun in there? Maybe you shouldn't listen to me.

When someone has a baby, loses a loved one, has surgery or gets an unfortunate haircut, something nice you can do is bring them a meal. If you want to be really helpful, coordinate a meal train with their other friends/family/groupies (every other night is usually a good pace). But there are rules to being helpful. Rules? To helping? Ah, that's why you have me.

1. Drop the meal and run. This is not the time to take a tour of the house, inspect their stuff, let your kids run around to every room, discuss current politics or sit down and hold their newborn for an hour. If the recipient was up to hosting company, they would be up to cooking their own dinner.

2. Cook the meal. This sounds obvious, but you have no idea how often this goes ignored. Pre-making a casserole with instructions to throw it in the oven for 30 minutes (or freeze) are fine, but salads with a million ingredients they need to mix missed the point. For example, this happened: someone gave me a box of dry lasagna noodles and a jar of sauce. Um, we have a pantry too. Not helpful!

3. Coordinate an early evening drop-off time in advance. People think about dinner early, even if they eat it later so call the day before or the morning of. When I was the recipient of a generous meal train, the dropper for that hadn't called or showed so we schlepped to dinner at the in-laws' when we got hungry. As soon as we arrived across town, we got a phone call that our meal did arrive, after dark, and was sitting on our porch. (Food doesn't go to waste around here -  we ate it the next night, but this is still worth mentioning!)

4. A cheesy pasta dish is comfort food indeed, but you might want to run it by the other meal train cooks or better yet, use a free site like Meal train or  Take Them A Meal so you can see what everyone is bringing. My friend said after her second baby she ate cheesy pasta casserole for two weeks straight. On one hand, yum. On the other hand, burritos, chili, stews and hearty salads travel just as well.

5. Keep your question to a minimum. Are they are allergic or on a special diet, how many people are in the house and is 4:00 okay? Don't ask open ended questions like, "what do you want to eat?" People will feel on the spot to tell you not to go to the trouble or they will stammer because thinking is hard when you are sick or grieving. Just be a little steam engine and do. PS, Nearly everyone hates green peppers.

6. This is not necessary, but if you're the type to go above and beyond (and clean out your pantry of mismatched paper plates) consider stuffing a few plastic forks, paper plates and disposable napkins in with the meal to save on clean-up. Tossing in drinks is a nice touch as well. Me, I like to tie bows around my napkins, but I'm a little Martha Stewart wannabe down to the blonde helmet hair and smirky grin. Don't compare yourself. *dusts shoulders*

7. If you're really a go-getter? Pack muffins for breakfast the next morning.

8. THINK OF THE CHILDREN!!! No really, think of their children. If you're sending a meal to a family with toddlers, throw in some mac'n'cheese and/or earplugs. I mean coloring books. Coloring books to keep them from pulling on mommy's c-section stitches. (I need an editor.)

9. Far away? Can't cook? Lazy? Forget all that and let FoodlerGrub Hub or Delivery do the dirty work.

10. Don't send anything you want back. It's really annoying for the person nursing/grieving/growing her bangs out to have ten casserole dishes to wash, identify, and return. You may not even get it back and then there you are, seething over your good deed thanked with a stolen casserole dish. Kill the earth for one night and use disposable containers and a paper bag.

Truthfully though, it really is the thought that counts. The fact that anyone gave a crap about me after the birth of my babies was enough for me. I won't forget the people who were on my train or the happiness I have gotten from doing it for others. Kindness rules.
(So do a half dozen cupcakes stuffed in a to-go bag with dinner. Just putting it out there!)

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Martha Stewart packs her disposable silverware in paper napkin rings. Oh! Story! Did I ever tell you about the time I asked Martha Stewart in person if she ever ate out of the peanut butter jar when no one was looking? We were between takes on the Oprah set. Answer? No. But she does eat sardines out of the container. 


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