What Is a Meal Train and How Do I Start One? (Plus, 29 Recipe Ideas)
Your friend just had a baby. A coworker’s family member died. Your neighbor just had major surgery. Whatever the reason, you want to cook them dinner. (Great idea.) Have you heard of a meal train?
What is a meal train?
A meal train is when a group of friends and family organize homemade meal deliveries for someone in need. The name comes from mealtrain.com, a website that lets you create a meal sign-up sheet to organize a meal train and assign days to anyone who wants to get involved. It’s an especially handy tool to keep things organized, and the family receiving meals can sign in to indicate food allergies or dietary restrictions, but you don’t have to use the website to get a meal train going (you could just set up an email thread and create a calendar yourself).
Helpful Meal Train Tips and Tricks
Keep these things in mind when organizing your meal train:
- The best meal train recipes travel easily, reheat well, last multiple days and are crowd-pleasing.
- If you’re organizing the meal train yourself (instead of through the website), there are a few key details to find out: Are there any dietary restrictions? What is the best delivery time? How will you communicate with other meal train participants?
- Include instructions for storing and reheating the dish (especially if it won’t be eaten immediately), including cooking temperatures and times, plus how long it can be kept in the fridge.
- Bring the food in containers that can be reheated if necessary (not to mention ones you don’t mind not getting back).
- Don’t confuse a meal train with a social gathering: It’s OK if you just drop off the dish, send a quick text and go. Depending on why the meal train was set up in the first place, your friend might not want to (or have time to) chat when they receive the meal, but they’ll appreciate it nonetheless.
Now that you know what a meal train is, here are 29 meal train ideas to whip up for anyone in need of a home-cooked, hand-delivered dinner.
1. Ina Garten’s Updated Chicken Marbella
The next best thing to a big hug from Ina Garten herself is her riff on the classic chicken marbella. It’ll feed six for dinner, but leftovers also reheat beautifully.
2. Low-Carb Zucchini Enchiladas
Who said comforting couldn’t also be nutritious? These enchiladas ditch the tortillas for zucchini but trust us—no one will miss the extra carbs.
3. Sheet-Pan Persian Lemon Chicken
Chicken, spices and two types of potatoes mingle on one sheet tray for an easy-to-make meal that’s also crowd-pleasing. Pack the toppings in separate containers to make it next-day friendly.
4. Freekeh Vegetable Soup
A steaming, vegetable-packed soup is like a hug in a bowl. This one has freekeh—an ancient grain—to make it more filling.
5. Easy One-Pan Ratatouille
The classic veggie-based dish is hearty and healthy all at once, but we took it one step further: By cooking it in the oven instead of on the stove, it’s totally hands-off and ready in less than an hour.
6. Spicy Lemon-Ginger Chicken Soup
Your mom might’ve offered plain old chicken soup (and maybe added noodles), but this chicken-ginger-lemon concoction is an equally delicious upgrade.
7. Roasted Cauliflower Macaroni and Cheese
Mac and cheese is an obvious choice for a comforting meal-train dinner, but this recipe has a secret. The addition of roasted cauliflower makes it a little bit healthier (and happens to taste amazing, too).
8. Cheater’s Slow-Cooker Beef Bourguignon
Julia Child might not have made her boeuf in a slow cooker, but your secret is safe with us. Pack it up with a side of polenta, noodles or mashed potatoes if you really want to go the extra mile.
9. Creamy Vegan Lentil and Roasted Vegetable Bake
If your recipient has food allergies or dietary restrictions, this dairy-free, vegan casserole is just the ticket. Want to make it gluten-free? Top it with pine nuts instead of bread crumbs.
10. Super-Easy One-Pot Lasagna
Layers of noodles, cheese and sauce are always a good idea. If you can, transport this in the same pot you cook it in for extra convenience.
11. White Turkey Chili with Avocado
Everyone loves chili; they’ll love turkey chili (which is a little lighter and just as tasty) even more. Don’t forget the avocado for serving.
12. Slow-Cooker Pasta e Fagioli
Delivering meals doesn’t get better (or easier) than this. Let the beans and aromatics simmer away, then add the pasta and go.
13. Honey Mustard Sheet-Pan Chicken with Brussels Sprouts
Making this sheet-pan stunner requires almost zero prep, since all you really need to do is mix up the sauce. And it happens to reheat like a dream…so what are you waiting for?
14. Antoni Porowski’s Moroccan-Style Pasta Bolognese
The Queer Eye culinary expert clearly knows a thing or two about comfort food. Our tip? Pack up the sauce and pasta separately and include instructions for easy assembly.
15. Sticky Orange Chicken with Caramelized Onions and Fennel
Bringing food for a family? This craveable, fuss-free chicken will please adults and children alike (picky eaters included).
16. Whole Roasted Chipotle Chicken
One of the best things about a whole roast chicken is that whatever doesn’t get devoured on the first night will make knockout second (and third) meals. Want to feel extra helpful? Deliver it with cooked rice or salad ingredients for the leftovers.
17. Easy One-Pot Lentil Kielbasa Soup
This isn’t your average lentil soup. The addition of heavily spiced Polish sausage makes it rich and flavorful, without adding too much extra work in the cooking department.
18. Honey-Mustard Sheet Pan Salmon
Even picky eaters won’t be able to resist the sticky-sweet sauce that glazes this salmon. You can make it ahead, too, if you cut your vegetables and store them in the fridge.
19. Ina Garten's Baked Pasta with Tomatoes and Eggplant
The Barefoot Contessa has does it again, this time with a baked pasta that’s crispy, gooey and zesty in all the right ways. Bonus points if you bring this one in cute individual ramekins.
20. 15-Minute Skillet Pepper Steak
When the dinner takes a mere 15 minutes to whip up, how could you not add this to the rotation? Even better, it lacks nothing in the flavor department and has only 230 calories per serving.
21. Slow-Cook Pulled Chicken
What requires almost no effort, makes tons of leftovers and is versatile to boot? Pulled chicken, of course. Bring it with buns and slaw for a sandwich assembly line.
22. Cuban Sliders for a Crowd
Making dinner for a large group of people? These sliders are the definition of “no-brainer.” Assemble them at home, then drop them off with directions for heating in the oven.
23. Sheet-Pan Lemon Butter Veggies and Sausage
Toss all their favorite vegetables on a sheet tray with sausage and zingy lemon butter, and voilà, instant meal train winner.
24. French Onion Brisket
Jake Cohen’s modern take on brisket is tender and rich, but it’s braised in onions instead of tomatoes for a modern twist.
25. Perfect Meatballs with Cherry Tomato Sauce
Meatballs are the ultimate meal train dish: They’re easy to transport, are excellent as leftovers and, most importantly, make everyone feel a little bit better.
26. One-Pan Roasted Salmon with Potatoes and Romaine
The main course and sides all get cooked together, which means less time in the kitchen and less time cleaning up later.
27. Skillet Steak with Asparagus and Potatoes
This is just as impressive as any fancy filet and baked potato dinner, but so much easier to make. The trick? Cooking everything in one skillet makes it foolproof.
28. The Ultimate Chicken Potpie
It’s called ultimate for good reason: It’s filling, skillet-friendly and undeniably comforting. Don’t even get us started on that flaky, golden crust.
29. Rotisserie Chicken Ramen
Prep everything ahead of time and pack it in separate containers for easy transport—the only thing that will need reheating is the broth.