Funding a Meal Train

What is a meal train?

Before getting into how much a meal train costs, let’s take a moment to see what a meal train is and why they are used. When we know someone going through critical events in their lives, we want nothing more than to provide some form of help in any way we possibly can. Forming a meal train with friends, family, and community members can be one of the most helpful things one can do during difficult times in others’ lives. 

As you continue, you will learn how to set up a meal train and how much it can cost to support one.

Setting up a meal train.

Sometimes homemade meals can make a world of difference.


assorted homemade meals that can save on meal train cost
Fresh foods, soups, enchiladas galore. As nice as it can be to go to a store and buy a premade meal, we recommend thinking about some of your favorite recipes or perhaps family recipes. By doing this, you may be inspired on what food you should make to contribute to the meal train you are participating in. Image courtesy of Carolina Charm.

Now when setting up a meal train, we need to consider a couple of things. First and foremost, is the intended recipient of the meal train allergic to any particular foods? This is crucial to consider because the last thing you want is your good intention to result in an allergic reaction or, worse, from an attempted, well-meaning thing. Next, consider what the recipients like and dislike. This isn’t as critical as the allergy aspect, but it is still a good thing to consider so that the food provided doesn’t go to waste.

Now how does one go about setting up a meal train? There are several ways to go about this, but they all entail creating a signup sheet, either a physical or virtual one, that will permit those participating in the food train to sign up for a date and to write down what they are contributing to the meal train. This is important for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that you don’t overwhelm the recipient of the meal train with too many meals at once, where food goes to, waste, or there is so much there that the recipient doesn’t know what to do with it all. 

The second reason is that those participating in the meal train can see what one another contributes, so the recipient won’t have multiple repeats of the same meal.

A final important thing to remember when putting together a meal train is to elaborate on the importance of people contributing meals that can be stored in the fridge and then easily thrown into the oven or microwave to cook or reheat. It’s also important to have freezer-friendly meals that allow the recipient to keep food longer. The idea behind both forms of food delivery is to make it so that the recipient doesn’t have to worry about cooking and can focus on matters in their lives. 

An important thing to note with either meal type is that you recommend that those participating in the meal train add heating/cooking instructions. This makes it so the recipient doesn’t have to sit and guess the cooking time and how long the food is going to be viable for. For more information on setting up meal trains along with ideas on what to contribute to a meal train, explore Give InKind for more information.

In our final section, let’s get into the cost of meal trains.

Determining costs of meal trains

How much does a typical meal train cost?

pre-portioned meals in foil containers. these are great for meal trains and for saving on your meal train cost
If you thought that meal trains only consisted of casseroles, we have some good news! Meal trains can include any food you desire; it is up to each participant to determine what they feel like making. Image courtesy of Kansas City Mom.

How much a meal train costs isn’t an exact number. A few things need to be considered when we talk about the total cost of a meal train.

It isn’t unusual to see people spend between $10 – $15 per meal per individual. This is just the cost of one meal. Now, if we consider that people will typically have three meals a day, this means just for one individual to remain fed, they may spend anywhere between $30 – $45 a day. 

According to Statista, the average family size is typical of three people. That said, when cooking for a family of three, you would expect to spend between $30-$45.

Moving onto the length of meal trains, they typically last between three to six weeks. The length varies depending on the circumstances and the number of people you have signed up to contribute to the meal train. Let’s say you gather a group of friends or community members and end up with twenty volunteers. Everyone signs up for at least one meal to provide for the meal train. Now if we consider that each individual will be spending between $30 – $45 on a meal train, we know that at least twenty meals between the three to six weeks will cost anywhere between $600 – $900 to feed a family of three.

As you can see, it is hard to put the exact cost of a meal train together. However, given the example above, for a family of three, you can expect everyone to contribute total spending between $600 and $900.

While there are inherent costs involved, whether you’re cooking, sending delivery, or providing funds or gift cards for the family to order meals on their own, coordinating meal train support should be free.

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Give InKind does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. We have an affiliate relationship with many of the advertisers on our site, and may receive a commission from any products purchased from links in this article. See Terms & Conditions.

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