In our initial consultations with birth and postpartum doula clients, we always ask this question:
"What kind of support do you have lined up after the baby comes?"
Some parents are quick to answer, sharing their loved ones' plans to stay with them, visit often, or help in any way they can.
Other couples look at each other, then back at us, and say something like, "Oh. I guess we hadn't really thought of that." Or even, "He'll be taking a week off from work, so we'll be totally fine." Or "We don't really know. Our family and friends want to help but we aren't crazy about the idea of having a lot of people around."
For families who are still putting together the pieces of how they will gather support for the postpartum period, we usually suggest that they consider asking their loved ones for help with meals. Why, you ask?
- Sometimes families feel that the dad/partner will take care of feeding the family once baby comes. No pressure, right?? This might not be the most realistic approach. If you're like us, it's hard enough to decide what to eat on a normal night without a baby #amiright
- If you've ever been around someone who just had a baby - especially if they're nursing, you know that they are HUNGRY. Like, really hungry. Most of the time. Getting some help with at least one meal a day won't take away the need for other meals and snacks. Allowing friends or family to provide a meal definitely doesn't mean you're outsourcing all the food responsibility, but lightening the load a bit. (In case you're someone who is sensitive to accepting help, perhaps this will put it into context a bit.)
- There will be a lot going on once your baby arrives. Adding a person to your family is no small thing, and usually requires adjustment from everyone. You may be surprised by how much else you have to think about on a daily basis. Outsourcing just a bit can be a huge help.
- Your loved ones want to help! Nourishing a family that has a new baby with food is a time-honored tradition, and one that many people find very gratifying to uphold. Giving your supportive friends and relatives a job like this is more than just practical - it can strengthen community ties.
One of our doula mentors, Kimberly Bepler, said that she suggests to her clients that when someone says, "Let me know if there's anything I can do for you guys - you must have your hands full!" she recommends that they respond, "Bring a lasagna on Tuesday!"
Funny, yes. But also real! People really WANT to help parents of newborns, and sometimes getting specific with what they can actually do to help works wonders.
People really WANT to help parents of newborns, and sometimes getting specific with what they can actually do to help works wonders.
Since most of our clients haven't heard of Meal Train before, we put together this Meal Train 101 guide to serve as a how-to. There are other websites that do something similar (Take Them A Meal, Lotsa Helping Hands, Food Tidings, Meal Baby, etc.), but we figured we'd stick with Meal Train for this tutorial. Of course, many of the principles apply to any other meal coordination service, so use what works for you.
We hope you find this helpful as you plan ahead for life with your new little one!
Getting Started with MealTrain.com
On MealTrain.com, you'll see that there are two ways to do this:
Our clients have mostly opted for the free version, but feel free to splurge on the $10 to easily organize other kinds of help too!
Decide how often you'd like help with meals
Pro tip: don't forget about leftovers!!
We recommend avoiding everyday deliveries because some (hopefully most!) people will make enough for you to have leftovers. We suggest deliveries three times a week at first, then twice a week, then once a week for a while, just to ease your transition. But of course, every family is different! Here is a sample schedule:
List your preferences
If you're going to have a MealTrain set up for you, you'll need to answer some questions like:
- In what window of time would you prefer that food is delivered? (If it's possible to give more flexibility here, that will make it easier for busy people to drop off a meal around their work schedule, childcare duties, etc.)
- What types of foods do you normally eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? What about snacks? (Bonus points if you list easy one-handed snacks that can be eaten while holding or nursing a newborn!)
- Does anyone in your household have dietary restrictions, allergies, or food preferences?
- Are there any local take-out places you like in case someone wants to pick up food for you rather than making it at home?
- Do you normally keep any grocery staples in your home that someone could quickly pick up for you at the store?
Accepting gifts of cash
MealTrain now offers the option to accept "donations" in addition to or instead of food. This could be helpful if you have friends or family who don't live close by who still want to help out with meals and groceries from afar.
We always recommend delegating the management of your MealTrain if at all possible (noted as the Organizer in MealTrain). Do you have an organized friend or family member (who doesn't have a new baby at home) who lives nearby and could help coordinate meal deliveries? Do they have availability during the day to text or call someone who wants to bring you a meal but has some questions?
In order to keep this as low-maintenance for you as possible, it can be helpful to pass this off to someone you trust to take care of the details so you can focus on yourself and your new baby in those first few weeks.
Another great plus? The invitation to "join" your MealTrain can come from this person instead of you, so there is someone asking on your behalf. Just another little way to make asking for help a little easier!
It never hurts to include a little reminder about containers in your MealTrain description. You can either request that people bring food in disposable containers, or that they label their reusable containers if they want them back.
If there is someone in your life who would volunteer to wash and coordinate the return of any reusable containers, it will make things that much easier! (Perhaps your MealTrain organizer?)
(Now, since we live in an eco-conscious part of the country and many of our clients feel very strongly about their environmentally-friendly lifestyles, we have to mention that there may be some guilt involved with using disposable containers. If you want a "let yourself off the hook pass," consider this it. Having a baby is a messy business and there will be times you need to use more disposable products than you'd prefer. Forgive yourself and focus on raising your little one to whom you will someday teach the values of recycling, reusing, and reducing so they too can live as a globally conscious citizen of the world.)
Make your list of helpers
You'll need the names and email addresses of friends and family who you'd like the Meal Train request to be sent to. Think about adding:
- Local family
- Local friends
People from any groups you belong to (think churches, book clubs, workout groups, teams, etc.)
If you're worried about "looky-loos" or people who might spend more time with you when they drop off their meal than you'd prefer, you can consider adding a request in the MealTrain set-up to let people know that they can leave the food on your doorstep rather than expecting to come inside and meet the baby.
Perhaps something along the lines of: "We're so grateful for your help! When you arrive, please leave the food on the doorstep and text us to let us know it's there. As much as we'd love to thank you in person, we'll probably be deep in baby-land and won't be able to come out when you're here. When baby is a little older, we'd love to have you over to meet them!" (And remember, if someone else is organizing your MealTrain, this can be in 3rd person.)
Set the gears in motion
Once baby has arrived alert your Organizer person to update the dates on the MealTrain calendar if needed. Then enjoy your meals as they arrive!
Make sure to express your gratitude to your loved ones who supported you with food in your baby's early days! If you don't love the hassle of snail mail, you can always email something through Punchbowl.com or another online greeting card service. Or... text a baby photo. Squishy baby pictures are worth 1,000 greeting cards. Isn't that the saying?