Family Reunion Food & Recipes

Simplify family reunion food with these meal planning ideas, tips on feeding a crowd and easy potluck recipes.

hamburger and fries

You simply can't have a family reunion without food! Not only would your cousins get hungry, but you'd miss out on all those food-related memories.

After all, family reunion food in my mind equates to red cherries. Why? Because one summer when I was a little girl, my cousin and I feasted upon the juicy fruit during a family reunion get-together on the farm. We snuck handful after handful all afternoon until our mouths were stained very red and we were both very, very sick. :)

Laughter is brightest, in the place where the food is.

(Irish Proverb)

Before you start brainstorming too many meal planning ideas, you must first decide what TYPE of reunion you're having.

Feeding a crowd and the associated logistics varies significantly depending on menu, dining location and budget restrictions.

A family reunion meal could be a -

  • family picnic in the park
  • potluck menu with recipes from all
  • restaurant buffet
  • formal banquet with entertainment
  • multi-day adventure with family camping and foil dinners

Regardless of where you'll be and what you'll eat, you still need to decide how to manage meal preparation and other kitchen duties. There are pros and cons to each of the following meal planning ideas.

Family Reunion Meal Planning Ideas

Each of these approaches to planning family reunion food is different.

Use caterers and catering services.

PROS: Having someone else take care of all the work is amazing! It leaves your family and you, as the family reunion planner, with more time to visit and play. Simply tell the caterer what you want and enjoy a relatively (pun intended!) stress-free meal.

CONS: It's expensive. Period. When you hire a caterer, you are generally paying a per person fee and must gaurantee numbers before hand.

If you are planning just one meal or one main meal over the course of several days, catering is a more viable option because expenses add up quickly.

MEET HALF WAY: Consider asking your friends to help out with meals or swap with another family. (Just be aware that you get what you pay for!)

Eat at a restaurant. Reserve their banquet or party room if they have one.

Serve potluck meals.

PROS: Potluck meals are an easy way to divide and conquer the work of family reunion food. Costs are generally kept to a minimum and you'll be able to recipe swap with Great Aunt Sally. There are plenty of easy potluck recipes out there and you'll have a wide variety of food.

Potluck meals and picnics tend to be more casual and everyone gets to enjoy the satisfaction of being involved.

CONS: You just never know how clean the kitchen was where those other dishes were prepared and you risk food poisoning from the mayonnaise in the potato salad that was accidentally left in a hot car. Bringing a potluck dish can also be challenging to those family members who travel from great distances.

MEET HALF WAY: For a more cohesive potluck menu, provide the meat and/or main dish and ask everyone to bring salads and sides. Or make specific assignments based on a theme.

Cook as a group.

Each family branch is in charge of one meal prepared for everyone. The individual family is responsible for planning the menu, purchasing all of the ingredients, cooking the food and cleaning up afterwards.

PROS: If your family enjoys spending time together in the kitchen, this is a great option. Cooking as a group also spreads the work load and costs.

CONS: There's a lot going on - everyone is cooking, planning, shopping and buying. The risk of duplication is high (how many bottles of catsup do you really need?) and no one ever becomes the kitchen expert (now, where were those measuring cups?).

Large quantity cooking is difficult and often requires specific recipes and extremely large pots and pans. Estimating serving sizes and amounts of food needed is a professional skill, best handled by professional caterers.

MEET HALF WAY: Work in teams. Or everyone submits a recipe and the ingredients needed and the family reunion planner (or committee) coordinates the menu and shopping.

Make your own food.

This "fend for yourself" approach means that you won't have to worry about preparing meals and/or keeping everyone together during dinner. Rather simply provide a list of available dining options.

PROS: Some family branches may still wish to cook together or plan to eat together, but that becomes their responsibility and not yours.

CONS: Lots of people will spend lots of time talking about food and planning for meals. There's one less opportunity to have everyone together. Eating together brings up great conversation and builds a strong family.

MEET HALF WAY: If yours is a multi-day affair, specifically plan some of the meals but not others. Or let everyone figure out their own breakfasts and lunches and the reunion provides dinners.

Getting together to smile and rejoice

Eating and laughing with folks of your choice.

Tips for feeding a crowd

Regardless of what approach you choose for handling family reunion food, feeding a crowd is NOT easy! Consider these guidelines:

  • Keep things simple. Pick recipes with fewer ingredients that will have less preparation and cooking time. Do as much as you can well in advance of the family reunion. Food is fun but shouldn't take up too much time.
  • Estimate portions accurately. There’s nothing worse than running out of sweet potatoes at the family Thanksgiving dinner OR having 4 years worth of leftover BBQ pork loin.
  • Remember the vegetarians. Give your family choices (but not too many!).
  • Offer plenty of water, especially during hot weather. Most of us are dehydrated on a daily basis and don’t even realize it.
  • Choose recipes intended for large groups. Quantity cooking is not as simple as multiplication – you can’t automatically convert that recipe for two into a recipe for 200 for the family reunion. The food just won't turn out the same.

Making food memorable

Family reunion food doesn't have to be all about menu planning and eating. There are many other ways to instill fond food memories that will capture the imaginations of many generations.

A good cook is like a sorceress who dispenses happiness.

- Elsa Schiaparelli

Make your own cookbook

Incorporate family history by including pictures and personal facts. Take orders or collect submissions at the family reunion. Later, use the cookbook as a reunion keepsakes or for fundraising.

Play food games

Kids and adults alike can get involved. If yours is a religious family, consider scripture cookies or scripture cake.

Make food crafts

Use the food items from your menu and make their preparation into a fun activity.

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