How to Cook for a Family Reunion: Part 1 – Get Ready, Get Set…

Flipping pancakes shoulder-to-shoulder with my brother; laughing to tears at the four-year-old’s water fight; playing board games until well past midnight; a stream of dirty -yet happy- children’s faces; and choruses of “Thank you, Auntie Aimée!” – these are but a few of my favorite memories from our recent family reunion.

You may recall I was keeping very busy last month making pancake mix, granola and other do-ahead breakfast food in preparation to host our family reunion. Now it’s come and gone, leaving behind some, oh, 10,000 photos, heaps of great memories, many stray articles of clothing, and a few lessons learned.

Be they large or small, planning a successful family reunion takes plenty of coordination to ensure everyone is comfortable, well-looked after and well-fed!

In this two-part series on hosting a family reunion from the kitchen, we will look at:

  1. Get Ready, Get Set…: Essential planning and preparation.
  2. Lessons learned from the Kitchen: How to feed everyone – simpler.

Here’s how to get started on planning your event and a few things to consider before everyone arrives.

Plan, plan, plan

Although we’re highlighting the food aspect on SimpleBites, here are two other sites to help get you started on planning your family reunion:


I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that planning is your best ally. For that, head to my favorite list site, ListBean, to get started. Listbean has a customized checklist to keep your family reunion planning on track!


You can also create a family reunion website at My Here you can keep everyone in the loop, despite geographical distances, with your very own website, message boards, and custom invitations.

Menu Plan

Now that your reunion plans are taking shape and you have a better idea of how many people to expect, you’re going to need a menu plan.

Having a flexible menu plan is going to be the smartest approach. I say flexible, because no one wants their day to be dictated by food prep. With uncertain weather conditions, unpredictable children and the general spontaneity family gatherings can bring, there is no way to completely plan each meal, every day.

So plan a handful of dinners that can can be pulled together if necessary, OR put on the back burner if everyone decides to go for fish n’ chips after a day at the beach.

For more guidance, read my post on 10 Questions that Help Define a Menu to help you shape a menu plan that suits your budget, guests, event and home.

Delegate, Divide, and Demolish!

It’s beneficial to chat with siblings and family members before the reunion about expectations for how the cooking is to be divided up. Not everyone may enjoy kitchen duty, and some may be more gifted than others.

Communicate with each other about a system to share the cooking (and clean-up!) load well before the event actually takes place.

Here’s a suggestion for how to divide the meals up:

  • Breakfast: Self-serve, parents look after their own kids. (Suggestions for do-ahead breakfasts)
  • Lunch: D.I.Y with one volunteer to make salad or vegetable platter. (D.I.Y. meal suggestions coming in Part 2)
  • Dinner: Families (or siblings) each pick a night to cook for the group and rotate as often as needed depending on the length of the reunion.

Stock up on Staples

I’m not just talking about granola bars, plastic plates and relish, this goes for real dishes and other kitchen items, too. And, if your family is at all like mine, consider buying your coffee in bulk!

Think about:

  • Cleaning supplies: Dish soap, dishwasher detergent, and even a few extra dish towels. Let’s face it; there are going to be a lot of dishes.
  • Platters: Both indoor and outdoor, both serving platters/bowls and trays for carrying items.
  • Dishes & utensils: You should have enough of both plastic and the real stuff.  Depending on the size of your reunion, you may want to borrow or even rent these. Bonus: you can usually return rentals dirty = less cleanup!
  • The obvious: Food. Start watching for sales about a month before the reunion and if your pantry and freezer has space, begin stocking up on items such as coffee, apple juice, oatmeal and healthy snacks.

Once the reunion is in full swing, it is these small details that will keep things running smoothly and little bellies happy!

Don’t miss Part 2: Lessons Learned from the Kitchen.

Hosting your whole family for a few weeks: does that sound like fun – or torture?!

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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  1. I love this post! It’s personal, it offers great tips to take the stress out of an event that could be very high stress (cooking for so many people, so many days in a row). Planning, delegating… CHECK… demolishing??? 😉

    • Demolishing the task, of course! Yes, it could be considered high stress, but cooking for loved ones can also be very rewarding.

  2. Karen Robert says

    I wholeheartedly agree about asking people to help and delegating responsibilities. I often make the mistake of trying to do it all myself, but it only makes me feel like a martyr then my guests just think I’m a grump.

  3. A few weeks? Yikes! We had everyone here for 4th of July weekend – 4 days is plenty! In a family of foodies, we always make a joke about how many trips to the grocery store will occur during a holiday weekend, but this time we planned the dinners ahead and even did some minor prep work. It was SOOO much nicer to spend the weekend chatting and enjoying the area, knowing that everyone would be well fed at the end of the day.

    Also, it’s good to remember that the actual food you cook is of minor importance compared to the time you spend with your family!

    • You are so right, Alissa, it’s much more important to invest time in the relationships than in the dishes. 🙂
      I had a full 7 days of EVERYONE (17) but two weeks straight of company, as they trickled in and trickled out. It was fun!

  4. Great post Aimee! Our family is planning a reunion for next summer, and it is our first, so we will take all the advice we can get. On a side note, and much smaller scale, my husband’s immediate family shares meal duty when we get together for a weekend at Christmas. It is always so fun to see what each couple comes up with for a meal, and there is so much less stress for everyone, including whoever hosts. So some of your ideas are great, no matter what the scale of the family get together!

  5. We also have plans in our family reunions..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.

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