How to Cook for a Family Reunion: Part 2 – Lessons Learned From the Kitchen

This post is Part 2 of How to Cook for a Family Reunion. Read Part 1 here.

What is hosting a family reunion like? Well, think of the biggest, most elaborate birthday party you’ve every thrown for your kids. Think of the planning, the prep, and the big day. Then string ten of those birthday parties in a row – with all the guests sleeping over. That describes the work that goes into planning and executing a family reunion pretty accurately.

Not to worry, however! With proper planning, communication among family members, and following the suggestions from our first post, you, the host can enjoy the reunion just as much as your guests. Yep, that’s right, you’re not going to be chained to the stove the whole time, so you’d better bite the bullet and go swimsuit shopping–you’ll be poolside along with everyone else!

This post will highlight tips for success to feed a large group of people from your own kitchen. I think that if the kitchen is running in a smooth and orderly fashion, the family reunion is sure to be a triumph!

So grab a pen and paper and take notes for your own reunion… or even as preparation for hosting those out-of-town guests next weekend.

Take it outdoors

It’s no secret that keeping the dining room mess to a minimum is best done by feeding folks outside. Why allow for a parade of dirty feet through the house, when most children would rather eat outside anyway?!

Weather permitting, plan to eat outdoors as much as possible.

Have a well-stocked picnic basket assembled at all times so that you are not always running back and forth to fetch a few more napkins… another round of straws…

It should include:

  • Plastic cutlery
  • Napkins, cloth or paper
  • Plastic straws
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Bug Spray
  • Sunscreen
  • Swiss Army Knife


  1. Keep a large, sturdy garbage bin close by for quick clean-up.
  2. Set up an outdoor hand washing station complete with basin, soap and towel for pre-meal wash up without having to go indoors.
  3. Invest in a sturdy tray for carrying dishes and food back and forth from the kitchen to the picnic table.

Don’t forget a quilt or blanket if a picnic table is not available!

Have at least one D.I.Y meal per day

No one person needs to be stationed in the kitchen all morning long making sandwiches for the family lunch. Instead, provide adequate fixings for simple meals and allow each person to assemble their own.

Sandwich Bar Suggestions

  • Bread, buns, wraps, bagels, etc
  • cold cuts, smoked salmon, tuna or egg salad
  • cheese
  • leafy greens
  • condiments

Set out a platter of cut vegetables and dip, open a bottle of lemonade and lunch is served! Cookies optional.

Salad Bar Suggestions

Had enough sandwiches? Lay out salad fixings instead in true salad bar fashion and let folks dress their own.

  • Mixed greens, spinach, shredded iceberg, or other favorite salad greens
  • tomatoes
  • cucumbers
  • peppers
  • boiled eggs
  • diced ham
  • shredded cheese
  • olives & other pickled favorites
  • chopped nuts
  • dried fruit
  • various vinaigrettes (here are Three Homemade Salad Dressings)

D.I.Y Dinner Suggestion

Provide pizza dough (previously made and frozen, of course) and toppings and invite families to make their own.

Stay on top of clean-up

Keeping up with dishes and general clean-up after meals is essential to maintain order in the heart of the home. Here are my 8 Steps to a Quick Clean-Up including tips on dealing with leftovers, dirty linens, and the mountain of dishes.

Of course, if meals are served outdoors on paper plates, clean up is going to be minimized. Still there are usually odds and ends to wash – like the coffee pot.

Since no one likes to wake up to a crusty coffee pot, make sure the kitchen is clean before you fall into bed!

Don’t sweat the small stuff

Let’s face it, something is going to get trashed, so consider yourself warned.

It might be a stained tablecloth, a broken dish, or your favorite gadget that just doesn’t work the same. However, when you look at the big picture, it’s just stuff. Think of it as a small price to pay for the tremendous blessing of being surrounded by loved ones for days.

If you’re really concerned about heirlooms, consider wrapping them up in tissue paper and storing them for the duration of the reunion. Or perhaps you’ll adopt the motto that we embraced: “If it’s not a life-threatening situation, it’s no biggie.

What’s on your entertaining radar? Any hosting duties this summer?

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 am traveling home to MN in August and while I won’t be hosting I like to bring lots of food. Since I don’t eat grains the large salad ideas you have are great. We’ll be camping some of the time so a cooler full of yogurt, nuts, and homemade granola should do the trick for our boys.

    I can’t imagine the dishes from hosting an event like that, especially since we don’t have a dishwasher.

  2. When I have to cook for a large group, I make good use of the freezer. This summer for a family reunion at a cabin in Tennessee I batch cooked chicken on the grill, sliced and froze it. Putting together BBQ chicken fajitas was a breeze when it was my night to cook. I also froze hashbrown casserole so it just needed to be popped in the oven.

    You are right – the key to making it easy is in the prep work!

  3. Great post. I agree, proper planning and so forth lead to a successful event. I could tell my mother was so hesitant on me hosting our family for Easter-but I had it planned to the minute.

    My next party is at the end of August. My son’s 2nd birthday…already sat down and planned it out this week.

  4. So…what broke?

  5. I think you touched on this in the last post, but delgating is crucial! Assign someone to set out all the DIY items for lunch and assign everyone at least one clean-up shift. I find people are more than enthusiastic to tackle the dishes when they know it’s their job ahead of time. Who cares if your dishes end up in the right place. You’ll find them eventually!

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