29 Easy or Inexpensive Family Reunion Food & Menu Ideas to Try


Playwright Oscar Wilde once said, “After a good dinner, one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relatives.” So don’t just pick any old menu for your next family reunion. Choose the perfect menu that’ll put everyone in a good mood.

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Regardless of the type of food that appeals to your family, keep these two rules in mind:

  1. Make sure there is plenty of food. 
  2. Ask the lousy cooks in your family to be in charge of drinks.

Here are some menu ideas for your next family gathering. 

Family Reunion Food Ideas for a Summer Picnic or Barbecue

Summer is a great time for extended family reunions. Schedules are often lighter. Kids are out of school. Warm weather allows the kids to play in the backyard instead of making a lot of noise in the house. 

Here are some food ideas for a summer picnic or barbecue.

1. Hamburgers and hot dogs

Is there anything more American than burgers and hot dogs? Add a few firecrackers and sparklers, and you have a perfect menu for the Fourth of July. Hamburgers and hot dogs are also relatively cheap, cook quickly on a grill, and appeal to most people.

Menu ideas: Almost any side goes with hamburgers and hot dogs. You may immediately think about coleslaw, potato salad, or pasta salad, though you could also prepare roasted vegetables or corn on the cob as well.

2. Sandwiches

It can be difficult to come up with food ideas that appeal to a wide variety of people. If you have a lot of picky family members, you might want to provide traditional sandwich fixings and allow your family members to prepare their own sandwiches to their tastes. Sandwiches are easy to transport and great for picnic lunches.

Menu ideas: Purchase vegetable trays, fruit trays, and bags of chips as sides. What’s the best part of this meal? No cooking is required!

3. Foil packet meals

If your family is made up of avid campers, you probably have made foil packet meals over the campfire. These meals take little skill to create, but they take a special knack to cook well.

Create a simple foil packet by laying out a piece of aluminum foil. Place a hamburger or chicken patty in the center along with onions and other vegetables. Add seasoning on the top of the food.

Seal the packet up well and place the packet in the hot coals of a fire. Rotate the food periodically. Check it often. The result should be a foil packet of perfectly cooked meat and vegetables, but be careful. Foil packets can quickly burn.

Menu ideas: Take advantage of the flames to cook your favorite campfire desserts. Of course, everyone loves s' mores, but you could also check out Boy Scout or Girl Scout websites for other cooking ideas.

Family Reunion Food Ideas for a Brunch Party

Whoever invented the idea of brunch deserves a special commendation. Who doesn’t love eating fancy breakfast foods, especially if they are served with mimosas?

Brunch is the perfect time of the day to have a family gathering. It’s early enough to allow you to spend the entire day together. A late lunch may be all you need to satisfy everyone for the rest of the day.

4. Waffle bar

Waffles are the easiest things in the world to make. Purchase several easy-to-use waffle irons, similar to what you would see in a hotel breakfast bar. 

You can add fruit or chocolate to the batter, or you could place those items on the side for your family members to add as they desire. 

Menu ideas: Purchase a variety of syrups. Cut up strawberries, blueberries, bananas, and raspberries. Don’t forget to include real butter and whipped cream to the waffle bar. And everyone loves sprinkles.

5. Breakfast burritos

Breakfast burritos are easy to assemble ahead of time. Create some with eggs, meat, and grilled vegetables. Assemble others that only include vegetables and meat substitutes for vegetarians in the family. 

Menu ideas: Include a variety of salsas with the breakfast burritos, from fresh pico de gallo to mild and spicy salsas. Be ready with several bottles of hot sauce for people who prefer spicy foods. Top the breakfast burritos with sour cream and serve breakfast potatoes with them. You may also want to have a variety of fruits available as well.

6. Bloody Mary bar

Is everyone in your family of drinking age? Why not prepare a Bloody Mary bar to serve with your brunch? Have a variety of flavored salts available to use to rim the classes. Research the best Bloody Mary recipe (or purchase your favorite mixer). Then go crazy with the garnishes. 

Menu ideas: Can you only think of celery and olives to garnish your Bloody Mary? Then you may need to do some additional research. Include bacon, pickle spears, and a variety of olives. Have pickled beets and okra available as well as pepperoncini. Pick up some artichoke hearts and marinated pearl onions.

To make your Bloody Mary bar more hearty, you may include mini hamburgers on spears to garnish the drinks.

Family Reunion Food Ideas for a Lunch

Are you preparing lunch for a large group? Here are some ideas that may appeal to you.

7. Build your own kabobs

Why is it so much more satisfying to eat meat, vegetables, or fruit served on a stick? 

To appeal to those on special diets, why not have your family members build their own kabobs?

Have each member of the family bring items precut in bite-sized pieces. This can include vegetables such as onions, peppers, and zucchini. Include fruit, such as pineapple or mandarin oranges. Finally, have family members bring marinated meats, such as chicken, steak, or fish.

Kabobs are great to serve at picnics because they can be cooked on outdoor grills. 

Menu ideas: Kabobs can include meat, vegetables, and fruit. This cuts down on the number of side items you need to complete a meal. You may want to prepare a rice dish or include a fruit tray to round out the menu.

8. Barbecue

Depending upon where you live in the country, barbecue may mean one of two things. 

Having your family over for “barbecue” may mean that you put charcoal on the grill to cook hamburgers and hot dogs. In other parts of the country, barbecue is serious business. Careful preparation and cooking often involve rubs and sauces. 

If you’re lucky enough to live in an area where just the word “barbecue” causes salivary glands to water, why not create a menu centered around barbecue brisket or pulled pork?

Menu ideas: You probably already have a favorite barbecue side. Some prefer BBQ beans and others, mac ’n cheese. Coleslaw often compliments a barbecue meal — sometimes people even put it on top of their sandwiches. Whatever your choice, make sure you include a plate of zesty pickles. 

9.  Omelet bar

Who said omelets just have to be for brunch? Allow your family members to build their own omelets. Have a variety of meats, cheese, and vegetables to add to the eggs while they are cooking. 

Menu ideas: Include small pieces of ham and sausage. Cut up onions, peppers, mushrooms, jalapenos, and spinach. Purchase several varieties of cheese to add to the inside or the top.

Family Reunion Food Ideas for a Nice Dinner

Are you celebrating a special occasion with your extended family? Here are some ideas for a family dinner for a large group. 

10. Pasta

It’s sometimes challenging to cook a nice meal for a large group of people. Pasta is relatively inexpensive and easy to prepare. Pasta can also be made to order. Include a variety of sauces, meats, and cheese.

Menu ideas: Make a large salad to go with the pasta meal as well as garlic bread or rolls. Make sure you buy plenty of fresh parmesan.

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11. Hearty soups

Is your family reunion planned during either the fall or winter? Why not prepare a variety of soups and chilis to serve to the group? Include vegetarian and gluten-free soups as well to appeal to a variety of tastes and diets.

Menu ideas: Pair your favorite soups with a nice, crusty bread or crackers served with real butter. And don’t forget the wine!

Family Reunion Food Ideas for Dessert

Perhaps your family reunion isn’t during a mealtime. Maybe you only plan to serve desserts. Here are some ideas for dessert that are perfect for serving to a large group of people.

12.  Ice cream sundae bar

Think back to family reunions of your youth. At some point, your family gathered together and created ice cream sundaes. Replicate this favorite memory and share it with the younger generation. Purchase or make dairy-free varieties as well to serve to your guests.

Menu ideas: Purchase a wide variety of candies and fruits and all the different syrups — chocolate, caramel, and strawberry. Don’t forget the whipped cream and the maraschino cherries!

13. Cake

The one great thing about cake is that it serves a large number of people easily. Hire a professional decorator to have someone create a design on top that is an important symbol for your family. 

Menu ideas: Who can eat cake without ice cream?

14. A dessert important to your family’s heritage

Did your grandparents bring recipes over from the old country? Why not share the dish with members of the younger generation? This would be a great way to remember a family member who is gone. 

Family Reunion Food Ideas for Spring

Are you gathering together with your family after a long, cold winter? Here are some menu ideas for a spring get-together.

15. Ham or brisket (or both!)

Do you need to feed many people without too much fuss? Consider preparing a ham or a brisket. Serve it with asparagus, a potato casserole, and deviled eggs to remind your family of Easter dinners of their youth. Don’t forget to follow the meal with a lemon-flavored dessert!

16. Pasta with pesto

Use some homegrown basil from your garden to prepare a fresh pesto to add to your favorite pasta. Also, add chicken to the dish and serve it with a fresh salad and crusty bread.

17. Quiche

Quiche isn’t just for breakfast anymore. Prepare several quiches for your family gathering – some with only vegetables and others with bacon or ham. Add fresh fruit to the meal, and you’ll have an easy menu that can serve many people. 

18. Pasta primavera

Of course, pasta primavera makes a perfect spring dish since “spring” is part of its name! This light dish is easy to prepare and appeals to everyone. (Consider making a batch using gluten-free pasta for those in the family with dietary restrictions.)

Family Reunion Food Ideas for Summer

No one wants to be in the kitchen on hot summer days. So, if you are planning a family event, you might consider scheduling it outside of mealtime. Instead of serving a traditional meal, create an ice cream sundae bar – complete with all the toppings.

Here are some additional meal ideas for hot summer days:

19. Watermelon

If you don’t have to serve a meal, put several watermelons on ice and have an old-school “watermelon feed.” Hide the forks and encourage the guests to eat directly from the rind. This inexpensive, refreshing snack will bring out the kid in even the grumpiest of uncles. 

20. Fried chicken

Fried chicken is a great summer food because it can be served hot or cold and goes with almost any side. Even though some families swear by their fried chicken recipe, you could always pick up a bucket of chicken from your favorite fast-food drive-through. Don’t forget the biscuits!

21. Bratwurst

Carefully select some artisan sausages or bratwurst from your local grocery store. The beauty of bratwurst is that they are easy to cook on a grill. Serve roasted veggies on the side, and don’t forget to have plenty of mustards and condiments on hand!

22. Kabobs

Prepare a kabob meal for your next family reunion. Like bratwurst, kabobs are easy to cook outdoors on a grill. You may also personalize kabobs to appeal to all tastes and dietary restrictions. Doesn’t food served on a stick always taste better?

Family Reunion Food Ideas for Fall

When cooler weather comes around each fall, some families are ready to spend more time in the kitchen. So here are some family reunion food ideas for football and bonfire season. 

23. Tailgate food

What type of food would you serve at a football tailgate? Why not recreate that menu for your fall family gathering? Even if football isn’t part of the day’s schedule, you can bring out the cornhole game and blast your favorite playlist. Don’t forget to buy plenty of ice for your cooler full of beer.

24. Hearty cream soups

Prepare a giant crock of butternut squash soup for your family gathering. Squash and pumpkin are prevalent in the fall and can be used for much more than decorating one’s house. 

25. Hot dog roast

You may associate hot dogs with the 4th of July. However, a hot dog roast in the fall has a whole different feel than eating one from a grill under the hot summer sun. 

Create a large bonfire and supply the sticks. Make sure to buy plenty of extra hot dogs since some will be burned to a crisp or dropped into the fire. Of course, it’s an unwritten rule that you have to make smores whenever there’s a bonfire. 

Family Reunion Food Ideas for Winter

Winter gatherings with family can be a great deal of fun – as long as you’re serving the right food! So here are some family reunion food ideas for winter. 

26. Baked potato bar

A baked potato bar is an easy, inexpensive way to serve a large number of people. The potatoes can be prepared in a large roaster, and your family can choose the toppings to personalize the meal.

27. Chili

Is your family super competitive? Does every family member think that their chili recipe is the best? Have a family chili cook-off, and decide once and for all whose recipe is best. 

28. Turkey

Even if it’s not the third Thursday in November, you can still serve turkey during a winter family gathering. No law prohibits eating dressing once a year. 

29. Hearty soups and stews

One of the easiest ways to feed many people is to make hearty soups and stews. Stews can be kept warm in a slow cooker. Bake a few loves of crusty bread to go with the meal and buy plenty of red wine. 

Final Thoughts

Your family relationships are essential. Make sure you take a lot of photos of the people who attend your reunion — especially those from the older generation. Ask your parents and grandparents to tell stories about other members of your family tree. Use the photos you take for memory boards when someone passes away.

Speaking of passing away, you may not want to think about it, but it’s very responsible to start your end-of-life planning now. 

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