6 Easy Family Reunion Meal Ideas – No Sloppy Joes Needed

by Culinary Spelunker /
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Jul 24, 2017 / 0 comments

Planning a family reunion can be a daunting task – from figuring out the best location to plotting activities that work for everyone, whether they’re ages 2, 22, or 82.
And then there’s mealtime.
Inevitably there’s a mixture of food likes and dislikes, paired with an allergy or two, or more. At least that’s how it goes in my family, which now tops more than 20 at family gatherings.
Yet of all the activities our family does together, meals offer the best time to connect and chat, making it worth the time and effort to find dinner ideas that don’t just feed the group, but also encourage interactions (all while allowing everyone to find a something they really like to eat).
So how do you come up with meals that satisfy everyone – and that you can make quickly, within a budget, with limited kitchen supplies, and which account for a variety of food tastes and diets?

It can be done.

Here are a few fun ideas that have worked for our family, plus a recipe for your next big shindig. Oh, and as promised, there are no sloppy joes in the mix.

6 Easy Family Reunion Meal Ideas – No Sloppy Joes Needed.

Bar Food

Not that kind of bar food! Think taco, potato, and pasta bars. For tacos, use shredded chicken, pork, or beef for the protein along with whole black beans. No kitchen, no problem – use a crockpot for the meat and the beans. Alternatively use rotisserie chicken, readily available at most grocers, and serve the beans cold. On to the other fixings: chopped tomatoes, shredded lettuce, sliced olives, shredded cheese, salsa, and sour cream. Offer corn and flour tortillas and chips for dipping. If you don’t have the time, space, or utensils for cutting, simply visit a well-stocked grocery store salad bar for your toppings. For the pasta or potato bars, you would need access to a kitchen, but only limited equipment.

Easy tacos. From 6 Easy Family Reunion Meal Ideas – No Sloppy Joes Needed.

DIY Pizzas

Pizza always seems to be a hit. But we need to account for a variety of food preferences and allergies within our group, including dairy sensitivity in our house (yep, no piles of mozzarella cheese). You can definitely order pizza and then make sides for those who can’t eat pies from a restaurant – but then you miss out on the fun of making them. Note: You’ll need either an oven or a grill to pull of this meal, plus a little bit of patience. Offer mini- or regular-sized naan and a smattering of ingredient choices like pepperoni, olives, diced bell peppers, ham cubes, pineapple, and more. Let family members create their own individual-sized pizzas by adding pasta sauce and then the ingredients of their choice. If you are using a grill, heat both sides of the naan for 30-60 seconds on each side before topping; place on the grill for another minute or so. For those who can’t have gluten, gluten-free crusts are available or create a “pizza salad” using all of the same fixings. For our lactose-free crowd, we use lactose-free shredded cheese or go cheese-less altogether.

DIY pizzas. From 6 Easy Family Reunion Meal Ideas – No Sloppy Joes Needed.

Burrito Bonanza

Break out the flour tortillas! And corn ones, too, for those who can’t have gluten. Pick a theme and then offer the fillings to your hungry crowd. For example, go for breakfast and offer bacon (already cooked works beautifully – I like Costco’s variety best), scrambled eggs, crispy tater tots, and salsa. Or what about sandwich wraps? Pair the tortillas with deli meat, shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, and either a mayo dressing or a smear of hummus.

Super-Sized Salads

Salads were the bit hit at our last family gathering – yes, even those with spinach! Think through how to offer a mix of both hearty and light salads. Top spinach salad with sliced strawberries and blueberries. Crumble bacon and/or blue cheese atop torn romaine lettuce leaves. Mix sliced, roasted red peppers and chunks of salami, pepperoni, and cheese into rigatoni for a filling pasta salad. One of my MIL’s favorite salads? Mix up the pasta of your choice (ziti works well) with cooked, diced chicken, crumbled bacon, cheddar cheese cubes, cooked broccoli, and for a sauce go half-and-half ranch dressing and barbecue sauce. And for dessert, you can certainly go the sliced fruit route OR make caramel apple salad. Another favorite from my MIL – chopped tart apples paired with Snickers® pieces and mixed with whipped cream.

Rice Bowls

Make rice on a cooktop, in a steamer, microwave it in bags, or get a big carton or two from a local Chinese restaurant. As with the taco bar, pick a theme and then offer ingredients. Channel Chipotle and make it Mexican. Or go for an Asian-fusion, and include ingredients like diced chicken, carrot matchsticks, teriyaki sauce, cucumber slices, peanuts, and Chinese noodles.

Easy Barbecue Sliders

For an alternative to sloppy joes, try this pulled pork barbecue slide recipe instead.
Easy barbecue sliders recipe. From 6 Easy Family Reunion Meal Ideas – No Sloppy Joes Needed.

1 large pork loin (see pork alternative in directions)
1 bottle barbecue sauce
1 pre-packaged coleslaw mix
Mini-rolls, such as Hawaiian rolls
Seasonings – salt and pepper, spice mixes
*Double, or triple, ingredient amounts based on your crowd

1. Generously spray the slow cooker with cooking spray. No cooking spray? No problem (you’ll just need to spend more time with the clean up). Add the meat and ½ cup water and a little drizzle of oil IF you have it. Season with salt and pepper and whatever seasoning mix you might have on hand – we like Adobo, or chili powder, cumin, paprika. Use what you have.

2. Cook on low during the day (5-6 hours) or high for the afternoon (3-4 hours). Remember not to overcook the meat in the crockpot or else it gets mushy.  

3. Shred the pork and offer barbecue sauce and coleslaw as toppings.

4. I keep the barbecue separate from the pork in case you have folks who don’t like them mixed together – or the sauce at all. As far as mini-rolls, that helps your pork go farther in the smaller rolls versus when people load up larger-sized ones. 



Kristen J. Gough is the Global Cuisines & Kids Editor for Wandering Educators. She shares her family's adventurous food experiences--and recipes--at MyKidsEatSquid.com.