Inexpensive meal ideas for family reunions

Frugal Family Reunion Food

by Dollar Stretcher Contributors

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My family is hosting our family reunion weekend this year. Each family contributes, so we have a small budget for games and food. Can anyone suggest ideas for food that everyone will like and won't cost a bunch? We'll have the whole weekend, so I need to plan two full days' worth of meals.

Pasta, Pasta and More Pasta

Pasta can be dressed up in all kinds of ways from salads to main dishes. Make ground beef go further by adding black beans to the dish. Also, consider serving red beans and rice with cornbread and salad. Everyone appreciates a boloney sandwich every now and then. Just add chips and sweet tea!
Tammy (via Facebook)

Have Guests Bring Dishes to Pass

We have two family reunions every year. They are only for an afternoon, but this may help. The "host" furnishes the hotdogs and buns and then everyone else brings a dish. It does not have to be coordinated. You'll just end up with a lot of different dishes that are sure to please a wide variety of people.

Remembering Family Meals

When I get together with my siblings, we often make our favorite dishes from childhood. Like most moms back in the day, Mom knew how to stretch her food budget, so most of these recipes aren't pricey. It's great fun to work in the kitchen together and remember Mom and Dad and family meals.

If you have members from several families coming to the reunion, ask them to send recipes of their favorite childhood dishes along with whatever Mom or Dad did to make them special. Maybe you'll get some help in the kitchen as well!
Karen in Neptune Beach, FL

Enjoy Walking Tacos

How about walking tacos? You can order the Doritos® online at Amazon and save a bunch. We had these for a graduation party.

Have Theme Nights

We hosted a three-day reunion where each evening had a food theme and lunches were leftovers. People knew the theme at the invite and were asked to bring their favorite dishes. Mexican, German and Italian were our themes. Potato bars and taco bars also always work well. Leftovers work well if you feel the need to make breakfasts (think smothered fried potatoes or omelets). Go with "make your own" set ups, so there are no complaints about over or under cooking.

Keep It Fun. Keep It Frugal.

Planning food for a weekend family reunion gathering can be fun and frugal, even with picky eaters. Excluding any special diets or food allergies, here is a menu that can happily feed most! If you know your menu in advance, you can watch for sales. Sometimes doing your shopping at a bulk food store will save even more.

Breakfast Day 1: Pancakes served with butter, syrup, and peanut butter and jelly. You can make a lot of pancakes for little cost using a "just add water" mix.

Lunch Day 1: Serve hot dogs with all of the trimmings.

Dinner Day 1: Have "fiesta night." Prepare taco seasoned ground beef and make it stretch by adding reconstituted TVP (textured vegetable protein), which is basically soy protein that resembles ground beef and takes on the flavor of the seasoning. Serve with refried beans, Mexican rice, shredded cheese, sour cream, guacamole, shredded lettuce, salsa, tortillas, chips, and taco shells. Add or remove toppings as budget permits.

Breakfast Day 2: Use up last night's leftovers by making breakfast burritos! Cook up a batch of seasoned scrambled eggs and hash browns. Then make use of the salsas, cheese, rice, and tortillas too.

Lunch Day 2: Serve sandwiches, chips, and fruit. The younger ones will probably like peanut butter and jelly and the older ones will enjoy lunchmeat and cheese sandwiches (bought on sale, of course). Have a couple varieties of bread, mayo, mustard, lettuce, tomato, and seasoned salt. For an irresistible fruit salad, mix drained canned or fresh cubed fruit (any) and coat well with a fruity sweet yogurt (store brand works great).

Dinner Day 2: Hamburgers and corn on the cob. You can make your beef stretch further by mixing in egg, bread crumbs, and/or oatmeal before forming into patties. You already have the condiments from the hot dogs and sandwich meals. Now is the time to cook up any extra hot dogs too! Corn on the cob can ideally be found in season. If corn isn't in season, consider serving with baked beans and potato salad.

Serving a group can be affordable with planning ahead!

Those with Dietary Restrictions Should Provide Own Meals

It is nice that you have a budget, but know you can't ever please everyone! If family is local to the reunion site, ask them to bring their favorite pot luck dishes that will extend your menu choices.

Breakfast casseroles are a great breakfast favorite. Recipes can be simple or extravagant, depending on budget. A few 9 x 13 pans of hash browns, eggs, ham, bacon or sausage, and cheese will feed a hungry group easily. Add bagels and cream cheese, fresh fruit, and beverages and everyone should be happy. Also, breakfast could easily be a "make your own" pancake bar. Set up some electric griddles and a batch of batter. Then set out syrup, peanut butter and jelly, and butter. With fruit and beverages, you will once again be all set.

Enjoy a lunch of homemade soups in slow cookers if it is cold out or a batch of hotdogs on the grill with chips, toppings, and cookies. Lunch one is done. Chili makes a great lunch with crackers and toppings of cheese and chopped onions. Lunch two is done. If you have leftover hotdogs, chili dogs are a big hit with kids.

Dinner that includes fried chicken, potato salad, coleslaw and drinks with some sheet cake makes a meal fit for a king. The other dinner could either be hamburgers on the grill with watermelon, a variety of cold salads, and sodas.

It might be a good idea to remind folks if they have dietary restrictions, they should provide their own meals, so they are sure to have what they can eat.

Create Your Own Baked Potato Masterpiece

A baked potato bar would be fun!

Keep Costs Down on Family Reunion Food

We recently went camping with friends and also had to deal with keeping costs down and pleasing several age groups. I would recommend hot dogs, homemade potato salad or macaroni salad, watermelon and other fruit in season, cut up celery and carrots, deviled eggs, homemade brownies, and one or two large cakes in a 10 x 15 pan. One two-layer cake mix can be baked in a 10 x 15 pan in about 15 minutes. Make homemade iced tea and lemonade. For breakfast, serve milk/juice/coffee, fruit, banana bread, muffins, and scrambled eggs. If you have time, a breakfast lasagna/casserole is also good for a crowd. Ask everyone to bring a side dish or dessert. Paper goods are cheap at dollar stores.

Reviewed July 2017

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