One of the best ways to bond at a family get-together is over a meal, but there’s a fine line between respecting time honored traditions and falling into the trap of boring routines. After all, you don’t want to end up with ten types of sweet potato casserole or a half-dozen trays of brownies. But you also want to make sure you’re bringing a dish that your family members will actually enjoy and appreciate.
While some recipes are passed down through the generations, what do you do when you’re in a last minute pinch or just want to venture outside the usual same old same old?
We’ve organized dozens of helpful, simple and good cooking hacks into various food categories – appetizer, main course, side dish and dessert. Whether you’re looking for easy peasy lemon squeezy or some classics that require a little more elbow grease, we’ve got you covered!
So, if you need some inspiration for your next family get-together, these low-stress recipe hacks will give your standard family reunion a makeover that will leave even your hardest to please relatives coming back for more!
Appetizers are an important part of any event or reunion. They offer guests the chance to socialize while they wait for food that will be served later on. But it’s important to consider what you’re serving as practicality can often dictate function!
- Will your appetizer stay out all night?
- Will the food need to mostly be handheld while everyone stands and chats?
- What is its purpose: starter at the beginning before the main course?
We’ve curated some options that are sure to wow your relatives!
The Appetizer That Will Blow Everyone’s Mind Hack: Savory Bacon Pineapple Bites from Small Town Woman
Everyone loves bacon, right? This tangy, salty combination will be sure to wow everyone at the reunion–and you’re unlikely to have leftovers, either!
- 1 lb bacon
- 1 pineapple: peeled, cored, and cut into bite-sized chunks
- 2 tbsp honey
- 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 3 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp ginger
- 1/3 cup ketchup
- 2 tbsp pineapple juice
- 1 tsp sriracha sauce
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil, cut the bacon in half, and place it on the baking sheet. Bake for 3 minutes, then turn over and bake for another 3. Allow to cool, then wrap each piece of bacon around a chunk of pineapple. Secure with a toothpick and place back on your baking sheet.
Combine your sauce ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Stir for 10 minutes while the bacon and pineapple bakes for 20 minutes. Then, baste the pineapple and bacon with the sauce and bake for 10 additional minutes.
The Classic, Never-Fails Appetizer Hack: Homemade Pizza Rolls from Momsdish
Simple, delicious, and easy to put together ahead of time: the perfect family reunion food.
- 1 Pizza Dough
- 2 cup Mexican Cheese
- 1 cup Marinara Sauce
- 1 cup Pepperoni
Roll the dough into a thin disc and cut it into six triangular pieces. Place sauce on the outside of each piece, then add pepperoni and grated cheese.
Fold the outside corners of the triangular dough piece in, pressing to seal the folded edges. The center should be folded over as well, sealing in the topping. Finally, shape the dough into a burrito form.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Cover pizza rolls with a kitchen towel and set it aside. Allow at least 30 minutes for the dough to rise. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown, in a preheated oven.
Last Minute Hacks: Aka, Appetizers You Can Grab on the Way!
Let’s face it: sometimes, you don’t have time to spend the day standing over the stove, especially if you’ve got a long way to travel before a family reunion.
Fortunately, your favorite grocery store probably has plenty of easy options to choose from, many of which are sure to delight. You can even up your low effort game to make a meaningful impact (check out our twist ideas).
- Chips and salsa – with a twist: check out the deli section for the store made options of salsa. You can often get more creative options than the standard brands. Grab some variety too – green or orange (mango) really steps things up.
- A fruit or veggie tray – with a twist: purchase a pineapple separately to cut the head and use it as part of the decor in the middle of your fruit tray (cut the fresh pineapple and add to the fruit).
- A meat and cheese tray – with a twist: bring a charcuterie board and slice bread with a variety of jams to elevate the experience!
Pro Appetizer Hack: Have some fun with the presentation! If you are serving up a fruit and veggie tray, make it colorful. Staggering your ingredients on one dish can be an attractive way to serve them for guests. Use colors that contrast nicely together so people will have more options when deciding
Side dishes may get a bad rap since they’re never the star of the reunion smorgasboard (we reserve that title for the main course), but they are still a very important piece of the family reunion meal puzzle!
A great side dish adds variety and flavor, and let’s be real – who hasn’t configured a delicious meal made from “just side dishes?” With so many side dishes to choose from, how do you select the perfect one for your next family get together? We’ve compiled a list of tasty options!
The Side Dish That Will Blow Everyone’s Mind Hack: Best Ever Potato Salad from The Country Cook
A potato salad is always a great side dish, but the dressing on this one makes it even better. It’s guaranteed to have everyone asking who made it and how!
- 2 pounds yukon gold potatoes (about 6 medium)
- 1 ½ cups mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
- 3-4 tablespoons chicken broth
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 2 stalks of celery, finely chopped
- ½ cup chopped onion
- 4 hard boiled eggs, roughly chopped
Peel and chop your potatoes into cubes. Put the potatoes in a large pot of water and boil for approximately 20 minutes (or until fork-tender), taking care not to overcook them.
In a large mixing bowl, combine mayonnaise, vinegar, mustard, chicken stock and salt and pepper. Mix in potatoes, celery, onion and stir. Then add in an stir the chopped eggs. Cover the dish and refrigerate for a minimum of 4 hours to mix all flavors and cool.
The Classic, Never-Fails Side Dish Hack: Macaroni and Cheese from Allrecipes
Don’t have time to make this classic favorite from scratch? You can always make it straight from a box and add a little shredded cheese to help elevate it to the next level. It’s sure to be a win!
- 8 ounces uncooked elbow macaroni
- 2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 3 cups milk
- ¼ cup butter
- 2 ½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons butter
- ½ cup bread crumbs
- 1 pinch paprika
Preheat the oven to 350 while you cook your noodles according to the directions on the package. Melt your butter in a large saucepan, then stir in the flour until it’s a smooth, lump-free consistency. Gradually add milk while stirring constantly. Add the cheeses and simmer over low heat until melted, stirring frequently. Pour the sauce over the macaroni in a large casserole dish and stir thoroughly. In a skillet over medium heat, melt the butter or margarine. Add the breadcrumbs and brown them. Next, spread the breadcrumbs over the macaroni and cheese and sprinkle with a dash of paprika.
Low Effort, Last-Minute Side Dish Hacks
So you got caught up on a phone call and that epic side dish you spent all day on is now burnt beyond recognition. Or you just lost track of time and no longer have time to prepare what you’d planned too. Never fear, our last minute hacks are here! Here are some savory sides you can knock out in a flash:
- Premade garlic bread loaves. Forget your Atkins diet, nobody can say no to warm buttery garlic bread!
- Deli pasta salad. Your local deli usually has more than just thinly sliced meats. Grab a premade pasta salad for a dish that withstand the elements and is universally enjoyed!
- Pick up a cheese plate, or a veggie tray: no-fail favorites that are great for any gathering!
As your mouth waters thinking about all the deliciousness that your family will experience, don’t forget that your Reunacy group page is the ideal place to manage the dishes that everyone is bringing to your family reunion.
You can use Reunacy to:
- Share classic family recipes and images on your own profile page
- List out recipes or a list of “who’s bringing what” on your group info page
- Create an Event for the reunion and use the message thread to let people post suggestions about dishes they plan to bring, favorites from past gatherings, or even allergy considerations
Sharing info on your group and events page is fun and will increase the odds that you have an awesome variety of food that everyone will love.
A family reunion meal is not complete without the most important element: entrees!
The Entree That Will Blow Everyone’s Mind Hack: Cajun Boil on the Grill from Taste of Home
Easy to put together, but sure to impress!
- 1 pack frozen red potato wedges
- 2 salmon fillets, halved
- 3/4 lb uncooked shrimp
- 1/2 pound summer sausage, sliced into chunks
- 2 ears of corn, broken into halves or thirds
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp seafood seasoning
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp pepper
- 1 medium lemon, cut into wedges
Divide the potatoes, salmon, shrimp, sausage, and corn into four portions, then place each portion on heavy foil. Cover with oil and seasonings, then squeeze lemon juice over the top and add the squeezed lemon wedges to the packets. Fold the foil packet closed around your food, sealing tightly.
Grill over medium heat for 12-15 minutes.
The Classic, Never-Fails Entree Hack: Chili Bar
Mix up your favorite chili recipe, then add baked potatoes, chips, and all your favorite chili toppings to ensure that everyone gets what they like. There’s something for everyone, which means everyone will likely be happy with the results!
Pro Entrée Hack: Invite everyone to bring their favorite chili for a cook-off event, and you’ll be sure to have enough food for everyone–and then some!
Entrées You Can Just Grab at the Store on the Way Hack
Whether you’re “cooking” (er, buying) for the whole crowd yourself or just need an easy, last-minute entree to take with you, try some of these great options that you can just grab and head out the grocery store door…well, after you pay for them, of course.
- Sandwiches made in the deli department
- Fried chicken
You can’t have a perfect meal without finishing it off with dessert. For many bakers, this is when they shine and make their best creations. But what does that mean for you? Try these great ideas to find your own signature sweet treats!
The Dessert That Will Blow Everyone’s Mind Hack: Turtle Cheesecake from Cooking Journey
- 2 cups Oreos
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1 tbsp grown sugar
- 1/4 cup pecans
- 3 1/2 cups cream cheese
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 tbsp vanilla
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 3 tbsp flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup wager
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1/3 cup chocolate
- 3 tbsp heavy whipping cream, warmed
Preheat your oven to 325.
Take all the filling out of the Oreo cookies and put the cookies in your food processor. Process until you have smooth crumbs with no remaining chunks. Add half the pecans and one tablespoon of brown sugar, then process again. Finally, add the melted butter and process until you have wet crumbs.
Press the Oreo crumbs into the bottom of a springform pan, then smooth. Bake for 10 minutes.
Lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees.
Combine your cream cheese, brown sugar, and flour with a hand mixer or in a stand mixer until just mixed. Add the sour cream and vanilla, then add the eggs one by one. Mix completely after each addition.
Put the springform pan with the Oreo crust in a water bath and put the cream cheese filling on top of the crust.
Bake for 1 hour, 30 minutes.
Allow to cool for 30 minutes, then open the door. Allow an additional 30 minutes of cooling time before transferring to the counter. After 1-2 hours, place the cheesecake in the fridge overnight.
The next day, get ready to add your toppings!
Place the white sugar in a pan and cover with water, then bring to a boil. Add a lid and cook for 20-30 minutes on low heat. Do not stir, or your caramel will not turn out! Once it has turned brown, add butter and whisk on low heat. Finally, add the heavy cream and whisk until smooth. Pour half of the caramel over the cheesecake and place the other half in a piping bag.
Melt your chocolate and heavy cream for the chocolate mixture in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds, then stir. If the chocolate is completely melted and smooth, stir until completely smooth and then transfer into a piping bag. If not, microwave for an additional 15 seconds at a time until smooth.
Decorate your cheesecake with pecans, chocolate, and caramel swirls.
The Classic, Never-Fails Dessert Hacks
In a hurry and need a dessert that will fit the bill in a hurry? Try some of these simple ideas.
- Rice Krispy Treats – Beloved of children and adults alike, and they whip up in minutes.
- Brownies – Pick your favorite boxed mix and throw them together!
- Cupcakes –Grab a box mix and put together homemade buttercream. All the beauty, but relatively little fuss!
Pro Dessert Hack: Want to make it look like you’ve put a lot more effort into your brownies than you really did? Pick some add-ins. A swirl of caramel or peanut butter, some nuts, or chocolate chips can all make it look, and taste, like you’ve made them from scratch, with only a portion of the effort.
Desserts to Just Pick Up at the Store
Run out of time while you were preparing your other amazing dishes? That’s okay we’ve all been there! Try grabbing some of these treats from the store on your way to the reunion.
- Seasonal cakes and treats. Hey, that store bakery is there for a reason!
- Ice cream. Pick up a couple of gallon buckets in your favorite flavors!
- Assortment of cookies from the bakery section of your grocery story. They even offer a gourmet option at some groceries that taste like they are homemade!
Plan Your Family Reunion and Keep Track of What Everyone is Bringing with Reunacy
Family recipes can strike an incredible note of nostalgia. When you’re looking forward to a family reunion, there’s no shame in looking forward to being reunited with those dishes that bring back memories just as much as you’re looking forward to being reunited with your family!
With your own personal event page, you can ask about and/or have people suggest specific family classics. Use the message thread to post photos of dishes you like or plan to bring. It’s a great way to avoid those 10 different variations of sweet potato casseroles!
Reunacy is here to help you organize and plan your next family reunion. Sign up today to start planning the dishes you’ll take to the next family reunion, and check out how we can help make planning your reunion a breeze.