Breakfast: Chunky Monkey Pancakes
If you want everyone to be up at the same time, bring your large skillets and wow everyone with chunky monkey pancakes. Simply add chocolate chips and chunked bananas to your favorite pancake mix.
Make a delicious peanut butter syrup by mixing one part peanut butter to two parts syrup and no one will mind the wake-up call—they’ll probably come scrambling out of bed all on their own.
For breakfast another day, just let everyone supply their own favorite cereals so people can eat as they get up.
Day 1 Lunch: Chili and Cornbread
Large family gatherings are often accompanied by lots of activities as well as lots of junk food. A hearty meal of chili and cornbread is fast, simple, and nutritious. A great meal for when fridge space is at a premium or when you have a long way to travel. Can also be made in a slow cooker.
• 2 pounds hamburger, precooked*
• 1 cup onion, chopped
• 2 cups medium salsa
• 2 14.5-ounce cans corn, drained
• 6 15-ounce cans kidney beans, drained
• 4 14.5-ounce cans diced tomatoes, in juice
• 2 beef bouillon cubes (optional)
• 1 teaspoon garlic salt
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon chili powder
Make ahead: Precook extra lean hamburger at home using 1 clove fresh garlic and ½ cup chopped onion per pound of ground beef. Salt and pepper generously. Drain fat. Freeze flat in Ziploc freezer bags.
*Make enough at one time for both the chili and sloppy joes (day 2 lunch).
Day of: Dump all ingredients together in a large pot. Bring to a boil on medium heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes.
Makes 18 cups of chili, about 12 servings.
• 1 cup sugar
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1¼ cups cornmeal (or cornmeal flour)
• 2¾ cups flour (can substitute ½ whole wheat flour)
• 1½ teaspoons baking powder
• ½ teaspoon baking soda
• ½ cup melted margarine or butter
• 2 cups buttermilk
• 4 eggs
Make ahead: Combine first six ingredients in a Ziploc bag.
Day of: Mix together ingredients from Ziploc bag with margarine, buttermilk, and eggs. Pour into greased 9×13 pan; bake at 375 F for 30 minutes. Cut into 12 pieces. Plan on about 1½ pieces per person.
Day 1 Dinner: Creamy Noodles and Malibu Chicken
Every summer when basil and parsley are in abundance in our garden, we make up dozens of batches of this recipe and freeze them. It’s a “company’s coming” specialty without the mess. Never met anyone who didn’t love this recipe!
• 8 ounces Neufchatel cream cheese (room temp)
• ¼–½ cup fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
• 1/8–¼ cup fresh parsley leaves, chopped
• ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
• ¼ cup butter or margarine (room temp)
• 1 medium clove garlic, crushed
• ¼ cup olive oil
• ½ teaspoon pepper
• 1 teaspoon salt
• cup boiling water
• 16 ounces vermicelli or thin spaghetti, cooked and drained
Make ahead: Using a mixer, beat together first 7 ingredients. Place this mixture in a freezer-safe container and freeze for future use.
Day of: Thaw cream cheese mixture and add in final 3 ingredients. Toss with hot noodles. Serve immediately or noodles will clump.
• Boneless, skinless chicken breasts
• Sliced deli ham
• Sliced Swiss cheese
Make ahead: Cut each chicken breast horizontally into two flat pieces and cook as desired. (I like to sauté my chicken in garlic and olive oil and season with salt and pepper.) Cool and freeze in Ziploc freezer bags. Use within two weeks.
Day of: Allow chicken to defrost in fridge overnight. Place the chicken in a single layer close together on a foil-lined cookie sheet. Top each piece with a slice of deli ham, then Swiss cheese. Bake at 350 F just until chicken is heated through and cheese is melted, or heat on the stove top using a frying pan with a lid. Serve with honey mustard.
½ chicken breast (about 5 ounces) per person.
• 1½ sticks (3/4 cup) margarine or butter, melted
• One envelope onion soup mix
• 2 loaves French or Italian bread, sliced ¾-inch thick
Make ahead: Mix together melted butter and dry onion soup mix. Spread onion butter generously on each slice. Wrap each loaf in foil, then plastic, and freeze. Can be refrozen if necessary upon arrival at reunion to maintain freshness.
Day of: Allow bread to thaw at room temperature. After removing plastic, heat in 350 F oven for 20-30 minutes until heated through.
Variation: For a small group, try laying out buttered side up on a cookie sheet and broil (about 1 minute) until edges are crisp brown. Serve immediately.
This salad goes fast at every gathering because it has simple ingredients to suit those picky eaters and the dressing is tossed throughout it, making for fast dish up lines. If you want something more unique, try the Greek salad instead. It’s perfect for a summertime meal.
• Romaine lettuce
• Caesar salad dressing
• Caesar croutons
• Shredded parmesan cheese
Make ahead: Rinse the romaine lettuce and allow it to dry spread out on dishtowels. Tear or slice lettuce with plastic knife into bite-size pieces. Put into Ziploc bags (make sure lettuce is completely dry first or it will go bad quickly). Bring along your favorite Caesar dressing (ours is Girard’s), Caesar croutons, and shredded parmesan.
Day of: Just before serving, toss lettuce and dressing in large serving bowl. Sprinkle croutons and parmesan on top.
One large Romaine will need about ½ cup dressing and serves 12+.
Add this great salad as a side dish to any meal.
• 2 large English cucumbers, peeled and chopped
• 8 large Roma tomatoes, chopped
• 1 can black olives, drained and sliced
• 6 ounces hard crumbled Feta cheese
• 2 tablespoons lemon juice
• ½ teaspoon garlic salt
• 1 teaspoon dry basil
• Optional: peppers, scallions, or red onion
Makes about 24 half-cup servings.
Day 2 Lunch: Sloppy Joes and Coleslaw
Super Simple Sloppy Joes
Pre-cooked hamburger mixed with your favorite baked beans. A healthier alternative to sloppy joe mixes and all the seasoning is already in the baked beans!
• 1½ pounds hamburger, precooked*
• ¾ cup onion, chopped
• 30 ounces baked beans (approximately 1:1 ratio of hamburger and beans)
• 10 hamburger buns/rolls
Make ahead: Cook hamburger and onion as directed at the same time as hamburger for chili as directed and freeze.
Day of: Thaw remainder of precooked hamburger from freezer. Mix with baked beans (our family loves Bush’s Baked Beans) and heat in pan. Serve on bakery rolls or small hamburger buns with coleslaw and watermelon. Use a half-cup measuring cup to fill each bun, and plan an average of 2 buns per person.
Makes enough for 5 people, with 2 sloppy joes per person.
If you think you don’t like coleslaw, wait until you try this one! The cashews and dried cranberries make this a real crowd pleaser.
• 1 small cabbage, chopped or shredded (about 2 pounds)
• 3 shredded carrots
• 1 20-ounce can pineapple tidbits (drained)
• 1 large granny smith apple, peeled & cubed
• 1 cup Craisins
• 1 cup mayonnaise (if too dry, add up to ¼ cup more mayo or some of the pineapple juice)
• 3 tablespoons sugar
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 cup roasted, salted cashews
Make ahead: Shred cabbage and carrots ahead of time and bring sealed in Ziploc bags. If dry when chopped, they stay fresh up to 5 days. You can also buy pre-shredded coleslaw mix at the store.
Day of: Stir all ingredients except cashews together until well mixed. Sprinkle cashews on just before serving.
Day 2 Dinner: Chile Verde Enchiladas and Spanish Rice
This meal takes a little extra time but has definite “wow” factor , and it’s a great way to get the family involved in the kitchen. It’s one of the few meals my nephew doesn’t add ketchup or hot sauce to, and he even comes back the next day to see if there are any leftovers.
Pork Chile Verde Enchiladas
• 1 boneless pork loin roast (about 2 pounds)
• 1 16-ounce jar medium LaVictoria Thick’n Chunky Salsa Verde (green salsa)
• 2 cups half & half
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 10 medium flour tortillas
• Margarine or butter
• 1½ cups pepper jack cheese, shredded
Make ahead: I like using pork roasts, but you can substitute 3 chicken breasts for one roast if you prefer. I do 4 roasts at a time for a quadruple batch. Brown them on all sides in a little oil on high, then add about ½ cup water per roast, bring to a boil, then cover and simmer on low for 3 hours or more, until roasts pull apart easily with a fork.
Note: Most of the liquid should evaporate during the cooking process. If there is an excessive amount (more than ¼ cup per roast) drain some of the liquid off before shredding.
Shred the meat with forks and then add the salsa verde. (Timesaver tip: you can also place smaller chunks of roast into a Kitchenaid mixer while still warm and shred that way, then return to pan.) Add one jar salsa per roast. Continue to simmer 30 minutes or more, allow to cool, then freeze.
Slow cooker instructions: If you choose to cook your roasts in a slow cooker, be sure to brown them first. Add the salsa without any additional water and cook 4–6 hours on high or 8–10 hours on low. Freeze in Ziploc freezer bags lying flat, and move to fridge the night before use to allow time to thaw.
Day of: Butter tortillas using a cube of margarine unwrapped on one side so you can hold the margarine in the wrapper and swipe the tortilla quickly, buttering it with the open side of the cube. Butter only one side of each tortilla and stack. Combine half & half and salt in a wide, shallow bowl or pie plate.
Set up an assembly line from stack to frying pan to wide shallow bowl or large pie plate of salted half & half to baking pan. Begin frying each tortilla, buttered side first until it blisters and browns a bit, then flip. This should take about 30–60 seconds per side. Dip heated tortillas into cream mixture, then fill each tortilla with about ½ cup pork mixture, roll it, and place it in an ungreased 9×13 or 11×15 baking pan, flap side down.
Once all tortillas are rolled, pour the remaining salted half & half over them, and sprinkle with grated cheese. Bake uncovered at 350 F for 25 minutes or until heated through. Can be made ahead, refrigerated, then baked.
I estimate an average of 1½ enchiladas per person if you have a wide range of ages. Serve with guacamole, sour cream, chopped tomatoes, shredded lettuce, refried beans, and tortilla chips. (Involve the family in the prep!)
Simple Spanish Rice
• 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
• 2 cups uncooked rice
• 2 medium cloves garlic (or ½ teaspoon garlic salt, added with seasonings)
• ½ cup chopped onion (or ¼ cup dry onion, added with seasonings)
• 1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
• 1 bay leaf
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon chili powder
• 2 beef bouillon cubes
• 4 cups hot water
Day of: Heat oil. Add rice, garlic, and onion and stir until rice starts to brown. Add remaining ingredients and stir once. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 25 minutes. Let sit 5 minutes before removing lid. Stir, remove bay leaf, and serve.
Makes 12+ servings.
Bake your favorite brownies or cake in foil-lined pans with enough excess foil to completely wrap over the dessert and seal after baking. Cool, remove from pans and freeze wrapped in the foil and then a plastic bag.
On day of, defrost to room temperature, add a dollop of ice cream or whipped cream and a drizzle of chocolate topping, and simple becomes special.
Other make-ahead options: Rice Crispie treats or Scotcheroos. To maintain freshness, do not cut them ahead of time. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and store in a Rubbermaid-type container. These can last 3-5 days and still taste fresh.
Want to gather the group for a family night activity? The smell of fresh-from-the-oven cookies will bring them running. Make a quadruple batch of your favorite chocolate chip cookies, roll them into balls and freeze them close together on cookie sheets. Once frozen, transfer them into plastic containers or freezer bags, and they’re ready for any occasion. Bake as many or as few as you want—with no mess but the cookie sheet. These can last for months in the freezer if no one finds them! Our kids love to eat them frozen!
You can also get more tips for everything you need to plan a family reunion and how to keep your family gatherings sane and everyone happy.