Frugal Family Reunion Food and Fun

by Dollar Stretcher Reader Contributors

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Make your next family reunion about more than potluck and volleyball (and busting your budget!). These frugal activity and menu ideas are perfect for both small and large families.

Dear Dollar Stretcher,
Our family is planning a family reunion and we need some fun family reunion ideas beyond a potluck and softball/volleyball games. About 100 would attend and it would be in a rural area and would take place in June or July. It would be most likely a one day event.

Susan S.

The Family Tree Game

Playing family tree is a great family reunion idea. Line people up just like their names would appear on a genealogical chart of the family tree. Take a picture from the young end first, then have everyone turn around and get a picture of the group from the oldest end.

Next, try this “birthday game.” Have all the people born in January get together in one group; do the same for each of the other months. Then have the members of the January group give their birthdates, such as January 21, January 9, etc. Out of 100 people you will have lots of people with the same birthday.

If the group is diverse enough, find out where everyone was born (by state). How many states are represented? What’s the most populous state? (This one is usually not difficult.)

Also, if you can set up a small public address system or use a karaoke machine as a PA, ask each of the elders to tell the gathering some family history. Where are the family’s roots (England, Germany, Sweden, etc.)? Are there any famous family members? When did the family emigrate to the U.S.? Note: Videotape and record on cassette these remembrances.
Charles A.

A Fun, Family Auction

We have an auction and everyone brings something to be auctioned off. The money goes to the next years reunion. We bring things for children to seniors. Everyone has fun and we have enough money to buy the meat and drinks for next year. We also have games for every age group. Maybe cards for the grownups, to a cake walk for the kids. In the evening we have live music. It can even be a sing-a-long. We make sure everyone gets involved. Even our 92 year old great aunt will join in.
Nancy A.

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Family Trivial Pursuit

Something I’m considering for my family is developing a family trivial pursuit game. The questions wouldn’t have to be very difficult, but more informational.

Another idea I’m working on is a “memory” or “concentration” game like those we had as kids with 26 pairs of pictures on them. I’m using the lids to frozen juice “cans” and I’ll attach color-photocopies of family members with their names. A great way for the grandkids to learn about their family. Along those lines, maybe a set of “flash cards” with more information, like date of birth, where they live, etc?

Something we’re already working on is a family history (you could interview the older folks about their memories and tape them). If you have that sort of thing gathered already, maybe you could make a presentation, with a slide show!

A Family Reunion Book

Make sure everyone signs a reunion book and includes addresses, emails, etc. If it’s someone’s birthday or anniversary that can’t attend, get a group picture and have everyone hold up letters that spell the person’s name, or HAPPY BIRTHDAY or HAPPY ANNIVERSARY!

Horse Shoe Tournament

My family always has a horse shoe tournament. It is great fun, inexpensive, and all ages can play.

A Themed Family Reunion

I belong to a very large family and we actually have a “reunion committee.” The meetings are sometimes as much fun as the reunion! Anyway, we try to get at least one member from each family involved in the planning.

Our reunions usually have a theme which all the families participate in. We have previously had an Olympics with each family forming a team, Christmas in July, 50s, and a Knights of the Round Table theme. These themes allow everyone to participate and the games focus on the theme.

Most of the games we play involve very little cost. We provide many games for the kids. These include the traditional wheelbarrow race, a relay race where the kids wet a sponge at one end and fill the bowl at the other, and throw a frisbee through a hula hoop. We then have a hula hoop contest! My nieces came up with many games for the smaller kids by watching Nickelodeon. The favorite relay race for the whole family involves only paper plates, whipped cream, and Nilla wafers. The family divides into teams and each person must run to the end and try to pick up a cookie from the plate on the ground without using their hands. The fun part is that the cookie is COVERED with whipped cream! The kids love to watch us make fools of ourselves!

A Family Newsletter to Stay Organized

We send out newsletters once a year for our family reunion. It includes what everyone should bring, who is in charge of the newborn gifts, the games with the children, and the food everyone is to bring. We usually have the chicken and pasta catered, everyone brings a dessert, and then we split up the families for the casserole and the vegetable dishes.

T-Shirt Memories

Create a wonderful momento of the reunion by buying inexpensive white t-shirts and fabric markers. Everyone can sign each other’s shirt. I did this with my 14 Girl Scouts and they had a blast. The markers dry quickly and are very easy to write with (a package of 6 cost about $6 at Wal-Mart).

Family Reunion Olympics

As a lifelong camper/counselor at children’s camps, some of the best group ideas come from the many “all-camp” activities I’ve seen. One of my favorites is a type of “Olympics” with mixed age teams and varying “events” geared toward the different ages/genders. Each team decides on a name/country/symbol, perhaps decorating a flag. It’s great fun. Everyone can participate and cheer their teammates during their events. I usually incorporate both silly events and truly athletic events for the younger set.
Stephanie S.

Simple, Fun Games

Have a scavenger hunt for the younger children. Have a few decks of cards on hand. Possibly a cribbage board and some chess/checker boards, or games a group can play. These will appeal to those prefering a break from the more active games, and will also attract onlookers. Time-honored group involvement game is Charades. Have a few recorders and ask younger children of an appropriate age to “interview” older relatives. There will be priceless opportunities for oral history gathered together. Above all, have lots of food on hand, let people find their own amusement and conversations, and relax!

A huge hit in the food department at our family gathering were some bushel burlap bags of fresh corn, which I soaked in water early in the day. Don’t bother shucking; just put the damp ears on the (hopefully very big) barbeque pit grill, and let them steam-cook. The rule of thumb seemed to be that when the cornsilk was scorched and the outer husks dry, they were cooked. Scrumptious!
Mary B.

Family Scholarship Fund

At my husband’s biannual reunions, they hold a silent auction which includes several family artifacts, such as photos of great grandparents or special events which took place years ago, hats which belonged to an uncle, special family books etc. (Yes they all seem to be pack rats). Also folks bring their crafts, even the kids will bring things they have made. The proceeds go towards a family college scholarship fund in the form of interest free loans to family members. One year my husband, his brother and their father did a 100+ mile bike ride and collected pledges for the scholarship fund. The fund has been going for years and has helped several dozens, maybe even over one hundred, children go to college.
Linda A.

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A Recorded Family History

The best thing I’ve ever seen at a family reunion was very simple to set up. Get a nice comfortable chair and put it under a tree, or on the porch (something shady). Next, set up a video camera on a tripod (if no one owns one you can use, call camera stores about rentals. It’s pretty inexpensive for a single day). Buy lots and lots of blank tapes (if you don’t take them out of the wrapper and save the receipt, you can return what doesn’t get used and still not run out at the reunion). Next, ask each person (or family) to sit in the chair and tell about their family, the extended family and any family history or lore that they know about. This is especially great if you have several elderly members attending. Ask them to talk about what the reunions were like “back when”, or about how their life was as children, etc.

This makes a wonderful family history that sadly, once those elderly folks pass away will never be known by the next generation(s). Then, next year set up the previos year’s recording inside the house, while recording new outside again. It is a hoot to watch the goings on from the previous year, and even if it’s the same people at the reunion, this year they always remember new stuff.

You might want to mention ahead of time that this will be done, so that people can start to think about what they know about “their” side of the family and maybe even look through their photo albums to jog their memory. This helps too if you have mostly shy types at your reunion, as no one likes to be stuck in front of a camera and told to “say something”. Preparing for it makes it easier, plus it’s a fun family activity (what will we say?) for the drive to the reunion!

The other advice I’d give is to have some activities planned, but also plan lots of just free time. Reunions are a time to reconnect with family you haven’t seen and you can’t do a lot of visiting while you are doing sack races! And just a few outdoor toys and lots of open space will keep children entertained while the adults talk.
Jan P.

A Self-Supporting Family Reunion

An event that goes over well at our annual family reunions is an auction. Folks bring something they no longer want, and we auction these items off. We use the money to pay the rent on the building we use. It’s fun to see the things people bring in (the sillier, the better), and the auction itself is a lot of fun (the sillier the auctioneer, the better).

Old photographs are a hit, especially with younger family members. Old movies are also a hit, though harder to set up. (At least at the facility where we have our reunions) Along those lines, a family tree is interesting.
Leah D.

A Three Day Event

My husband’s family is about the same size as yours and they also have their annual reunion in a rural area (it lasts three days). Each year, all the cousins (3rd generation) chip in around $25 dollars beforehand and hire a band for Saturday night. The band comes out and sets up late in the afternoon and plays all night in the barn/shop/covered garage.

A special activity is usually planned for the children. Last year, extra money was used to buy plain, white t-shirts and fabric paints. The kids painted their own commemorative shirts from the reunion. They’ve also crafted photo frames and other fun things to give to their parents or grandparents.

For the adults, each year we have a family competition. Each of the family units (2nd generation) compete against each other in something like a treasure hunt, crossword puzzle, trivia game, bingo, etc. The clues are about family members. The winning family has to host the event/plan the game for the next year. There is a travelling trophy for the winning family (an old cowboy boot spray-painted silver with rinestones glued all over it!).
Rena L.

Traditional Family Activities

We have a reunion every four years with about 55 descendants of my parents, on the family farm, the first weekend in August.

In the past, we had our own Olympics with a plastic boomerang throw, an egg toss, a bubble gum blowing contest, a water balloon toss, and driving a garden tractor pulling a garden trailer through a maze blindfolded! The person or persons in the trailer are verbally steering the driver.

We had a talent show. That was fun to see all the different things people came up with. You will probably want access to electricity and a sheet of plywood to lay on the ground might be helpful if you don’t have a slab of cement to stand on.

One year we had our own Wheel of Fortune. It was complete with the host and hostess dressed way out. Puzzles pertained to our family, of course. We even had a couple of commercials.

We drew silhouettes and had everyone try to guess who they were. Most of all we just had fun being together.
Kathy M.

Tall Tale Reunion Fun

On one side of my family we have a reunion each year. On the other side, the event takes place every other year. Each time a different family takes a turn hosting the event. It is interesting to see all the entertainment ideas they come up with. Here are a few.

Have a candy contest. Get various sizes of jars and fill them with candy. You need to be sure you count every piece (that’s the hardest part). Number each jar and place them on a table with a piece of paper by each one. The people are to write their names and try to guess how many pieces in each jar. In the end the one who comes closest wins the jar of candy.

Another idea is to have a Tall Tale contest. See who can tell the tallest tale. You can either make it a contest with judges or let the audience vote, or just make it a fun story hour. The ‘old-timers’ love this and so do the youngsters. Speaking of stories, how about having some of the older family members tell something about their parents or ancestors. This is always fun and very interesting.

Pick a simple (preferably no cost or little cost) craft to assemble for those who would like to.

If you are having the reunion at someone’s home, fill an old bathtub or something similar with sawdust and bury some pennies, nickels, dimes and maybe a few quarters in it. Little ones love searching for money and spend hours there. You will want to put an age limit, maybe have two for different ages, or the older ones will crowd out the younger ones.

If it is an especially warm day, get a big piece of plastic and lay it out on the lawn, room permitting. Place a hose that is running at the top and let the kids run and slide in their swimsuits. This is a lot wider and less expensive than the “Crocodile Mile” ones you can buy in the store. The grownups have just as much fun slipping and sliding as the youngsters do.
Linette in Idaho

Reviewed June 2023

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