To sign up for Meridian’s Free Newsletter, please CLICK HERE.
I just love summer. Don’t you? The green grass, many colored flowers, fresh vegetables, and family gatherings. Let’s face it, though, for those of us in seasoned grandparent mode, summer can also be exhausting with prime-time company, figuring out menus to feed crowds, and searching for appropriate activities for grandchildren. I’ve collected here a few suggestions to ease the anxiety and stress of these wonderful times we look so forward to.
Food for the Numbers
Right off the bat, let’s talk about preparing food for the numbers.
Too often I have tried to micromanage family gatherings. In recent years, as the numbers have mushroomed, I’ve learned to give away some of the responsibility. I’d like to say I’m learning to simplify, and in one sense that is true. But with so many members of the family having different food allergies, it honestly depends on who plans to attend.
Delegate. Delegate. Delegate seems to be the key to successful food planning for a crowd. There are a number of ways to do this. This year’s family reunion for us worked out really well. We planned to provide three meals for the sleepover. Families could bring their own for any additional food needs. We had three meal chairpersons, and each of those chairpersons had a team. This way every family attending contributed by either providing the chairperson or by being on a specific meal team. The breakfast team, for example, provided everything for breakfast for everyone at the reunion. They also did all of the cleanup for that meal. They didn’t have to do anything at all for the other two provided meals (except eat).
If you are one of those individuals with food allergies or food health issues (like diabetes), plan to bring enough food to tide you over in case the meal planners do not fulfill your needs.
Of course what facilities are available for preparing food makes a huge difference. It also makes a difference whether or not you have a place to safely keep leftovers. Keeping food safe to eat is a high priority. Serve food and drinks that are relatively low in calories, sugar, salt, and fat. Include a variety of fruits and vegetables. Serving plenty of good, healthy food at family gatherings can make the difference between happy versus grouchy children (and adults).
Be sure to think about what drinks will be served—those that really keep the body hydrated or those that just give a sugar high. Plenty of clean water to drink is a must.
Here are a few food safety tips.
- Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables with clean water.
- Remove and discard the outermost leaves of head lettuce or cabbage.
- Avoid leaving cut produce at room temperature for many hours.
- Wash your hands with soap and water before preparing food.
- Avoid preparing food for others if you are ill.
- Avoid cross-contaminating foods by washing hands, utensils, and cutting boards after they have been in contact with raw meat or poultry and before they touch another food. (For that matter, if you are aware a member of your family has a food allergy, do not cross-contaminate the utensils and cutting boards with those food allergens.)
- Put cooked meat on a clean platter, rather than back on one that held the raw meat.
- Refrigerate leftovers promptly.
My sister and my sister-in-law each often have crowds to feed. Recently I asked them what their favorite main-dish menus were for their family gatherings. Three favorites were mentioned.
- Taco salad, with ingredients placed on a buffet table and everyone adds what they want to their plate.
- Potato bar, again with ingredients placed on a buffet table and everyone adds what they want.
- Miniature meatloaves, with mashed potatoes, salad, corn on the cob, and cut up fruit and/or veggies.
Here is my sister’s recipe for the miniature meatloaves. Depending on the size of your crowd, you will need to double or triple the recipe.
¾ C milk
1 C shredded cheddar cheese (or any preferred cheese)
½ C quick-cooking oats
½ C chopped onion
1 tsp salt
1 pound lean ground beef (ground buffalo may be an option)
2/3 C ketchup
½ C packed brown sugar
1 ½ tsp prepared mustard
In a bowl, beat the egg and milk. Stir in cheese, oats, onion, and salt. Add beef and mix well. Shape into eight loaves and place in a greased 13-in. X 9-in. X 2-in. baking dish. Combine ketchup, brown sugar, and mustard; spoon over loaves. Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until the meat is no longer pink and meat thermometer reads 160 degrees.
Activities to Please
Just like with the food, let family members have a say about what activities will be at the family gathering. Delegating the responsibility provides more variety and ensures more people will be pleased.
Some reunion activities may be quite focused, however, like when you gather specifically to play baseball and have a picnic. One year we had a sumo wrestling event. A dinner followed, but the activity was solely wrestling. And, oh my, was that ever a fun gathering!
This year we had quite a variety available. Everyone seemed to find their niche and enjoyed themselves.
- 1000-piece puzzle (Individuals of all ages stopped by the puzzle table now and again to add a piece or two. Some individuals spent hours at a time, visiting and piecing the puzzle together.)
- Video games
- Toys for the young
- Other lawn games
Sleep Is a Must
As much as we love being together and talking, talking, talking until the wee hours of the morning, a healthy limit should be maintained. Otherwise, the sleep deprivation causes the temptation to be short on checking the temper and long on being cranky. This goes for adults as well as children.
You simply cannot stay up all night and then expect to be at 100% brain function the next day. And don’t think those word-of-wisdom-breaking energy drinks are going to safely see you through. They, too, throw off the balance of chemicals in your brain, and eventually you pay the price.
Whether you are the event planner or just an attendee, you may be one of those people who are overwhelmed by crowds and/or back-to-back party events and family gatherings. Sometimes, as grandparents, we don’t have a lot of choice because one event just seems to run into another. But when possible, perhaps the quickest practicable way to recover from a family reunion is simply to schedule some time on your own with as few distractions as you can manage.
Planning the Next One
Every family is different. So planning the next family gathering will depend on how close the family lives and whether family members can afford it (money and time). When our family was younger, we had more events. As our family grew and our children began having grandchildren of their own (our total number is now around 75), we decided to plan major family gatherings for once every two years. That scheduling seems to keep the family knit without colliding with in-law reunions and our children’s personal family gatherings. Oh yes, we have plenty of smaller family events, like our annual Halloween costume party, but not the big one which, by the way, not everyone can attend consistently. I’ve learned to be grateful for those who put in the effort and are able to come instead of feeling gloomy about those who simply cannot join the family for a given event or basically do not have the desire to get together.
When planning the next major event, I look at the one just passed and weigh what went well and what didn’t so I can better plan ahead. One year I heard complaints that I was moving activities at the reunion too fast. So the next year I tried to make things more relaxed and have others more involved in being in charge of different activities. This year we even went to the next level. We voted in a couple of our children to be chairpersons for the next entire slumber party/reunion—place, date, theme, and everything!
We have had family parties with many themes—luaus, gold prospecting parties, cardboard-box-car-making races, story stick sharing (with our ancestor pioneer histories), camping (with treasure hunts), etc. We have held our family events at Heber Valley Camp, in our backyard, at our son’s cabin, and in various campgrounds.
This year we opened the time capsule we made as a family ten years ago. Because of the time capsule, the theme for the event was time. One of our daughters prepared the most wonderful video. It included everyone currently in our family. (Ten years ago half of our family had not yet been born!) I cried through most of the video, thinking how blessed we were to have made it through so many things . . . Remember, we are a blended family. My husband brought six children into our family. I brought the other six children into the family. So the video started at the point of our marriage and ended this year. It was fantastic and everyone loved it!
We made signs to post in the yard. Here is one example.
My husband and I gave watches to the grandchildren and great grandchildren (who attended). This was the saying attached to the watches (with the brown part cut away).
Each couple that attended received a stop watch with this saying (with the gray parts cut away).
We got all the watches on Ebay so they were reasonably affordable for our large number of people.
We made four different placemats. All included this heading, which was also used on our printed family newspaper made for the event.
This was written below the heading. Once Upon a Time . . . Two people decided to get married and join their families as one . . .
In years past, I have made address/emergency books and passed them out, one per family. But since so many family members chose to contact me with address questions instead of looking up the information in the books, I simplified this year by sending out all updates by email. Every couple and older grandchild received current addresses, the emergency phone tree, and the emergency out-of-state contact list.
One last important thought. Be prepared for emergencies with first aid or the means to get to first aid if needed. We did have one mishap at this year’s reunion when a grandson accidentally knocked a sharp object down on his foot and needed stitches. All is well, however. He promptly received medical care and is doing fine.
Fay A. Klingler is the author of the best-selling book The LDS Grandparents’ Idea Book, I Am Strong! I Am Smart! and many other books and articles (www.fayklingler.com). She can be contacted on her Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/FayKlingler.