Cooking for a dozen people can feel intimidating, but it's not bad if you plan ahead. Take advantage of the casual feel of summer and fresh seasonal vegetables to craft a family-friendly menu. Choose dishes that don't take long to prepare in the midst of all of your family's summer activities.
Preparing a meal on the grill for 12 people is simple, as long as your grill is large enough. For the proteins, cook chicken breasts, hamburger patties, bratwursts, and maybe some hot dogs for the kids. Serve them on wheat buns with fresh fixings, including lettuce, tomato and avocado slices. Provide an assortment of condiments such as ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, pickle relish and ranch dressing. Older kids can help skewer a variety of summer vegetables, including squash, peppers, eggplant, cherry tomatoes and mushrooms, onto kabobs to grill alongside the meat. Serve some kid-friendly creamy dips to encourage them to eat the grilled veggies. Serve coleslaw and baked beans as additional side dishes.
During the heat of summer, the last thing you want to be doing is working in a hot kitchen all afternoon before guests arrive. Solve this by preparing food ahead of time and either serving it chilled or heating it up just before guests arrive. For an appetizer, make a soup with pureed cucumbers and leeks accented with buttermilk and sour cream. Prepare this the day before, refrigerate it and serve it chilled. For the main dish, serve grilled or pan-fried chicken breasts with thick slices of bread and a simple chopped salad. Make the salad up to a day ahead of time by putting the dressing and hearty vegetables at the bottom of the bowl and the more delicate vegetables on top. Toss just before serving.
Taco night is ideal if your guests are families with kids because picky eaters can include only the ingredients they like in their tacos. Plus, you can chop the vegetables ahead of time and only have to cook the ground beef and beans just before guests arrive. Keep it simple by using store-bought hard taco shells or gently warmed soft-taco-size flour tortillas. As guests arrive, serve chips with a variety of dips, including tomato salsa, guacamole, and a homemade salsa of corn and black beans with a touch of minced jalapenos and lime juice. For kids who don't appreciate spicy foods, substitute a ranch seasoning mix for the peppers.
Summer is the season for fresh fruit, so take advantage of this to create a light, healthy dessert that utilizes the natural sweetness of fruit. Serve fresh berries with a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkle of crunchy granola for an elegant dessert. For the kids, serve the berries on top of vanilla ice cream. Turn store-bought pie crusts and several pounds of fresh peaches into pies to serve warm or chilled. During melon season, mix chunks of at least two types of melon with chopped fresh mint, lime juice, and a touch of sugar for a refreshing dessert.