Funeral Food: What To Serve At A Funeral Reception

Food to serve at a funeral reception
When planning a reception after a funeral or memorial service, the funeral food you serve should be tasty yet easy to prepare, store, and serve. It may be not be a full meal, although having a buffet-style funeral luncheon is common. The menu might include hot entrees, sandwiches, salads, desserts, and beverages.

Saying goodbye to your loved one often includes some type of luncheon. While the person was alive, you probably enjoyed having a meal with them, so saying goodbye in an atmosphere with food is perfectly fitting.

A funeral reception is often held after the funeral or memorial service. If the burial takes place right afterward, the repast starts once family and friends return from the cemetery. When the graveyard services are later, the event starts after the service.

The purpose of the reception is to honor the deceased, not to host a gourmet meal for hundreds. However, having foods that the deceased loved and that represent their culture is an excellent way to honor them.

Foods should be easy to make, serve, and store for the family, and easy for guests to eat, as they may be seated at a card table or balancing their plate while standing in a crowded hall.

funeral lunch

Planning Your Reception

Funeral receptions might be among the least formal gatherings accosted with other services, but they still require plenty of planning – particularly since there is food involved. Here are some of the main concerns.

  • Where Will It Be Held: When planning the reception, you first should decide where you want to hold it. The funeral home might have a place to hold a lunch, which is convenient if the services were there. If you are having a church service. you are usually able to reserve the parish hall for your luncheon.

    If money is not an issue, you might want to lean towards a restaurant. After the funeral service, you can just go to the venue where food preparation, service, and cleanup are all done for you. For a small crowd, a reception at home might be a convenient option.
  • How Many Do You Expect? This is also important so that you know how many people to prepare for. Is your family large? Are you inviting only immediate family, or do you plan to make a public announcement for anyone who attends? The number of people you are planning for can help you to determine what to serve.
  • Should You Serve A Full Meal Or Just Appetizers Or Dessert? What you serve could depend on the time of day you expect the services to end. Please note that as a bereaved family, you are not expected to put on a full meal. However, some families do choose to go that route.
  • Who Will Prepare The Food? If dining at a restaurant, all of the work is done for you. Likewise, you can have someone cater for the event to put less work on you. If you do not have the financial resources to do that, you could likely get assistance from friends and family. Many families on a budget serve a funeral luncheon potluck style. Lastly, sometimes churches have committees that offer to pitch in and serve lunch for members of the parish who have a funeral.
  • Will it Be Served Buffet Or Served At The Table? People do not expect to be waited on at a funeral luncheon. Don’t be afraid to serve the meal buffet-style in an informal atmosphere.
  • Budget? Please don’t break the bank when planning the funeral meal. Your friends, family, and colleagues who offer to help really do want to assist you during your time of need. Bringing food to the luncheon is the perfect way to let people help.

Funeral Foods To Serve

As you begin to prepare the menu, don’t be afraid to keep it simple. What you want are food choices that are delicious and familiar, while being convenient to make and consume.

Catered luncheons might offer a choice of one or two meats, pasta, potatoes, vegetable, salads, and desserts. A sandwich tray might be included as well. Potlucks are by definition varied, but the host usually tries to have guests bring a variety of dishes.

chicken in the Southern tradition

Those raised in the Southern tradition might expect to find fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, cornbread, and sweet potato pie on the menu. A themed repast might feature Mexican, Italian, Middle Eastern, Chinese, or Greek food to celebrate the deceased.

Here are some excellent food ideas to adapt to any cultural preferences:

Casseroles are always a good comfort food which is exactly what a grieving family needs. Doesn’t everyone have a special casserole recipe that they bring to potlucks?

  • Hamburger Casserole: Many casseroles made with ground beef and macaroni that multiple people can bring one of these and they will all be unique.
  • Tuna Noodle Casserole
  • Ham and Scalloped Potatoes
  • Baked Ziti
  • Green Bean Casserole
  • Potato Casserole

Main Dishes served with sides are worth considering as a central component. A protein source helps to fill people up.

  • Fried Chicken
  • Ham
  • Meatballs
  • Lasagna
  • Kielbasa and Sauerkraut 
sandwich at funeral lunch

Sandwich Trays that include deli meats and cheese, chicken salad, or egg salad are often the stars of buffet lunches.

Salads are another good filler food. Whether you have a favorite salad recipe or you hunt online to find one, salads are a hit.

  • Potato Salad
  • Fruit Salad
  • Lettuce Salad
  • Taco Salad
  • Pasta Salad

Other Side Dishes can really include a variety of things certain to be crowd-pleasers.

  • Funeral Potatoes
  • Baked Beans
  • Deviled Eggs
  • Cheese and Sausage
  • Corn Flake Hash Brown Potatoes
  • Macaroni and Cheese
  • Vegetable Tray and Dip
  • Chips


  • Dinner rolls
  • Cops and dips
  • Pickles
  • Olives
  • Butter
  • Mayonnaise, Mustard, and other condiments (if offering sandwiches of some type)

Desserts can be any type of sweet treat. Ones that you can eat as finger foods are especially popular. Don’t forget to cut desserts into small pieces so that people can try more than one.

  • Cakes
  • Pies
  • Brownies
  • Cupcakes
  • 7 Layer Bars
  • Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars
  • Fruit Cups
  • Zucchini or Banana Bread

Beverages often served at funerals are:

  • Coffee
  • Water
  • Soda
  • Lemonade
  • Punch
funeral committee

Tips For A Successful Funeral Repast

If you are preparing the work yourself, you will want to lean towards foods you can prepare ahead of time. Items that can be placed in a slow cooker and kept warm are easy to serve when the time comes.

Other foods to consider include anything you can make, cover, and stick into the refrigerator are also good for a funeral meal. That includes salads, snack trays, and anything like that. Be certain to check out the venue ahead of time to ensure you have enough refrigerator space to store all of the items.

Be sure to think about who your guests will be. If you have families coming, check to see that you have kid-friendly food on hand.

Don’t forget to create a list of other items you will need like plates, cutlery, serving spoons, and napkins. When you are grieving, it is very easy to overlook necessary things.


Pam Berg is a former English teacher with a passion for writing. She has written for many years on a variety of topics and considers herself to be somewhat of a jack of all trades when it comes to writing. Although most of us tend to want to avoid the topic of death, whether it is us or a loved one, it is inevitable. Pam is dedicated to ensuring that as people are funeral planning they have access to a no-nonsense, straightforward laying out of the facts. However, she also recognizes that this is a topic that needs to be approached in a sensitive manner.

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