As I’ve mentioned before, I tend to make a huge deal out of the holidays. Thanksgiving is no different in our house. I start planning for it months ahead by perusing recipe books and magazines, making notes about favorite recipes from years past, and putting together a plan. One of my favorite parts of Thanksgiving, though, is pulling together everyone in the family to work together toward a common goal – making an amazing and delicious meal.
That means that we involve our kids in Thanksgiving prep – in age-appropriate ways. Here are some tips for involving kids of different ages in this annual holiday.
The Smallest Kids
We’ve always either had an open kitchen or a large enough kitchen to set up a high chair in the kitchen itself near the food prep area. Even though children under 18 months old can’t do a lot of the actual prep work, I still like to include them if they’re old enough to be sitting up in a high chair. It’s fun for them to bang wooden spoons on the high chair tray, play with some homemade playdough, and taste some of the ingredients (chopped up apple, anyone?) It makes it nice, because from the littlest ages, my kids are used to being part of the festivities.
Toddlers (18 months – 3) make great stirrers, and many are capable of helping to help measure and pour ingredients into a mixing bowl. You can also have them tear lettuce for salads. I try to pick one or two recipes that my toddler can be fully involved with helping. I stress the importance of good kitchen hygiene (wash your hands, please), but this helps develop a good sense of self-confidence when that salad they helped with makes it onto the plate. I also like making salad dressing in a shaker bottle and allow the toddler to shake the salad dressing.
It’s also fun to have a couple of projects on hand that toddlers can do to help decorate the Thanksgiving table. The dollar store and Target’s Dollar Spot are great resources for this. Foam stickers are great for this age as they work the fine motor skills. Coloring pages, stickers, and other simple arts and crafts projects will help keep toddlers busy while you’re doing the things they can’t help with.
Preschoolers (3-5) are a fun group. They really want to help, but they often want to help with the things that they can’t quite do. For this age, it’s great to put them to work on things they can do – like putting together sauce ingredients, measuring and adding ingredients to recipes, stirring things, tearing lettuce, cutting anything that can be cut with a butter knife, pushing buttons on appliances, etc. My soon-to-be-five year old loves to help with all of these things, and she does a good job of listening to directions, keeping her hands clean, and being safe.
Good activities include making place cards for guests (tracing names if they’re not yet writing), making crafted decorations, and helping to clean up toys from around the house. Preschoolers will also enjoy helping to set the table (the silverware, napkins, and placemats – leave the crystal and china to older children and/or adults).
For familiar products and produce, preschoolers can begin to help with the Thanksgiving shopping at the store (with supervision). It can be a lot of fun for them to pick out the right apples for the pie and to grab the acorn squash that’s at their reaching level.
Here are when things get fun. Once a child can read, he or she can (supervised) put together a dish of his or her own. My oldest has always made the deviled eggs for Thanksgiving and Easter, for as long as I can remember. Let your child choose an easy-to make with minimal help from mom or dad dish, and be in charge of that dish.
School age kids can also help cut and prep ingredients, given that they are tall enough to reach the surface they are cutting on without a stool or sitting on knees on a chair. You can use a kids’ table for this. You just don’t want your child to lose balance and fall backwards with a knife in his or her hands. Pre-teens can help to stir items on the stove – again, with the caveat that they do not need a step or chair to do so. Baking pies is a great activity for this age.
These children can also set the table in its entirety, and help to decorate the tablescape.
As children learn to read, you can assign them to get ingredients at the store that are at their arm level. You can even give older tweens (10, 11, 12) their own list to be responsible for at the store.
I put my teenager in charge of several items every year. By this age, they should know their way around the kitchen, be able to read and modify recipes, and know and understand all basic kitchen chores. Let your teenager choose a few recipes and then be in charge of researching them and adding the ingredients to their own shopping list, and then having them grab their items at the store. You get points for giving them a budget to work with, as this is an important life skill.
Because I have kids with a wide age-discrepancy, my oldest in the past has made his own recipes, helped with other recipes and things like washing dishes between making different things, and supervised younger siblings as they carried out their roles.
Making it a Fun Holiday
The best part of Thanksgiving is the tradition of togetherness that surrounds the holiday. Allowing children to be involved with the prep for any holiday makes for a nice tradition in and of itself. Be sure to allow for extra time if you’re involving small hands – that will help to give you more patience, and make sure the experience is a positive one for everyone.