The very idea of preparing for a huge meal like Thanksgiving can be daunting. All those dishes to stir and simmer, the house to clean and decorate, and normal family duties to juggle alongside extended family and their unique personalities means that even the most peaceful house can instantly be thrown into chaos. Take help where you can get it. Make use of those little hands your preschooler so eagerly offers. Plus, putting your kids to work keeps them from getting inconveniently underfoot. Here are six Thanksgiving prep duties appropriate for the littles in your life.
1. Menu Planning
Include your young ones in Thanksgiving preparation from the very beginning by asking their opinion on the menu for the big meal. If they have some input on what’s on their plates, they might even be more likely to eat up with gusto.
I don’t know many parents who love grocery shopping, let alone grocery shopping with kids in tow, but if your schedule dictates having the preschool set along when you’re buying turkey and stuffing ingredients, make a game out of the trip so they’re more help than hindrance. Ask your daughter to grab items within her reach off the shelf while you get your son to ask for bread at the bakery counter. Practice those early math skills by getting them to help you count onions as you pile them into your cart.
Every parenting site ever will tell you that including your kids in the cooking process is more likely to get them involved in the eating process, and Thanksgiving is no exception. Assign age-appropriate tasks like washing vegetables, snapping green beans, breaking off asparagus ends, stirring soups or sauces, tearing lettuce or bread, etc. My girls love to break eggs, which requires a little more supervision if you don’t fancy eggshells in your pie filling, but it’s also fun for them to get a little messy. Older kids can help younger kids, if necessary, or pitch in with more advanced jobs.
If you’re busy basting turkey and whipping sweet potatoes, you probably don’t have any time left to scour Pinterest for the latest in hand-crafted leaf décor and individual turkey-shaped place card holders. But your art-loving kids do! Ask your children to set the table – tablecloth, placemats, flatware, napkins, glasses, etc. – before crafting up the place with their hand turkey prints from preschool or “Happy Thanksgiving” banners they drew while you were getting everything else ready.
5. Table Talking
If Aunt Laura and your mother in-law can’t be at the same table for more than 20 minutes without arguing politics, having some safe and family-friendly conversation starters or games handy can cut the tension fast. Get your kids to come up with a list of questions or topics they want to present to each guest at Thanksgiving, like “What did you want to be when you were my age?” or “What’s better, gravy or cranberry sauce?” or “Name five things you’re thankful for today.” Encourage them to be as silly as they’d like, and you’ll spend the meal laughing instead of stressed.
You’ll probably still be checking casseroles and pie crusts for doneness when the guests begin to arrive on Thanksgiving Day, so enlist your children to step in as tiny hosts and hostesses. Have them show people where to set their coats and bags, the location of your guest bathroom, and where they can help themselves to drinks and appetizers. They’ll be proud they could help, and you’ll be raking in the compliments on their adorable manners.
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Emily Brown is a preschool teacher, freelance writer, and mom to two energetic, funny little girls with a flair for drama and a shared love of cheese and pickles. She’s also written a book on the history and food of restaurants in Birmingham, AL called Birmingham Food: A Magic City Menu.