Thanksgiving is a time for family, food, and fun. It is a holiday where we gather together with our families and oftentimes extended families and enjoy a meal, share stories, and give thanks for the blessings we have. For most of us, the things we are most thankful for and cherish the most are our children. They light up the room when they walk in with their smiles and laughter. Their silly stories can make even the worst day be forgotten, and looking at their sleeping faces, well that’s just pure bliss. They are the reason we get so excited around the holidays… their joy is contagious!
Unfortunately, in the hustle and bustle of the Thanksgiving holiday those little faces often get ignored or shooed aside as we rush to prepare food, set tables, and welcome extended family. We know how stressful it can be to have our littles underfoot as you try to make an everyday family dinner, much less an extravagant meal for company as well.
That said, children from the oldest to the youngest always want to help in the kitchen. They want to help set the table and they want to help decorate the house. So, while your Thanksgiving table may not end up looking like it stepped out of the pages of a catalog, enjoy the moment and let them help. Thanksgiving is about family and about traditions and what better way to make memories with your children than to actually include them in the holiday preparations rather than worrying about the picture perfect setting. Here are some ideas for including your children in the Thanksgiving prep work.
1. Snapping Beans
Snapping beans is fun for kids of all ages. The beans tend to be easier for younger children because you can sit them down with a large bowl of green beans and allow them to snap the ends off and snap the beans in half so they can be included in the Thanksgiving fun. The kids love the sound fresh green beans make as they “snap” them into pieces as well.
Fresh green beans can then be cooked and served with bacon or made into a delicious green bean casserole. Fresh beans are crispier, healthier, and taste much better than canned or frozen, plus the youngest will love to see something they made on the table AND will be more likely to try the food too.
2. Shucking Corn
If your kids love corn, but you refuse to have corn on the cob at the Thanksgiving table (just imagine the butter dripping down their chubby little arms and faces at the fancy table), have your children shuck the corn and actually turn it into a decadent creamed corn.
Older kids, around 3 years old and up, love to use the “shucker” or corn peeler because they like using kitchen gadgets. This task takes some time and muscle, but they will love it! The easiest way to accomplish the task is to allow the kids to shuck the corn on a flat surface such as a clean kitchen counter or cutting board. Then simply scoop the corn into a bowl and decide which way you want to cook it for your Thanksgiving meal.
Like it or not, kids are going to grow up and will need to know how to cook for themselves and their families, so teach them early. A few recipe ideas for preparing shucked corn include corn bread, steamed corn served simply with butter and salt, or creamed corn for the Thanksgiving meal.
3. Making Butter
This is such a fun and easy task for toddlers and bigger kids. There is no butter churn or fancy gadgets needed here, just a glass jar, heavy whipping cream, and salt!
While the heavy whipping cream is in the refrigerator, place the glass jar in the freezer for about 30 minutes. Take the jar out, pour in the heavy whipping cream and a pinch of salt (you can add as much salt as you would like, but with salt, less is more), screw the lid on tight and SHAKE, SHAKE, SHAKE!
Shake Shake Shake, Butter We Will Make. Churn Churn Churn, Now It’s Your Turn!
Kids love to shake the jar full of whipping cream and watch it as it solidifies. It is really a neat educational experiment too because the kids will watch the liquid whipping cream turn into creamy butter. The butter will be light, fluffy, and delicious! Fresh butter has a much more airy texture to it than store-bought butter, and it is great on fresh rolls at Thanksgiving dinner! After the butter has solidified you can even mix in a little honey or cinnamon and sugar for a flavored option. Store in the refrigerator until your Thanksgiving meal.
4. Baking Apple and Pumpkin Pies
Kids love to eat desserts, especially something they have made themselves, so they really get excited about making Thanksgiving pies. Sure, you can buy pies everywhere at Thanksgiving, but homemade is so much tastier! Plus you can control what ingredients you use.
Admittedly the crusts should probably be made by an adult (or store bought frozen shells work just fine), but if you are going all in on including the kids and are making your own pie crust, the kids can measure the ingredients, knead the dough, and roll out the pie crust.
For the filling, the kids can really do most of the work for a simple apple or pumpkin pie.
Kids will love using the apple peeler, corer, and slicer. This device attaches to the counter and is safe and easy for kids to use… the apple slices fall off easily into a bowl for pie prep and the kids love to eat the (super healthy) apple “string” that the actual apple peel turns into. From there the peeled, cored, sliced apples can be mixed right up into a perfect apple pie!
Kids can also help make pumpkin pie by scraping the pumpkin from a freshly cooked pie pumpkin. Kids love cleaning the seeds and guts from the pie pumpkins and then you just pop them in the oven (or microwave) until soft. Once the pumpkins cool the kids can then scrape out the insides of the fresh pumpkin into a bowl. You use the fresh pumpkin in the same measurements as you would canned pumpkin to make pumpkin pie or pumpkin pudding… make sure you save the left over pumpkin because it is a great nutritional superfood and can be blended into smoothies and ice creams as well.
5. Making Place Settings
Everyone loves homemade place settings, and there’s no reason not to include your children in this fun and crafty endeavor. You and the kids can start making these cute place settings weeks before the big day by collecting pine cones.
Make sure to sanitize the pine cones since they’re going on the dinner table by placing them in an oven pre-heated to 200 degrees on a cookie sheet or aluminum foil for 30 minutes, or soak in warm water with 1 cup of vinegar for 20-30 minutes and let air-dry. You will also need googly eyes, pipe cleaners, feathers, and some construction paper or card stock.
Allow your kids to have fun cutting and bending the pipe cleaners into feet, gluing the googly eyes to the turkey body, and drawing a beak and wattle (that’s the red flap under a turkey’s chin or beak in case you didn’t know). After attaching the body and the feet using a glue gun, let the kids pick out the feathers for each person’s turkey. Most children love bright colors so they will enjoy choosing from a variety of colored feathers and deciding what colors they want each dinner guest to have on their turkey. You can then have the older kids write each guest’s name on a small placard and simply stick it into the top of the pinecone.
The table will look adorable, the kids will be so excited to have their hand-made decorations on the table, and the guests will love their personalized, Thanksgiving keepsake.
6. Polishing Silver
Polishing silver is an easy practical life skill and can be completed before Thanksgiving Day, or if you eat late in the day, done while waiting for all the scrumptious foods to cook.
Simply pick up some silver polish, old rags, and Q-tips (for small hands and between the fork tongs) and allow the children to use a very small amount of polish and rub the silverware until shiny. Kids will love completing this task because it is a neat and rewarding experience to watch the transition of something so dull become so shiny. Make sure to wash after polishing prior to setting the table.
7. Setting the Table
Setting the table can be done once the silverware is clean and depending on the ages of your children different tasks are appropriate or can be divided. Working as a team your children (and/or yourself) can unfold and place the tablecloth and table runner on the Thanksgiving table. Older children 4+ can then place the glass dishes, plates, and bowls. The younger children 3+ can help with the silverware, counting out how many forks, spoons, and butter knives they need to set at each place. The youngest children can even complete a task by “folding” and placing napkins at each place setting.
Setting the table becomes an excellent teaching opportunity because your children will begin learning about formal place settings and meal etiquette very early on. You can either assist with the proper placement of the dishes and silverware, or print out a picture of the proper place setting and allow the kids to follow the picture and figure out where each item should be placed.
8. Saying the Prayer
Rather than separate children at meals, especially on holidays and special occasions, consider including the kids. Not only are they part of the family, but they will learn proper table manners by sitting with the grown ups. If prayer is part of your meal, you might also consider asking your children to say the prayer. Start working on the prayer in advance so they won’t be shy or caught off-guard, but can participate in the prayer. Talk about things they are thankful for and be excited about their involvement.
This isn’t for every kid or every family because many likely already have their own traditions, do not include prayer, or have young children who can often be shy especially in front of large groups which may include extended family or people they only see at holidays. If your child is not comfortable with coming up with a prayer you can still have a meaningful conversation with him about what Thanksgiving is all about and what he is thankful for. If your family’s tradition includes giving everyone a chance to say something each person is thankful for then your child will be prepared and will be able to be included in this activity even if they decide at the last minute to participate.
Much of the enjoyment we get from the holidays as parents is the opportunity to share these special times with our children. It is a time to make memories and create family traditions, some that will be passed down through the generations long after our time has come and gone. The holidays are a chance we get to watch our children interact with extended family, great-grandparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins who we may not get to see more than once or twice a year. It may sound cliché, but these really are the times memories are made that your children will carry with them forever, so be present rather than worrying about perfection.
Photo Credits: Kristin dePaula, Pixabay