Beyond the Kids’ Table: How to Involve Kids in Thanksgiving Prep

When given enjoyable tasks, young children are naturally inclined to be helpful, so put them to work!
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We get it, Thanksgiving Day is a busy one — especially if you’re hosting the meal. You have too much to do and not nearly enough help. It’s tempting to just hand over the iPad or park your kids in front of an all-day loop of Frozen to give you the freedom to prep in peace. But Thanksgiving is a family holiday, after all, and there are so many meaningful ways kids can get involved in the meal.

Leaf chips final image, served with cheese

Leaf chips final image, served with cheese

Spicy leaf chips in autumn colors served with cheese for Thanksgiving appetizer

Photo by: Jackie Alpers ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Jackie Alpers, 2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

First off, include your kids in the menu planning. In advance of the big day, let them choose a dish they’d love to see included in the Thanksgiving meal. Older children can check the pantry, make a shopping list and even help you cook. These easy-to-make leaf chips can be made from start to finish without much help from an adult.

Children are more than capable of preforming many small kitchen jobs. An obvious task: trimming green beans. Demonstrate how to pinch off the stem end. Older children can even use small scissors to do this. (As always, supervise children when they're using sharp objects.)

Kids can also chop herbs; a small mezzaluna and a wooden cutting board are the perfect tools for this type of task (a wonderful tip I picked up at a children’s cooking class at Stone Barns Center in New York). While sharp, a mezzaluna has a dual-handled design that makes it nearly impossible for tiny fingers to get in the way of the blade. Stick to easy-to-chop things like herbs for this, as harder vegetables that can slip or roll, like carrots, can be very dangerous for a child to cut.

MILL VALLEY, CALIF - FEB 2, 2011: Tyler Florence "Start Fresh" cookbook. PHOTO BY JOHN LEE.

Photo by: John Lee ©Copyright 2011 John Lee Pictures

John Lee, Copyright 2011 John Lee Pictures

Kids can wash lettuce and spin it in a salad spinner (or outside in a dish towel). They can scrub carrots and potatoes. They’re quite adept at picking all the leaves off a bunch of thyme (doesn’t your recipe call for two whole tablespoons?). They can toss together apples, cinnamon and sugar for a pie, or they can stir together the filling ingredients for pumpkin pie. Kids love all kinds of baking activities.

FNK_MakeAheadWhippedCream_H

FNK_MakeAheadWhippedCream_H

Food Networks Kitchen’s Make Ahead Whipped Cream for THANKSGIVING/BAKING/WEEKEND COOKING, as seen on Food Network.

Photo by: Renee Comet ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Renee Comet, 2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Children of just about any age can make whipped cream. Fill a large lidded jar a third of the way with cold heavy cream, then let them add powdered sugar, vanilla, cinnamon or cocoa powder, and have them take turns shaking until it’s thick — if they overdo it, thin the mixture with a little extra cream.

Photo by: ©Nicole Mlakar / nicolemlakar.com ©Nicole Mlakar / nicolemlakar.com

©Nicole Mlakar / nicolemlakar.com, Nicole Mlakar / nicolemlakar.com

Kids can set the table. Make a sample table setting and let them copy it for each place. Let them fill breadbaskets and water glasses, and have them fold napkins. They can create simple place cards. Pick up some blank ones, or let them get creative with a craft. Just be sure to complete any messy crafts before the big day.

As guests arrive, have children take their coats, lead them to the hors d’oeuvres table, take drink orders or pass an appetizer (more like a bowl of snack mix — trays of canapes are not the best for kids to handle).

When given enjoyable tasks, young children are naturally inclined to be helpful, so put them to work! We promise it will make Thanksgiving a little more meaningful for everyone.

Do your kids help out on Thanksgiving?

Can you think of more ways kids can help prepare the Thanksgiving meal?

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