Growing up, my family’s holiday get-togethers were always kid-friendly. With a range of 27 years amongst grandchildren, there was never enough room at one table for everyone. By the time the third grandchild came along, my grandmother was wise enough to group the little ones together, armed with plenty to do — no one ever felt left out of the action. There were even some grown-up family members who secretly wanted a seat at the kids table!
Whether you’re hosting your first Thanksgiving with the entire extended family or your 15th, it helps to be prepared if some of your guests are under the age of 13. To eliminate the guess work on your behalf, and make sure there are no clingy-kid meltdowns, we’ve come up with a list of seven key things to keep in mind — from a kids table to Thanskgivng-themed treats to decorate — to make sure your family’s Thanskgiving is fun for all ages.
1. Serve Kid-Friendly Foods
On Thanksgiving, it’s pretty easy to make sure that every guest, from two to 82, is well-fed and happy at the end of the day — what’s not to like about sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and green beans? Still worried about picky eaters? Have on hand the fixings for turkey or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and a turkey-shaped cookie cutter. Serve with a side of carrots and beans, arranged like feathers, and the kids can have their own turkey, too.
2. Set a Table Just for Them
When you’re expecting more than five kids under the age of 10, and they’re old enough to take care of themselves (minus the use of sharp knives), set up a small table just for the kids. Get them excited and involved in setting the table by having the each make their own placemat using construction paper and outlining their fingers into the shape of a turkey. Or have them be in charge of a centerpiece. Use brown Kraft paper in lieu of a formal tablecloth (as messes will likely be made) and set out crayons for drawing. Then set out pumpkins, leaves, and acorns for them to arrange themselves, perhaps adding in a popcorn-stuffed turkey, too. (Photo courtesy of OneCharmingParty.com)
3. Share a Special Treat
Short of sitting on their own, free from the watchful eye of parents, one of the best parts of sitting at the kids table (at least in my family) is that there usually is some delicious treat awaiting our arrival. It’s easy to buy turkey-shaped chocolates at the store or assemble pilgrim hats with peanut butter cups and chocolate-covered cookies. Feeling crafty? Make a boat filled with a mix of nuts, candy, and popcorn like this one. (Photo courtesy of APlaceforAmy.blogspot.com)
4. Plan Something Crafty
The best way to ensure your young ones have fun over the holidays is to keep them busy. If they run off to play with cousins, great — but that’s not always the case. To ensure that the kids aren’t clinging to their parent’s legs (Because mom and dad need to have fun, too!), organize a couple of projects that will keep kids occupied. Thanksgiving-themed activity books are easy and inexpensive to assemble. Just print out a couple of coloring and activity pages and set one at each place. Or set out a varity of dried beans and pastas for each kid to make their own turkey to take home. Trace the shape of your hand onto the plate, paint it with glue, and have fun decorating.
5. Create Something Edible
If paper and scissors aren't exciting enough, kids will love assembling their own Thanksgiving-themed treats. While getting ready, have kids help you assemble gratitude rolls, rolling up a piece of paper with something they’re thankful for inside each roll. Or set up a decorating station with treats. Use these instructions for decorating cookies for the ultimate turkey-cookie decorating station. Or set up a cupcake decorating station instead. All you need is candy corn and frosting to make these turkey cupcakes, or autumn-colored M&M's or jelly beans to make these Indian corn-inspired treats. (Photo courtesy of BeautyandBedlam.com)
For many, Thanksgiving is one of the few times of year where everyone has a chance to come together. Use that to your advantage, and plan for an activity or two that both the youngest and oldest family members can enjoy. For example, make a turkey of thanks. Have each guest write something they’re thankful for on a turkey tail feather and then have the children collect the feathers to decorate a turkey, reading off each quote once the family sits down around the table. Or plan something that allows each person to get up out of their chair, like Pin the Tail on the Turkey.
7. Have a Movie on Hand
When in doubt, a movie works wonders when it comes to keeping young kids happy. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, pull out some holiday favorites like Pocahontas, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, Mouse on the Mayflower, or Miracle on 34th Street, for older kids. If the little ones are young, and you know their favorite film will keep them enthralled for an hour (or put them to sleep), go with what works.