Top 5 Ways Your Kids Can Help with Thanksgiving Dinner


From washing vegetables to setting the table, there are many ways your child can help with Thanksgiving dinner. See more Thanksgiving turkey pictures.“From washing vegetables to setting the table, there are many ways your child can help with Thanksgiving dinner. See more Thanksgiving turkey pictures.Ryan McVay/Getty Images

Thanksgiving is a joyous occasion that marks the beginning of the holiday season. The day brings families and friends together across America to commemorate an important time in the country’s early history. (It also gives everyone the perfect excuse to stuff themselves silly.) However, the cook doesn’t have the luxury of lounging on the couch, snacking and watching football all day. He or she recognizes Thanksgiving dinner for what it really is — a whole lot of work.

Pulling off a delicious multicourse meal for a crowd is made all the more stressful with bored children underfoot. Fortunately, HowStuffWorks has put together a list of ways to accomplish two seemingly impossible feats: making the meal preparation process easier and keeping children entertained, all in one fell swoop.


  1. Planning and Preparation
  2. Decorate
  3. Meal Preparation
  4. Setting the Table
  5. Cleanup

5: Planning and Preparation

This Thanksgiving, plan a meal that incorporates traditional dishes and kid-friendly fare that everyone around the table will enjoy. A few days in advance of the meal, poll children to find out what special side dishes they would like to eat. For instance, should the sweet potatoes be served as fries, in soufflé form or both? Kids may be more likely to eat a veggie or two at this year’s dinner if they pick them out themselves.

Once the menu is planned, older children can pen a grocery list while children of all ages can help scour the grocery store for the various items and load up the shopping cart. Even dessert, which is usually controversy-free, can turn up little noses at Thanksgiving time. Seasonal sweets, such as pecan, mince and pumpkin pies, are more suited for adult palates. So, in addition to one or two of these traditional favorites, have children select a more kid-friendly dessert recipe, such as pumpkin cheesecake with whipped cream on top.

4: Decorate

Handmade decor adds a whimsical touch to your Thanksgiving celebration.“Handmade decor adds a whimsical touch to your Thanksgiving celebration.Rob Melnychuk/Getty Images

While the adults toil away in the kitchen, even children as young as 2 or 3 years old can create homemade decorations to make the dining area more festive. Simply provide the necessary supplies (construction or butcher paper, crayons and markers, scissors and glue), and keep a watchful eye as children create one-of-a-kind place mats that can be laminated and saved for future feasts. Popular themes for Thanksgiving place mats and other crafts include turkeys, Pilgrims and pumpkins. Children can also create Thanksgiving-themed napkin rings, table toppers and place cards for each guest to admire while enjoying the meal. Some hostesses use decorating as an opportunity to remind guests of the true meaning of Thanksgiving. "I love having my kids create their own Thanksgiving tree by writing their blessings and people they are thankful for on multicolored construction paper leaves," said Michelle Crouthamel, a mother of two in Spring Hill, Tenn. "Then, they glue the leaves onto a brown tree trunk and branches that can be displayed for Thanksgiving dinner and beyond." For more Thanksgiving décor ideas, try these HowStuffWorks Turkey Crafts.

3: Meal Preparation

Kids of all ages can help with basic meal preparation tasks, such as washing fruits and vegetables, snapping green beans, stirring cake batter, rolling out pie crusts or mashing potatoes. Of course, no child should be given access to a knife, and any other potentially hazardous cooking utensils or appliances should be placed well out of reach. When you involve your child in the preparation of a recipe from start to finish, the process fosters a real sense of accomplishment. What’s more, when children see what ingredients go into a dish and how it’s prepared, they’ll be likelier to eat it come mealtime. Let your child help prepare the dough for these Gobbler Cookies, and while adults enjoy their coffee after Thanksgiving dinner, kids can decorate the freshly baked treats.

2: Setting the Table

Teaching your child how to set the table for a formal occasion is a skill that will serve him or her for many years to come.“Teaching your child how to set the table for a formal occasion is a skill that will serve him or her for many years to come.Ryan McVay/Getty Images

Here’s a kid-friendly function that can last the whole year long! Thanksgiving is the perfect time to begin teaching your children the basics of table-setting etiquette — after all, there will be plenty of relatives around to gush over their handiwork. Make the task simple by using printable table-setting cheat sheets, which show children where the various utensils and dishes should be placed. You can find a version of these templates at Even tiny tots can help prepare the dining area by arranging napkins and placemats on the table. Children ages 5 and up can be more involved in the table-setting process by carrying in plates (although fine china should probably be left to adults), silverware and condiments, while preteens can channel their future table-waiting abilities by taking drink orders and filling the requests once dinnertime is near. It’s wise to have an older teen or adult supervise the process, however, or else each place setting might wind up with three forks, two glasses and seven napkins.

1: Cleanup

Any early childhood education expert knows that the best way to get children to clean up a mess is to make it to make is as fun as possible, whether by singing songs or turning it into a game. For example, even small children can lend a helping hand when directed to pick up the objects shaped like circles (plates) and squares (napkins). Also, try assigning specific tasks, like throwing away disposable napkins or putting condiments back in the fridge, to give each child a sense of responsibility and achievement. Older children can assist adults as they clear the table, load the dishwasher and package leftovers for guests. If all else fails, bring out the big guns: Withhold dessert until the kitchen and dining area are spotless. This time-honored tactic is sure to produce a cleaning frenzy that will make even the most skeptical parent’s head spin.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • How Thanksgiving Works
  • Is there something in turkey that makes you sleepy?
  • Would turkey be so popular if it didn’t have its own holiday?
  • How to Cook a Turkey
  • How the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Works
  • Will a turkey really drown if it looks up during a rainstorm?


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  • Crouthamel, Michelle. Personal interview conducted by Alia Hoyt. Aug. 25, 2009.
  • "Edible Turkey Day Projects." Disney Family Fun. (Sept. 10, 2009). "Kids Thanksgiving Recipes." Kids Cooking Activities. (Sept. 10, 2009).
  • "Printable Table-Setting Place Mats." (Sept. 10, 2009).
  • "Teaching Kids to Set the Table." (Sept. 10, 2009).
  • "Thanksgiving Cooking with Kids." Celebrating Thanksgiving. (Sept. 10, 2009).
  • "Thanksgiving Crafts." Disney Family Fun. (Sept. 10, 2009).
  • "Thanksgiving 2009 Crafts." (Sept. 10, 2009).
  • "Thanksgiving Meal Made by Kids for Kids." Thanksgiving (Sept. 10, 2009).
  • Williams, Julie. "Games for the Grocery Store." (Sept. 10, 2009).


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