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15 Thanksgiving activities to get kids involved in holiday meal prep

From finding unique recipes and mashing the potatoes to setting the table and sharing the story of Thanksgiving, here's how to make kids a part of the holiday celebration.

15 Thanksgiving activities to get kids involved in holiday meal prep

Thanksgiving is a time when many families get together to share a meal and take time to be thankful for everyone in their lives. As parents, we know all too well that sharing that meal comes with a great deal of preparation, not to mention an even greater amount of stress. Add children running around the house to the mix and you have a recipe for chaos.

This year, get kids involved with the Thanksgiving celebration prep and make the experience not only more meaningful for you as a family, but also a lot less stressful for you in the kitchen. Here are 15 activities you can try to involve kids of all ages.

Ages 5 and under

Here’s how even the littlest of kids can help with the celebration.

1. Try a new variation on the wishbone

“We use a Hershey’s chocolate kiss and hide it somewhere among the meal,” says Chelsea Duggan, director of Milestar Babies. “The person who ends up with it on their plate gets a special wish.” Hiding the treat is a perfect “job” for little ones.

2. Read at the table

Duggan recommends reading the book “Stone Soup” and encouraging each child to bring an ingredient to the table as a way to showcase how important everyone’s role is in the meal.

3. Make kids feel valuable

Don’t give kids busy work. Make them feel as if they’re really helping in the kitchen. “The younger set can mash potatoes, tear lettuce, wash just about anything in the sink with a colander,” says mom and certified parent coach Meghan Leahy.

4. Prepare the table

Planning the meal is not the only way to get children involved in preparation. Leahy suggests asking them to prepare the table. “Have them collect outside nature items to help spruce up the table, create little hand turkeys as seating cards, create placemats or create decorations for the house.”

Ages 6 through 9

Try these Thanksgiving projects for slightly older kids.

5. Mix it up

Don’t just stick with the normal ingredients. Parenting expert David Bakke recommends that you “Encourage your children to come up with alterations to recipes and use their creativity. Instead of the normal topping for sweet potato casserole, create a corn flake/pecan mixture or use chocolate chips. Top your mashed potatoes with melted cheese. The possibilities are endless.”

6. Make it a contest 

Have a family contest to see who can earn the title of fastest roll maker.

7. Have musical place settings

We all tend to sit at the same seat for most meals or by the same people. Have the children come up with a dinner seating chart. Mix it up by having different relatives with different ages sit next to each other. At the dessert course, have everyone switch seats.

8. Kabob it up

Make the Thanksgiving dinner more kid-friendly by creating kabobs of various dinner items. Duggan suggests making one with a small piece of turkey, green bean, roll and cranberry all threaded together.

Ages 10 through 12

Get kids inspired to help with these easy tasks.

9. Plan ahead

“The best way to get children involved in helping with dinner and encourage their feelings in gratitude is to involve them months earlier in the planting of foods to be made into special Thanksgiving dishes,” says Ilene Barth, creative director of the family-oriented book publisher Red Rock Press. Barth also suggests bringing your children with you when purchasing the food, preferably at a local farmer’s market or farm stand.

10. Hold a scavenger hunt

“Place all of the ingredients you need, plus some you don’t on the table,” suggests Duggan. Encourage the kids to read the recipe and gather exactly the right ingredients.”

11. Stage dinner theater

Thanksgiving dinner is not limited to food alone. Have your children tell the story of Thanksgiving in their own words or even have them act it out in a play. A little dinner theater goes perfectly with any meal!

12. Try something new

Visit bookstores, the public library and even the Instagram to discover new recipes in the weeks before the holiday. Let the kids pick a recipe they’d like to try to make.

Ages 13 and older:

Give older kids more responsibility.

13. Put kids in charge

Give them the task of setting the turkey timer and telling you when it’s time for basting. Let them come up with a side dish or supervise the younger children.

14. Make it a business

Duggan suggests inspiring kids’ entrepreneurial spirit by having them plan the Thanksgiving meal as if they owned a catering company. What recipes would they make? What are the most efficient ways to set the table with the least amount of work? Have them come up with their own name for their company and pay them with dessert or a few chocolate coins.

15. Create an ambiance

Ask your child to come up with ideas for music, decorations and color schemes for the table that create a fun and enjoyable meal.

The possibilities are endless. Taking that extra time to include your children in preparing the Thanksgiving meal will not only make the day that much less stressful but will create memories both you and your children will treasure forever.

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