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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Thanksgiving: Make it a Family Meal

Thanksgiving is meant to be a restful day for family members to spend quality time together, but all too often the difficulty of pulling off the holiday meal detracts from everyone's enjoyment. Kids, picking up on the stress and distraction, can become bored, antsy, or just downright moody, and what started off as a fun gathering can become...well, not such a good time for anyone.

You can avoid that outcome by involving kids in the Thanksgiving meal prep. This may sound crazy, but think about it: when was the last time you enjoyed somebody else making all the plans without asking your preferences, or inviting you to share ideas? When everyone contributes to the family meal, miracles can happen: grumpiness subsides, picky eaters tend to eat more, and you gain a crew of apprentice menu planners and sous chefs.

Everyone wants to feel valuable and important, and even preschoolers can do some of the smaller but still important work. Their motor-skills may not be up to par with the adult cooks', but they can help with simple and non-dangerous tasks, such as washing vegetables and other foods in a colander, tearing up lettuce for salads, filling the bread basket, or mixing room-temperature ingredients. Less dexterous kids can still help set out silverware, or create decorations to dress up the holiday table.

Kids between the ages of 6 and 9 can help measure, beat, and fold ingredients, and open cans and use a grater. Kids on the older end of this age range may also be able to, with adult supervision, cut foods with a small knife. If you opt to let your kids try this, Jennifer Russo, mom, chef and owner of the Market by Jennifer in Phoenix, Arizona, emphasizes that you should first teach them how to form their hand into a claw shape to protect their fingertips). They can be encouraged to come up with menu ideas and creative alterations to recipes as well. Solicit their ideas for mixing up the traditional Thanksgiving fare: if they want to top the sweet potato casserole with chocolate chips instead of marshmallows, for instance, let them experiment with least part of the dish.

Those ages 10 and older can gradually be given more responsibility, and begin taking on some of the "grown-up" work in the kitchen. Be sure to actively include older kids in the meal planning: allow them to choose some of the dishes, bring them with you when purchasing the food, and find ways to have them do some of the cooking. Delegating a few of the more challenging and detail-oriented responsibilities to the older kids will help them grow as thinkers and people, and save you some work, too. You might give your preteen the task of keeping an eye on the turkey, or that of supervising their younger siblings. Kids in this age group might also be asked to make some of your family's traditional side dishes, or create an entirely new one of their own. Teens can be shown how to make some of the more complex recipes (ex. pies, empanadas) that call for a certain amount of dexterity and focus, and can generally be trusted to take dishes in and out of the oven and mix things on the stove.

We hope these suggestions lead to a more joyous family meal for you and yours.
Happy Thanksgiving from Fresno County Public Library!

Looking for last-minute Thanksgiving recipes? Fresno County Public Library has cookbooks, including many for kids, but if you can't make it in to see us before we close for the holiday (5:00 p.m., 11/23-11/25) you can find some great, kid-friendly recipes here.


Fernau, K. (Nov. 2016). Engaging kids in Thanksgiving by letting them help, cook, plan (plus recipes!). Raising Arizona Kids.

Sullivan, A. (n.d.). 16 ways kids can help with Thanksgiving dinner: Share the fun this holiday with these Thanksgiving activities for kids.

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