Thanksgiving Dinner with Kids: 6 Survival Tips for Parents

What parent of toddlers and preschoolers doesn’t dread Thanksgiving dinner, envisioning the dietary battle ahead?

Let the kids help in the kitchen! Seeding cucumbers is a job kids 6 and up can handle.
Let the kids help in the kitchen! Seeding cucumbers is a job kids 6 and up can handle.

As a veteran parent with 24 Thanksgivings-with-kids on my résumé, I’ve got some tips to share with first-timers (or first-time hosts to people with little ones). I hope these help everyone to enjoy their Thanksgiving dinner a little more.

  • Don’t expect perfection. Getting through the day without major meltdowns is enough to ask on a holiday, especially if the kids are traveling too.
  • Provide familiar food. While I’ve always drawn the line at chicken nuggets on Thanksgiving, I make sure that there are some foods that each child likes.
  • Provide kid-friendly appetizers. Pretzels, baby carrots, cubes of mild-flavored cheese are healthy appetizers that most kids love. (And if you see a child filling up on veggies before the meal, don’t worry about their appetite later.) My sister always serves pigs in a blanket, which her kids call “dogs on the run,” bringing a tray out to the yard where there’s a cousin-vs-cousin football game going on.
  • Let kids be kids. If they’re not up for trying the truffle stuffing, let them stick with a buttered roll, slice of turkey and a few broccoli florets.
  • Let kids be helpers. Even a two-year-old can place a napkin on top of each plate at the table. Preschoolers can fill the bread basket, toss the salad and scrub potatoes.
  • Let kids be comfortable. Dress clothes can look nice without being stiff, scratchy or fussy. Find a festive outfit your child likes to wear–and one he or she can play outside in. Or bring play clothes along for after the photo op with Grandma.

See the rest of my series on feeding picky eaters at Thanksgiving here and here.

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