6 easy ways to involve kids in Thanksgiving

Minimalist HolidaysThis post is part of Minimalist Holidaysa series inspired by the idea that you can enjoy the holidays more when you do less.

Thanksgiving is famous for the meal. But when I was a kid, Thanksgiving was famous for the wait before the meal. It seemed like the grownups fussed over the food and table setting forever before the Big Turkey Reveal.

Sure, you could distract your kids with a few Thanksgiving printables and a box of crayons, but there’s a bigger opportunity here. This year, involve your kids in the actual work of Thanksgiving.

When you give kids real, meaningful jobs to do, they become more invested in the celebration — and the joy — of Thanksgiving. I believe this is true for any special occasion, and, indeed, at home day-to-day.

Not only will you educate your kids about real-world stuff (how to set a table, how to make Dad’s famous sweet potatoes), you’ll help them build confidence in their own growing abilities. My daughter feels pretty proud when she sets a beautiful table, knowing she’s earned the family’s admiration and gratitude.

I’m not saying kids necessarily like doing the work. Few kids do, and that’s okay. The payoff is the shared goal, the working together, and (yes) having more hands on the big job of pulling off the Thanksgiving meal. Chances are the cooking, setup and cleanup happen over several days, so they’ll have plenty of open time to play with their cousins, watch movies, and sneak spoonfuls of Cool Whip.

In the meantime, give them a job. When dinner is finally served, everyone will feel the pride of having pitched in.

Here are some ideas for kid-sized Thanksgiving jobs. Choose a good fit age- and interest-wise:

Planning the Thanksgiving meal

Learning to break down a large project into doable chunks is a skill that will serve kids well (think: Science fair, term paper and, oh, life). Sit down with your kid and plan out the menu. Then take it a few steps further:

  • Schedule the grocery shopping trips
  • Talk about which stores you’ll visit for which items
  • Think about the serving pieces you’ll need on hand (or gather up some creative substitutions)
  • Talk about who’s invited to dinner
  • Borrow folding chairs or card tables if you need extra seating

Shopping for supplies

You’ll probably go on more than one shopping run for Thanksgiving supplies — bring your kid along. He’ll learn about comparison shopping, ingredients, and he’ll start getting excited about the festivities.


Oh, the cooking. There are a million small and big ways kids can help. Thanksgiving is a great holiday for kids’ cooking as so many traditional recipes are simple. Cranberry sauce, for example, or mashed potatoes or pumpkin pie (especially if you use a ready-made crust).

On the Parent Hacks Facebook page, both Brystal and Daria tell me that they volunteer to make the pies every year…specifically because the kids can practically make them by themselves.

Decorating and setting the table

Decorating doesn’t feel like a job, especially for kids. If you’ve got crafty or aesthetically-interested kids, put them to work making the table look pretty. Decoration can be as simple as construction paper placemats in Fall colors, colorful leaves/twigs/berries from the yard, and a few tea light candles.

Let the kids do the actual table setting, too. If the job is too big, just have them fold the napkins or set out the silverware…anything to get them involved.

Some more ideas:

  • If you watch one thing about setting the Thanksgiving table, let it be Gabrielle Blair’s lovely video at Celebrations with Design Mom. I especially love her shoelace leaf garland idea.
  • Make and Takes has a TON of simple Thanksgiving ideas including these lovely woven paper placemats.
  • There’s always the classic Pinecone Turkey, which never seems to go out of style. (Thanks, Tracy!)

Hosting guests

Being a gracious host (even to your extended family) is a skill kids need to learn. Give them an informal script to follow if necessary.

  • Show your kids how to answer the door and welcome people to their home. 
  • Teach them to warmly greet family members they may not have seen in a long time, or to reaquaint themselves with family friends and their kids. 
  • Have them take and store guests’ coats and umbrellas. 
  • Let them announce the meal and lead guests to the table.

Cleaning up

What goes down (the hatch) must be cleaned up. I’m not suggesting hard labor in the kitchen, but I do think kids need to be responsible for clearing their dishes and helping with the cleanup. (Motivation spin: the sooner the table is clean, the quicker the dessert comes out.)

Older kids, especially, can be expected to take a shift in the kitchen, especially when it’s framed as respectfully giving older family members a break.

* * * *

What do you think? Is involving kids in Thanksgiving preparation a good idea…or should we just let them play?

Which kid-friendly jobs do you delegate during Thanksgiving?

* * * *

Minimalist Holidays

Between now and the end of the year, Christine Koh and I will share ideas for simplifying the holidays so you can focus on what’s important: enjoying the season with your family.

Visit the Minimalist Holidays page for links to the entire series.


  1. says

    I love this idea and want to do it. Like a huge slacker, I ordered most (ok, all) of our food from Whole Foods and it will be made for us. I better bring a kid with me to pick it up, plate it, and serve. And we’ll still have clean up jobs. Thanks for the kick in the butt.