The alarm on your phone dings. Noon. Time to baste the turkey again.
Warm steam floods your senses as you open the oven door.
You’ve been in and out of the kitchen all morning checking, preparing, and double-checking every task on your Thanksgiving prep to-do list.
- The pies were made last night and are waiting on the counter.
- The turkey is happily roasting in the oven.
- The stuffing will take thirty minutes to throw together while grandpa carves the turkey.
- The cranberry sauce and gravy needs warmed.
- The three-year-old is…
Where’s the three-year-old?
Little Turkeys Don’t Have to Roam Free
Now, I know free-range poultry is a good thing, but when it comes to your Thanksgiving Day plans, you don’t have to settle for just letting your kids roam free all day.
After all, kids left to their own devices for too long sometimes do things like unroll entire rolls of toilet paper in the bathroom or decorate furniture, or napping relatives, with jungle animal stickers (neither of which has ever happened to me, obviously).
Plus, holidays are for being together and making memories, aren’t they? It’s just a matter of figuring out how best to make those childhood memories when fingers are tiny and attention spans short.
Well, good news! You can check off all the boxes on your Thanksgiving Day to do list while also engaging with your kids. Sure, it may take some advanced planning and patience, but you’re probably already doing that, right? Here are 12 simple ways to get your Thanksgiving prep started:
Involve Your Little Turkeys
Before Thanksgiving Day
You don’t have to wait until Thanksgiving Day to engage your kids! So much of the work can be done in advance, so let your little ones in on that fun too!
Thanksgiving Prep Tip #1: Send Invitations
Invitations certainly aren’t a requirement, but who wouldn’t be thrilled to receive a snail mail invitation to Thanksgiving Day especially if it comes hand-stamped with some toddler or preschool love.
Thanksgiving Prep Tip #2: Meal Plan
Everybody can agree on the non-negotiables like Turkey and cranberry sauce, but maybe your two-year-old’s suggestion to eat applesauce bread will turn into a new family favorite each year to come.
By the way, if you are looking for a few kid-friendly meal options to work into the menu, check out our free recipe booklet: 5 Simple and Tasty Thanksgiving Recipes the Whole Family Will Love!
Thanksgiving Prep Tip #3: Clean
You already know how to clean the bathroom in 9 minutes while your toddler takes a bath, but don’t forget that you can also multitask by handing your kids a dustbuster or asking them to pick up all the toys in the living room, so they can then help you vacuum.
Just don’t forget to throw some fun tunes on the speaker while you work and get hips swaying and toes tapping!
Thanksgiving Prep Tip #4: Decorate
Bonus points if you also help them paint pumpkins or make their own fall-themed snow globe.
Thanksgiving Prep Tip #5: Prep Ahead
So much of your Thanksgiving prep can be done ahead of time, removing a lot of the stress that cooking with kids can bring to the kitchen. It’s amazing how much more relaxed you’ll be with your kids in the kitchen when you know your in-laws aren’t walking through the door in 45 minutes.
- A kitchen helper like this will help your child safely stand at the counter with you.
- These kid-safe knives (recommended ages 5 and older) will make it possible for your child to help you cut the strawberries for your fruit plate.
- Your kids can take turns rolling out the pumpkin pie crust with a rolling pin just their size!
If nothing else, they may be just as happy to stand with you and watch (especially if they get to nibble on a few scraps here and there).
Involve Your Little Turkeys
During Thanksgiving Day
Whether you’re filling your own house with family and friends or moving into someone else’s space, you can engage your kids during this busy day even if you’re not always actively entertaining them. Here are a few ideas.
Thanksgiving Prep Tip #6: Set the Table
Now, of course you don’t want to hand your toddler great-grandma’s fine china to carry into the dining room, but he can certainly be your assistant as you set the table for dinner.
- Let your toddler place a napkin on top of every plate.
- Have your preschooler set the kids table with paper plates and silverware.
- Give your kindergartener a list of names and have her create these fun Thanksgiving-themed place cards.
Thanksgiving Prep Tip #7: Take Orders
My official job every Thanksgiving was to take drink orders before dinner. All you need to do is take a blank notepad like this one, create a simple chart with names and drink options and then send your preschooler around to everybody with a pencil.
What other chance will she have to wear that waitress costume from Halloween, anyway?
Thanksgiving Prep Tip #8: Thanksgiving Crafts
The beauty of a Thanksgiving craft is that you can set your kids up at the kitchen table while you are working on preparing something else. You can check things off your to-do list while also supervising close by in case they need help! Here are some fun craft options your kids are bound to enjoy:
- While your kids make this turkey, you can also talk about things you are all thankful for.
- This fun set has four different Thanksgiving crafts to choose from (my favorite of which is a picture frame!).
- A pumpkin wreath can hang on your front door even past Thanksgiving!
- These leaf hangers are scratch art; your kids can etch designs into them with the wooden stick provided and then hang them on all your door handles in the house.
- These activity placemats would be a fun addition to the kids’ table decor.
Thanksgiving Prep Tip #9: Thanksgiving Activities
Eventually all your to-dos are going to be checked and grandpa is going to be napping after all that turkey. As the day slows down a bit, these Thanksgiving activities are the perfect way to really spend some quality time with those little turkeys.
- Your bigs and your littles will enjoy a rousing game of Thanksgiving bingo.
- Spin your kids around and see if they can put the hat on the turkey!
- Assemble a Thanksgiving scene, Lego style.
- Set up a festive photo booth complete with props and let your kids take turns dressing up and taking pictures.
- Snuggle up and read some Thanksgiving books together. Turkey on the Table comes with a book and a heartwarming activity, but you could also share the day with Pete the Cat, Llama Llama, or the Berenstain Bears.
Involve Your Little Turkeys
After Thanksgiving Day
Thanksgiving may be over, but the memory making and quality time doesn’t have to be. Your little ones can help you come back to normal in the days following Turkey Day.
Thanksgiving Prep Tip #10: Clean
Yes, this is in two places, but why can’t they help clean up both before AND after the holiday? This clean-up work will look a little differently anyway, and I know from experiences that little hands are great at:
- Putting away clean silverware
- Folding towels and napkins
- Wiping down surfaces
Are your small kids unaccustomed to pitching in around the house! Fix that STAT! The earlier they get used to helping out around the house, the easier your life will be! Learn how to get your kids more involved around the house.
Thanksgiving Prep Tip #11: Write Thank You Notes
Whether people took time to enter your home or somebody else welcomed you elsewhere, there is always someone to thank.
Thanksgiving Prep Tip #12: Relax
The most important day-after activity!
Don’t forget to stop moving for awhile so you can just enjoy being together.
- Throw in a favorite holiday movie (It is the Christmas season, now!) and cozy up under a soft blanket together.
- Enjoy some warm hot chocolate.
- Bust out a new coloring book (one for you and one for her!) for some therapeutic coloring.
Little Turkeys: Tamed
When the steam fills your face as you baste the turkey at noon, you can know exactly where your three-year-old is.
He’s just across the room, happily putting together a Thanksgiving wreath with Grandma while his big sister works on the name cards.
Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be a free-for-all when it comes to kids. With a little pre-planning, you can involve your kids, engage with your kids, and also check all those boxes off your Thanksgiving prep to-do list.
Have You Read These Yet?
- The Hunger Games: How to Safely Feed Your Baby Right Off the Thanksgiving Table
- 7 Simple Mistakes That Will Ruin Your Baby’s First Thanksgiving
- How to Keep Your Little Pilgrim Happy at Grandma’s This Thanksgiving
- 5 Practical Ways to Cultivate Gratitude in Your Kids (Free Printable!)
- Dear Homemaker: Use These 70 Life-Hacks to Steal More Time
Molly is the mom of three kids under the age of four and the wife of a busy (and extremely handsome) resident doctor. Mostly though, she’s a particularly average person just trying to live each day well. She spends most of her days perfecting the messy bun, drinking all the coffee, and observing every piece of beauty she can find in the mundane. Read more about Molly in her full bio here.