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5 Ways to Host Thanksgiving Dinner With Little Kids

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My husband and I both live far away from our families, so every year at Thanksgiving time we check flights and see if we can swing a trip across the country. Because the cost of getting our family of four across the country is staggering, we usually decide to stay home and save our pennies for the longer Christmas break.

Then, I mope around for a few days, swathed in self-pity and sadness that we won’t be with our families for the holidays. When that gets old, I look at my husband and say three magic words: “Let’s host Thanksgiving!”

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He’s always game because he loves to cook and entertain. I do too. But this routine has gotten more challenging now that we have two kids. And by “more challenging,” I mean that we’ve had to spend as much time planning how to manage the kids as we do coordinating the stuffing and potatoes.

After three years, we’ve perfected the recipe for preparing a great meal and taking care of our children. Like our famous pumpkin pie, this recipe has been honed through a tremendous amount of trial and error.

So if you’re going to be far from your family this Thanksgiving, jump into the hosting game, but don’t forget to make a plan for taking care of your kids because it will make a long day feel like an eternity if you don’t.

1. Art Project During Key Cooking Time

While I am cooking, I generally want my kids out of the way. It’s dangerous to have them near the hot stove and boiling pots. Oh, and sometimes I curse when I cook. Pick a time when you know you want them out of the way and give them an art project. I let my kids make the place mats for the meal. A day before we collect fall leaves and on Thanksgiving morning, I give them a bottle of glue and construction paper. When they are absorbed in their project, I get a few moments of peace to baste my turkey and drop some “F” bombs.

2. Setting the Table

Toddlers and preschoolers like to organize and arrange stuff, so I let my kids organize the table. Pile everything you want on the table and let them set the table. Be sure to give yourself a few moments at the end to give it some finishing touches (read: fix it) and voila!

3. Let Them Cook

If you’ve been a parent for more than 30 minutes, you already know you have to let go of control.

If you’ve been a parent for more than 30 minutes, you already know you have to let go of control. Thanksgiving is no different. I pick one dish that I am willing to cede to my children and let them prepare it. My 5-year-old likes to cut the ends off the green beans (with a dull knife) and my 3-year-old likes to get his hands on the potato masher. It take a little longer, but it’s worth it to let them take part in the meal preparation.

4. Ask for Help Giving the Kids Attention

As parents, we all know we can’t do it all. I have to work the day before and the day after Thanksgiving, so I’m not going to be able to do a bunch of preparation ahead of time. While I’m busy in the kitchen, I don’t want my kids to feel ignored for hours. I’m asking a friend to come over and play with the kids. Luckily, I have friends who hate to cook and love my kids, so they are happy to come and do Legos or draw pictures while we get the food ready.

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5. Let Them Eat

Maybe it’s just my kids, but they love to be in charge. Nothing gives them more pleasure than the feeling that they are the bosses of themselves. For the Thanksgiving meal, I’m going to let them be in charge of what they eat. No griping about how few green beans they eat. No badgering them about their protein-to-starch ratio. I’m giving myself and them a night off from the power struggle that so often seeps into our meal times.

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