Make the kids your Thanksgiving sous chefs

  • By Michele Kayal Associated Press
  • Monday, November 19, 2012 2:00pm
  • Life

On Thanksgiving Day how do you get the turkey into the oven and the kids out of your hair?

It’s not as hard as you think, say family dinner experts. A number of strategies — crafts tables, light snacks, and yes, even inviting the kids into the kitchen — will ensure that all is well when you finally sit down to give thanks.

Though it seems counterintuitive to bring the kids into the kitchen while you’re negotiating stuffing, squash and your mother-in-law’s running commentary, giving eager children a job lets them feel like they’re part of the action.

Hand little ones a potato masher or an eggbeater, older ones an immersion blender, basting brush or rolling pin.

“If you can give them a dish to be in charge of, maybe you have two kids, and you say, ‘Guys, can I leave the salad to you?’” said Katie Workman, blogger and author of “The Mom 100 Cookbook.”

“There’s always enormous value in giving kids that sense of ownership.”

If you just can’t bear to have them in the kitchen — or when they’ve exhausted all their skills — send them to something else they might find attractive. Before everyone arrives, set up a craft table full of crayons, markers (you might want to stay away from paints), jewelry making kits or anything that’s engrossing but not messy.

Game tables stocked with board games appropriate for the age of the attending kids can keep a group quiet. You also can send them outside to collect sticks and leaves for a centerpiece, or have them create crafts for the celebration.

“It’s a great opportunity to get kids decorating or setting the table,” says Aviva Goldfarb, founder of the family dinner planning service The Six O’Clock Scramble. “They can make fall oriented place cards, or even a giant table cloth. Get some big fabric and have kids decorate it with fabric markers. Or send them outside for acorns and leaves and pine cones to scatter around the table.”

Keeping hunger at bay also will be a critical part of avoiding meltdowns. No one wants the kids (or the adults) running into the kitchen a half-hour before dinner whining about hunger pangs.

To keep everyone sane, but not full, Workman suggests creating a beautiful basket of crudite — bell peppers, carrots, celery and cherry tomatoes with store-bought dip — that people can nibble on throughout the afternoon. Goldfarb packs a cooler of sandwiches and drinks for her crowd so they can help themselves.

But when it comes to cutting down on stress, the experts say cutting back on the work — and your expectations — may be the most important element.

“The key is streamlining,” said Kelsey Banfield, author of “The Naptime Chef.”

“A successful and enticing Thanksgiving meal does not have to include 20 dishes. I’ve never heard anyone say there wasn’t enough on the table.”

And Thanksgiving is one meal where even the pickiest child is likely to find something he or she likes, without any special effort on the part of the host. “Why wouldn’t a kid enjoy roast turkey and sweet potatoes and stuffing?” Goldfarb said.

That said, Workman suggests putting bells and whistles — streusel for the sweet potatoes, chives for the mashed potatoes — on the side so people can take what they like and leave what they don’t.

And finally, as with so much about parenting, embrace imperfection. Every dish does not have to be a culinary wonder, these experts say, and does not have to arrive piping hot. And every child does not have to be a perfect angel.

“The younger the kids are, the more you have to build in flexibility so you don’t get disappointed,” Banfield said. “You just have to be flexible and go with the flow. The more you can do that, the happier everyone is.”

More in Life

Co-owner Jason Parzyk carries two growlers to fill as he serves up beer at Lake Stevens Brewing Co. The first brewery in the city is celebrating one-year anniversary this weekend. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Beer of the Week: Lake Stevens Brewing Co.’s Sour Imperial

The beer has a depth and a complex flavor profile that goes beyond just another barrel-aged stout.

Legendary bluesman Curtis Salgado to play Arlington show

The Northwest blues-soul-funk-R&B living legend performs with Ben Hunter and Joe Seamons Nov. 18.

This year’s Snohomish Blues Invasion has an all-star lineup

Proceeds send the CD Woodbury Trio and the Benton-Townsend Duo to the International Blues Challenge.

Schack holiday show features Northwest watercolor artists

The free exhibit also will have three-dimensional works, such as jewelry, glass, ceramic and wood.

‘Three Billboards’ rooted in Frances McDormand’s rigid role

The actress of “Fargo” fame gives an Oscar-worthy performance in this black comedy on human nature.

‘The Hate U Give’ shows the burden of being black in America

Angie Thomas’ story of a teen girl covers the challenging experience of African Americans.

A merry Christmas concert with Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith

The Christian music stars will perform at Xfinity Arena with Jordan Smith of “The Voice” on Nov. 18.

‘Veep’ production postponed during Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ treatment

The 56-year-old star has been documenting her breast cancer fight on social media.

The Rucker Hill house is featured in the Twin Peaks series in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Living happily ever after in the ‘Twin Peaks’ house

Everett homeowners snagged a role in the recent reboot of the 1990s cult classic show.

Most Read