How to Cook a Turkey AND Keep Kids Busy

How to Cook a Turkey AND Keep Kids Busy

By Michelle Mady

Thanksgiving is a time for family fun, but there are some members of a family that can make preparing the day’s big meal a bit more challenging. Those little hands love to help, but for something like this big meal? It can be really hard to manage them as well as all the other pieces of the holiday. 

Luckily, there’s a few sure-fire ways to keep your children entertained while you (and your partner) cook and prep the house.

Make a Boredom Bag

I send one of these home with my students before Thanksgiving break yearly. In a simple paper bag, I put some play dough, a play dough mat, a few coloring pages and new crayons, and a few other easy to clean craft items. Older children will love a new drawing activity like this Monsters Draw and Design Set by Petit Collage. Younger ones would appreciate a new puzzle, like this adorable food-related Citrus Fractions puzzle, to feel as though they’re part of the cooking process! Consider grabbing something exciting, like a new toy car or stuffed animal.  

Enlist Their Help

Maybe you can fill a pot with water and a few brushes. Put it all on a towel in the kitchen (or close enough to you as you prep) and let the children wash the veggies. They can break the celery off of the stalks. They can break the green beans in half or maybe mash potatoes. Finding ways for them to help with these simple tasks not only takes something off your plate, it also helps them to feel included in the process and will be able to help a little more each year.

Let Them Decorate

Allowing children to decorate can be really interesting. You might have a centerpiece of building blocks and stuffed animals on the arm of every chair. However, with a little guidance and structure, a child decorated dining area will elicit good feelings from all of your guests. Grab a white table cloth and let the children decorate it all over! Have them collect some pieces of nature outside to put in a vase or basket as a centerpiece. Place cards can be a great way to practice writing, and children can assign the grown ups seats, too!

Set a Timer

If there’s an opportunity for you to take turns with your partner, make those happen. Maybe one of you preps a dish while the other plays with the children. If that isn’t an option, set a timer. For every half hour of food or house prep, schedule in 10 minutes of child led play. Giving them this predictable, meaningful time to look forward to can minimize their “MOMS” while you work. It might seem uneven, but just those 10 minutes of undivided attention can help you get another 30 minutes of (less) interrupted prep time.

Check Expectations

Remember the essence of the holiday: it’s time together with family. No one will remember that the table wasn’t set just right or the mashed potatoes were not quite as creamy as the year prior. They will remember the giggles from the children, the stories from the teenagers and the time together with each other. So keep your expectations realistic and keep the spirit of the holiday as a motivation to do only what needs to be done, and let the rest go!


About the author: Michelle is a mom of 5 children ranging in age from 5 to 15.  As a toddler and preschool teacher, she shares experiences, activities and guidance to other parents, as both a parent and as a professional early childhood educator, at any stage of their parenting journey.



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