A Thanksgiving Kids Will Be Thankful For

“Thanksgiving is a holiday, Christmas is a season.” That has been the mantra at my house this November, as my family mutinied against me and dragged out the Christmas decorations a whole month early. Truth be told, I really don’t mind (don’t tell them), but I’d still like to give Thanksgiving it’s time to shine! 

As a holiday without candy or gifts, focused on being thankful for what you already have, Thanksgiving can be a hard sell for kids (although the pie helps)! Often, it boils down to a stressful day in the kitchen with football on the tv and a losing battle with kids to eat more than half a dinner roll. So …

How can we foster an attitude of gratitude, and celebrate Thanksgiving with our families, in a way that we can all be thankful for? 

Capitalize On Real Moments 

You’ve planned the menu, the guest list, and even the centerpieces. You’ve laid out matching sweaters, and issued a strict “no blue jeans at the dinner table” rule. 

Ok, maybe you aren’t that intense, (or maybe you are, no judgment!), but chances are you have at least an idea of how you’d like things to go on Thanksgiving Day. It can be fun to plan the details, and it’s awesome when they work out the way we pictured, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen. 

Rather than relying on manufactured moments, take advantage of the ones happening naturally. Let your kids wear their favorite shirts, take candid pictures of them playing LEGOs on the living room floor with cousins, or of your brother yelling at his team on the TV. Snap a selfie of you and your husband setting the table together. 

You might want Thanksgiving to be special and feel the need to make it so, but these less than perfect everyday moments will happen all on their own and may be some of the most precious ones, looking back. Consider putting more of your energy into seeking out those real moments and enjoying them, rather than trying to force things to go in a direction they won’t naturally go. 

Don’t Break the Bank

Putting together a Thanksgiving spread can be expensive! Not only does it take a toll financially (turkeys ain’t cheap!), but there can be a mental and emotional price to pay, along with all the time and energy required. 

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Think about where you’ll get the most “bang for your buck” and put your effort and wallet there. If your guest list consists primarily of those under the age of eighteen, maybe you don’t need to worry about centerpieces. If you’re catering more to an older crowd, a separate kids table with coloring books to keep the little ones happy without disturbing the grown up ambience could be a worthwhile investment. 

Whatever you decide to invest in, don’t feel like you have to do it all!

Include Non-Traditional Favorites 

When I was growing up, I knew a family who ordered Chinese every year for Thanksgiving dinner. It was easy, ended up being less expensive, and even the little kids liked it. I can’t quite bring myself to let go of my corn casserole, but there are no rules for what you can and cannot have to eat on Thanksgiving. If turkey isn’t your thing, consider a ham, roast beef, or homemade pizza! 

Thinking about what your kids will realistically eat will ensure you have options available to keep them fed and happy, without taking time to prepare food that will ultimately be wasted, just for the sake of tradition. 

The spirit of the holiday focuses on gathering with loved ones to celebrate the things you have to be thankful for. Whether you choose to do that over cranberry sauce or chicken nuggets (or both?) is totally up to you! 

Put The Kids In Charge

Ok, so hear me out. I’m not saying to give your four-year-old a frozen turkey, some oven mitts, and say, “go at it.” I’m also not suggesting you rent a unicorn bounce house and eat leftover Halloween candy for dinner, just because your kids suggested it. 

I’m saying give all the members of your family a voice in the holiday planning and include them throughout the process. A shared investment can add value to the memory and even lift a little bit of weight off your shoulders along the way. 

Your kids just might surprise you by starting a tradition of building a jigsaw puzzle together while you all eat pie. Or perhaps the after-dinner movie you always rush to make at the theater isn’t something everyone actually wants to do, so you can skip it. 

Did everyone enjoy the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade more than expected? Maybe make sure you prioritize that next year, or even let the kids plan and act out their own! 


When kids are excited about plans, they are more likely to cooperate and enjoy them. So sit back and let the kids do the hard work… within reason. 

Protect Your Peace

Holidays can be filled with family obligations, and unfortunately, coordinating drama. When you are raising a family of your own, you have the unique responsibility to provide an ideal environment for not just yourself, but also your children to grow and thrive in. 

If Uncle Mark refuses to smoke outside, or Grandma always has a few too many glasses of wine and starts spouting hurtful or inflammatory statements, you have the right to respectfully not include them in your holiday plans. 

You are the one who decides who is and is not given the privilege of your company. 

Clearly and kindly communicate expectations with guests ahead of time, and gently but firmly enforce those expectations. If something makes you uncomfortable, you have the right to ask loved ones to adjust their behavior, or leave. If you are the guest at someone else’s home, you always have the option to bow out early. 

This doesn’t mean we can’t extend grace. Just be aware of what kind of behavior you are willing to tolerate, and what you are not. This is especially true with children involved. Any behavior that is potentially dangerous physically or emotionally/mentally should be avoided. 

Whatever your Thanksgiving ends up looking like, there will be moments worth savoring; and hopefully some dishes worth savoring too! Working with your circumstances, not against them, will ensure you can spend less time stressing, your family can spend less time complaining, and everyone can spend time finding plenty to be thankful for. 

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