AHHH, the American family Thanksgiving feast. Mom has been slaving in the kitchen all night long, while the rest of the family waits with anticipation for the fruits of her labors. This time honored Thanksgiving tradition reflects the family roles of the holiday’s origins as much as the turkey and pumpkin pie itself. But wait, holding call on that pumpkin pie, the modern version of this traditional family holiday feast can separate the family into their appropriate zones: the men positioned by the big screen, Mom by the stove and the children chaotically running interference between the two. Everybody stop! There is a flag on that play!
This is not what our revered day of thanks was supposed to be. Thanksgiving is a time for the family to come together and give thanks. Preparing a family Thanksgiving feast together is an excellent way to do this. I know, the holiday kitchen can be a chaotic, sometimes cramped place. The last thing that the women in the family want is one more set of hands, particularly tiny ones. But this is just what is needed to rescue this holiday feast and bring it out of the penalty zone.
Everyone has heard horror stories about women who grew up banned from the Thanksgiving feast kitchen with no clue about how to cook a turkey. They are embarrassed and their family is frustrated as they pick up the phone in a smoke filled kitchen to see if any pizza deliveries are open. Children learn by watching, doing, and participating in the family feast. Adults can take the time to show them what to do, and if they don’t do it perfectly, everyone can be proud of their efforts anyway. This not only teaches them cooking skills that will be valuable for the rest of their life, it can go miles in building their confidence. When they are a part of the special feast, they can feel proud as everyone praises them and makes over what they did, even if it was to set the table, or dump a can of beans into the pot. Praise is the most important part of the recipe.
Everyone cooks differently and the Thanksgiving feast is one place where time-honored family traditions come to the forefront. Whether it is Aunt Agnes’ sweet potato pie, or something new, these recipes reflect who the family is and what makes them unique. That is another reason why it is important to allow children to participate in the preparation of the family meal. There is something that everyone can do from the oldest member of the family to the youngest.
Older children and teens can chop, mix and bake. If they don’t know how, now is an excellent time to learn. Younger members of the family can always do things like spread the filling in the pie, pinch the edges, drop cookies onto a sheet, grease the baking pans, or arrange the food for presentation on the plate. They can butter bread, pour drinks, unwrap tea bags, or why not teach them to fold napkins? Children love it when they get to sample and give their opinion on what it needs, or if it is good. It makes them feel valued. They will be proud of themselves when they see their part in the family feast. They will feel like they were a part of it, not too little to participate, an outcast relegated to the bench, waiting for their chance to make a play.
The key is to be creative when preparing a family feast. When you are getting ready to do something, stop and think, could someone else do this? You will be surprised how much more smoothly the meal goes with a little help. Don’t worry Mom, you are still first string. You get to be the Quarterback and coach this time. Kids have energy, let them be the running back. This also means that it is not all on you. It means that you really do have an extra set of arms and hands, even if just for a day. Having the children participate in preparation of the family Thanksgiving feast has too many advantages to count.
Afraid of the mess? This can also be a great time to teach the children to clean up spills as soon as they happen. The Thanksgiving feast has hundreds of teachable moments, as does any mealtime for that matter. By allowing and encouraging children to participate in the Thanksgiving feast, you are building valuable life skills. Some of my fondest memories are of times in the holiday feast kitchen with Mom, my Grandmothers, and Cousins. Sure, it was hectic and chaotic, but there was also laughter and good times. Don’t miss this opportunity to build the memories that will last a lifetime. Making the Thanksgiving feast a family affair will be sure to make a big score with everyone.