The best Thanksgiving kids’ table can make the whole family feel extra grateful this year.
A kids-only eating and activity space means more fun for the little guests and less stress for the grown-ups, making it almost a necessity at any Thanksgiving feast.
“Sometimes people get so overwhelmed with the dinner and everything else going on, (but) it doesn’t really take that much effort just to make the kids happy,” said Cindy Hopper, the crafting and entertaining blogger behind Skip to my Lou ( www.skiptomylou.org).
“It’s just as simple as covering the table with some brown paper or white butcher paper and setting out crayons. That keeps them busy,” she said. “I just think it can be really simple and even just (devoting) a little bit of time will probably make the dinner run more smoothly for everyone if the kids are kept busy.”
Paula Biggs, party-planning expert and founder of Frog Prince Paperie ( frogprincepaperie.com), also recommended building a tablecloth out of paper and letting the young ones color on it after dinner. She said she has encouraged more hands-on creative activities at past Thanksgivings as well.
“I even had the kids make the centerpiece for their table,” Biggs said. “All the kids made little paper trees of thanks with the help of an adult. They sat down and thought about what they were thankful (for) and we wrote them on leaves and hung them on the tree for the kids’ table.”
Other dinnertime diversions include games and more opportunities for children to show their artistic sides.
“I love the idea of providing an activity sheet including tic tac toe, a Thanksgiving word scramble or a turkey coloring page,” said Kelly Lyden, creator of The Party Dress blog and magazine ( www.thepartydress.net), in an e-mail interview.
At many Thanksgiving gatherings, some of the guests sitting at the kids’ table are old enough to drive or are even well on their way to earning their bachelor’s degrees. But Hopper says it is possible to make the kids’ table inclusive for all ages.
“In the past, I’ve divided it up. I’ve tried to keep similar age groups together. Or I’ve kind of used the older kids to my advantage as those kids that maybe could direct a few games and direct a few crafts,” she said. “Usually they’re cousins or family members so they can learn to appreciate each other or get to know each other better by having some of those activities where they have to work together.”
Lyden suggested getting all guests to participate in an amusing activity.
“Involve everyone in a round (or 10) of the ‘I’m Thankful’ game. Ask guests to go around the table and say what they are thankful for,” she said. “Answers will vary from the serious to the ‘chocolate’ or ‘jelly beans’ answers.”
While the menu at Thanksgiving usually consists of the traditional dishes, hosts can serve them in unique ways that will appeal to youngsters.
“When it comes to food ideas, I like to make individual servings of some of the classics,” Lyden said. “Bake your stuffing into muffin cups; pipe your mashed potatoes into bowl-like structures, and then fill them with gravy; mini turkey sliders on croissants are a fun way to mix turkey, cranberry relish and stuffing.”
The after-dinner treats can be a source of enjoyment for children as well.
“Create a make-your-own mini pie bar for dessert so the kids can get involved,” Lyden said. “Pre-bake pie or tart shells and offer a selection of pie fillings, such as apple, pumpkin or a chocolate French silk that they can choose from to fill.”
Food also can become part of the kids’ table decorations.
“It might be fun to set bowls or jars with scoops of small snacks — raisins, mini crackers, cereal, M&Ms — in the middle of the table for an edible centerpiece,” Hopper said in a follow-up e-mail. “Let children fill small waffle cones to make their own cornucopias.”
For additional decorating ideas, Lyden recommended finding inspiration in more mature aspects.
“I believe that kids appreciate a special table setting, just like adults do,” she said. “Take elements you would use on your adult table setting and include them on the kids’ table: a darling place card with their name on it; a lower, simple floral centerpiece on top of the Kraft paper table runner; cloth napkins are an unexpected element for most kids.”
If hosts are feeling swamped, Hopper suggested sticking to classic autumnal decorations.
“Just a few pumpkins and some nuts and fall leaves make a beautiful table,” she said. “You can even have some pumpkins there and have some markers and let the kids decorate some pumpkins.”
But as Biggs mentioned, hosts really can’t go wrong with how they choose to dress up the kids’ table.
“Decorating the table for them alone makes it cool for them and makes them not feel so bad about not sitting with everyone else,” she said.