In the whirlwind of prepping and cooking that goes into making Thanksgiving dinner, you can lose perspective on what the holiday is really all about: family, togetherness, and tradition. Getting back to the basics can be as easy as bringing everyone together for simple shared activities that get all ages involved with the heart of the celebration. Here are five ideas you might like to try this Thanksgiving.

1. Make a Super-Simple Dessert with Your Kids

mini pumpkin pie with whipped cream topping
Mini Pumpkin Cheesecakes | Photo by Caroline Campion
| Credit: Caroline

Baking projects with kids can get the little people involved with the day's events...and we promise it can actually be fun if you follow these three tips:

  • Look for make-ahead recipes. Not only will this free up oven space on the big day, but you'll have more time and patience to help them when you don't have a zillion other dishes to tend to.
  • Skip the elaborate crimping and pastry making projects and focus on easy desserts that still have wow-factor (using premade pie crusts are a great idea too if you want one less fussy step.)
  • Don't worry about "perfect." The point of baking Thanksgiving desserts with your children is making memories, not tears.

These Mini Pumpkin Cheesecakes are a clear winner: They can be made the day before and stashed in the fridge, they're adorable and small enough for young guests to eat, and they are fun to decorate. Another clever take on the traditional apple pie are these Apple Hand Pies that could be the ideal multi-generational baking project (old-school meets new-school).

If you want something super simple, making whipped cream for topping all those pies is a great task to hand to a kid who you trust with motorized beaters.

2. Make Homemade Place Cards

Thanksgiving Place Card
Thanksgiving Place Card | Photo by Caroline Campion

Put kids in charge of designing and personalizing the place cards for each guest. All you need are some decorative and alphabet-letter rubber stamps, fresh ink pads, scrap paper or even index cards, and small scissors and glue if you want to get a little crafty with it. Stamp each guest's name on a card (older relatives can help with name spellings) and then let them decorate with more stamps and drawings.

The place cards can also be kept from year to year—pulling them out of the drawer is always something to look forward to, as well as creating cards for new guests each year.

3. Gather DIY Centerpieces

Thanksgiving Centerpiece
Natural Materials for a Thanksgiving Centerpiece | Photo by Meredith

Here's a great Thanksgiving activity for kids who are less than inclined to help in the kitchen: Ask them to be in charge of foraging for decorative centerpiece items. This is ideal for kids perhaps too little for (or uninterested) in the baking projects, and is also a nice tactic for pulling adults away from the football game and getting them outdoors. Items like vibrant fallen leaves, chestnuts, crab apples, pinecones, and moss can be collected in a basket and then arranged down the center of the table.

If you're celebrating somewhere urban, have them forage in the fridge and cupboards for gourds, small pumpkins, sprigs of fragrant herbs like thyme and rosemary, and fruit. You can also cut out different color construction paper leaves to decorate a kids' table.

4. Make a Menu

Posting a copy of the Thanksgiving menu is a clever way to build anticipation and is always appreciated by guests who like to see a preview of the major meal ahead. Write everything down and then have kids copy with colored chalk onto a small blackboard (you can find these at most arts & crafts stores). If you don't have a blackboard, a piece of white paper and crayons will do the job—just encourage kids to decorate freely and then tape their menu on one of the kitchen cupboards for everyone to admire.

5. Make a Thanksgiving Wreath

Thanksgiving Thankful Wreath
Thanksgiving Thankful Wreath | Photo by Meredith

Using leaves cut out of construction paper, have everyone write out the things they're thankful for and attach them to a wreath that can be reused year after year. If you put the date on the backs of the leaves, you can gather them up at the end of the holiday and keep them as family remembrances to reread in the years to come.

Happy Thanksgiving!