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Last year, we went to have Thanksgiving dinner with relatives who were not in the toddler stage.
They did a lovely Thanksgiving experience for adults, but a terrible one for toddlers.
It was by far the longest and most stressful day of my life. I remember getting in the car at the end of the night, vowing to never do that again!
Here a few tips for surviving your Thanksgiving dinner with a toddler (or toddlers) and actually getting invited back next year.
It’s all about the nap
The first problem we ran into was dinner wasn’t until 6 pm but everyone was expected to spend the day watching football and hanging out until dinner.
Again, sounds wonderful as an adult.
But for an active toddler, football is boring.
Snacks, do not replace what should be breakfast and lunch. And sitting down at 6 pm at night for dinner, one hour before bed, made for a terrible bedtime experience!
Lesson One: Plan Thanksgiving meal to be around nap time. Since, toddlers universally sleep between 12-3. Making your meal begin at 3:30 is a perfect time.
Lesson Two: Kids do not ‘stuff themselves’ for one meal. They don’t understand the concept of a “coming” larger meal.
Instead, feed like normal and allow them to eat as much as they want at breakfast and lunch. Expect them to eat their Thanksgiving meal in small sections between 3:30-5:30. That is okay!
Hello, kid table!
The second problem we ran into was once we got to the table.
The table was beautifully set with twenty different hot, food laden plates sitting in the middle for everyone to pass and serve themselves. Oh Dear!
All this means, is little hands are trying to grab every spoon, every piece of food, and lots of screaming from touching hot plates or not being allowed to touch them.
Lesson Three: Create a buffet in a separate room where the adults serve themselves and create kid friendly plates.
Do not put rolls, butter, hot or cold food on the table that you don’t want an energetic child to dive across the table for!
Make the toast quick
The third problem we had was the long, before dinner toasts.
I get that this is one of the few times a year everyone comes together and it is the senior males role to pontificate about all that they are thankful for.
But please understand, little kids, do not understand why they are standing around a table listening to people talk about what they are thankful for, their favorite memories or the world’s longest prayer.
The kids are excited. Once you get a toddler to a table, you better be ready to eat!
Lesson Four: Have a quick thanks, create plate for toddler, and allow them to begin. A quick note: allow mom to get her plate next. Because kids eat small amounts and eat quickly, they are done well before everyone else. If mom gets her plate last, which is often how it works out, she will be just sitting down when the toddler announces “all done”.
You’re on the toddler’s eating schedule
Problem number four, the toddler is done eating and meal is still going on. In my experience I took, two bites of food before my toddler was off and running to go play.
Just because I am a mom, and I love my babies, does not mean that I like sitting in the family room playing with trucks, while everyone else sits around the table, eating and laughing and sharing stories.
Lesson Five: Have toys in the dining room that were saved for dinner. This doesn’t mean they have to be brand new, but maybe the special toy bag that the kid only sees when eating out or at church.
Or if grandparents are coming, this is when they give their grandchild that special little gift.
Problem number five: Dessert. Oh boy, a large lovely assortment of desserts. My favorite part of Thanksgiving.
For toddlers though, this means, skip dinner and go straight to dessert. It means one of everything. It means way too much sugar!
Lesson Six: Once dinner is done, and the dishes removed, and the toddler is allowed to play again, call everyone back for dessert. Keep it simple with one or two options and one child friendly.
Related: The Best Stay at Home Mom Schedule
You will survive Thanksgiving dinner
Being this was my first thanksgiving with an active toddler, I learned a lot on what not to do!
The following weekend, we had a family Thanksgiving, and I made sure to correct all mistakes.
And let me tell you, it was lovely!