Setting the Holiday Table with Toddlers in Tow

How to survive preparing the holiday feast with little kids — including decor, setting the table, and preparing the food while having a toddler attached to your leg. It can be easier than you imagined! Then congratulate yourself on a job well done.

I am about to let you in on a big secret: Martha Stewart is not my middle name, and Pinterest is not my friend. When I was first married, I envisioned the perfect holiday table with linens, china, sparkling candles, and all the family exclaiming over my beautifully set table and food. Then, the kids came along and reality set in. FYI, toddlers and candles do not mix. So I have now created a much easier plan to keep the little ones and the grown-ups (including me) happy and entertained for the holiday dinner.

Thanksgiving dinner with family

Step 1. If it can’t go in the dishwasher, don’t use it.

I found these white plates with gold trim at Walmart a few years back. They were around $50 for eight complete place settings, and they are dishwasher safe. Bed, Bath & Beyond carries these lovely white serving dishes that are microwaveable, oven-safe, and dishwasher-safe. White makes the perfect backdrop for any food. Also, the dollar store has gold chargers that you can use for everything (see Step 2).

white with gold trim

available at bed, bath, and beyond

Step 2. The dollar store is your best friend.

Not only do dollar stores sell gold chargers to go under your white and gold plates, they have everything else you need, too! To keep my kids entertained while prepping, I let them make the napkin rings — using materials from the dollar store. Your kids can draw, color, and cut out a fun holiday-themed paper shape. To transform it into a napkin ring, all you need to do is tape their creation to a shower curtain ring ($1.00 for 12), and that’s one holiday decorating to-do item checked off your list.

The dollar store is also great for centerpieces, as they carry lots of things like mini-pumpkins, pine cones, and flameless LED candles. For example, I put three LED candles of various heights on a gold charger and surround it with pine cones. If I’m feeling really ambitious, I might even sprinkle on some gold glitter!

turkeys and trees by my little cuties

Step 3. Make it simple

  • When in doubt, add butter. Butter makes everything better.
  • Use bag liners. Put your turkey in a basting bag. Use crock pot liners. I even line my baking pans with foil. It makes the clean up so much easier.

Step 4. The bird: The single most important item on the table.

Many a meal has been ruined because the turkey was thawed improperly — or gasp! — raw. If you’re cooking a turkey, here are a few things to remember:

  • Frozen turkeys take a long time to thaw. If yours is frozen, it will need 24 hours for every 4–5 pounds to thaw. So a 10-pound turkey needs two days in the refrigerator to thaw out.
  • Cooking time for a 10–12-pound bird is 4–4.5 hours. Make sure it’s done.
  • Your bird will still cook internally after you remove it from the oven. If you cut it immediately, all the juices run out and it won’t be as moist. Let it stand for 15 minutes before carving.

Step 5. Take time to laugh.

Laugh at yourself, with yourself, and with your kids. Holiday stress can take its toll on all of us. When you’re hosting Thanksgiving at your Grand Rapids home, just remember, nobody’s perfect and no one will remember if the napkin wasn’t centered precisely on the plate. But they will remember if you serve them raw turkey. So do your best, go easy on yourself, and congratulate yourself on being a great mom!


Kindell is married to her wonderful husband Troy and is a mom to two beautiful little girls. They love spending time together with their two very fat, lazy cats.

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