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Thanksgiving meal for kids ages 3 to 6?

Seeking Thanksgiving meal ideas to be enjoyed by young children. Something different from the adults meal but still turkey-focused, and that they will actually like eating. Would be nice to include all the trimmings, and sides as well. Not looking for soup ideas, or foreign preparations. Good old traditional but for kids. TIA.

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  1. I can't think of a meal that's more likely to be liked by small children than the oh-so-typical Thanksgiving one. Turkey, dressing, gravy, etc. What's wrong with this please?

    7 Replies
    1. re: c oliver

      Agree with C Oliver.

      But if something different is strongly desired, then maybe small turkey pot pies, using phyllo as shells, in smaller ramekins ?


      1. re: LotusRapper

        That's about the cutest thing ever!

        1. re: c oliver

          And easier than having to make pie pastry, unless there's already some made for use for homemade pumpkin/sweet potato pies :-)

          1. re: c oliver

            That *is* adorable. I'd make it using leftovers. I saw another mini pot pie idea using canned biscuits as the top which is even easier it not quite as whimsical.

        2. re: c oliver

          The only concession I made for the preschool guests on Thanksgiving back in the day when family members were that age was to be sure to have plenty of rolls on hand for the pickier eaters among them.

          Other than that, just bear in mind that kids that age may not be that fond of strongly flavored root vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, squash, beets. So add some mashed white potatoes to the menu if they are not usually included.

          1. re: masha

            Yes, we had 8 kids between 3 - 6 at one point, and they all ate the regular meal, or lots of dinner rolls. There was one of the kids who only ate a slice of baked ham and a dinner roll for years, but as his mom pointed out, if it wasn't chicken nuggets or pizza, he wasn't a big fan. He grew out of that stage after a couple of years. We did not cater to that.

          2. re: c oliver

            I agree, I've been gobbling up traditional Thanksgiving foods since I could chew, probably before and enjoying them.

          3. Only in America is there such a thing as children's food. Children around the world enjoy virtually the same foods their parents eat. This perception that children must eat special food can damage their palates, and by extension, their health.

            4 Replies
            1. re: chiba

              The ironic thing is that, back in the day when I was a child eating off the "children's menu," my parents used to take us to "nice" restaurants where a turkey dinner with the trimmings was one of the standard items on the kids menu.

              1. re: masha

                I remember that! So nowadays turkey and mashed potatoes and stuffing are "adult food"?

              2. re: chiba

                I see absolutely nothing wrong with the OP's question. Kids can, and are, sometimes be more finicky than adults. I don't expect my son when he was between 3-6 to eat brussel sprouts or greenbean casserole and the likes. Even turkey, if a bit dry, could turn off kids. I'd rather children eat *something* at holiday dinners that are adult-oriented, even if I have to do some tweaks on the side, than to see them simply stuff themselves with buttered buns/rolls or mashed potatoes (which we all know they invariably will).

                I see your point, though, is that sometimes N. American culture can try too hard to make foods appealing to children, which can result in unintended "picky-ness" by them. I think the OP is simply trying to make part of the TG meal a bit more appealing to the kids w/o resorting to making separate mac & cheese, hot dogs and other things that kids typically prefer.

                1. re: chiba

                  Yes Americans have cornered the market on making a holiday special and trying to make special meals for everyone.

                2. Asked by a person with no kids... why can't they eat what you're eating? My parents never made us anything different than what they were having.

                  2 Replies
                    1. re: weezieduzzit

                      Eat, find your own food or go hungry.

                    2. Our theory about Thanksgiving when kids were little was that there was enough variety that every kid liked at least two things, not counting dessert, whether it was turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, broccoli, etc. So we didn't do anything special. Until kids banded together to demand Caesar salad get added to the menu. That is now a regular offering on Turkey day.

                      Unless you are planning a special, kids only Thanksgiving meal, what about a couple of sides they like? Favorite veggies? Roasted potato chunks? Turkey-fried rice?

                      1. I should have stated that It's for a paid catering gig.

                        4 Replies
                          1. re: letsindulge

                            In that case, ask. Children all eat different things and you don't want to presume their children only eat mac and cheese. Ask, not just about children, but food preferences in general.

                            1. re: letsindulge

                              Oh well then it's the caterer's problem ! ;-)

                              Like Chowser said, ask all your guests in advance what their preferences are and relay to the caterer. And also ask the caterer for their own experience and ideas in terms of 'catering' to children's palates. They may have some really cool and fun ideas, like phyllo turkey pot pies ;-)

                              1. re: LotusRapper

                                I think the OP is probably the Caterer in this case. I never planned any meal for a client without going into great detail about what they wanted to serve/eat. If they want a kids menu, I'd be asking why, and what they want that's different from what the adults will be eating.

                              1. Why on earth would you want to separate the kids further from the Thanksgiving table? (I remember many years of eating at a separate table. Never liked it.) And Thanksgiving Dinner? I don't know any kid who doesn't love it, as it is.

                                Why reinvent the wheel?

                                1. I am doing the catering and my client ask specifically for a child's menu. The children will be dining together, as will be the parents at a separate table.

                                  7 Replies
                                  1. re: letsindulge

                                    Then as others have suggested I guess you'll have to ask them what there is about a "traditional" Thanksgiving dinner that isn't child friendly. Sounds like nothing more than just not serving the little darlings the roots vegetables and Brussel sprouts if there are any. I think that menu is one of the most yawn-worthy around (in its uber-traditional, bland way) so ought to work fine for the kids.

                                    1. re: c oliver

                                      Exactly - unless you're doing something out of the ordinary, turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy are some of the easiest things for kids to deal with. Perhaps some carrots, plain green beans, or broccoli with cheese sauce will entice the kids.

                                      But asking the parents is really the only way to know what their picky kids WON'T eat.

                                    2. re: letsindulge

                                      Sounds like they might be the kind of parents that have created picky eaters by dumbing down their kids food. In that case, their kids are probably the ones they are worried won't eat normal food. I would ask for specifics about what their children will or won't eat.

                                      1. re: weezieduzzit

                                        Good point. I certainly wouldn't wing it :) I remain befuddled at why any kids wouldn't eat turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy.

                                      2. re: letsindulge

                                        I'm also really confused as to why the kids need their own menu. But they are your clients, so you need to give them what they want.

                                        What are you planning for the adult menu? Can the kids can have the same turkey, dressing and mashed potatoes? (I hope so). Starting from there, you can tailor for the kids if that's what the client has requested. It might be just a simple as doing something cute for the kids, say, carrots cut with small cookie cutters into cute shapes. Serve peas and carrots with the carrots cut in cute shapes. Make some really basic veggies like corn and/or green beans. Kids generally like corn. Strained/jelled cranberry sauce, rather than the chunky kind. My kids loved candied sweet potatoes, the traditional recipe.

                                        Instead of a salad, give the kids raw veggies and salad dressing for dipping. (with individual bowls of dressing for each kid). Carrots, celery, (sliced into thin sticks), red/orange/yellow pepper strips, raw broccoli "flowers" cut in half or quarters, snap peas... Kids generally like Ranch style dressing or something creamy like that.

                                        1. re: letsindulge

                                          I was wondering about this request, as I have a 6 yr. old & a 3 yr. old & they don't get special menus. They also like simple, separate things, as several other posters mentioned. They would be fine with turkey, mashed potatoes, & green beans. And bread. Bread is always a winner.

                                          Given your clarification, I would not try to create this special menu flying blind. Kids are all over the place re. food, esp. picky ones who have been allowed to rule the roost. We had guests recently & made salmon, as we were told the 5 yr. old likes salmon. Well, he didn't like ours because it looked different than his mother's & he expressed surprise that he actually our macaroni & cheese. Which was Kraft, for Pete's sake. His manners left a lot to be desired & included pushing unwanted food off the plate onto the table, but the point is, things can go sideways even if you think you've done your homework.

                                          Ask. For sure, in this situation. Since at least some traditional Thanksgiving dishes should work just fine for children, I think it's bit unfair for someone whose children require a special menu to leave the caterer to guess.

                                          Good luck.

                                          1. re: browndogs2

                                            And to the OP (caterer), make sure to get all the food allergy (nuts, gluten, shellfish, etc) inputs from everyone.

                                        2. I also cater but I ask my clients specifically if there are any adversions, allergies, etc. pertaining to the food. Then, client tells me what they want or based on the list of what they like or dislike etc, I create a menu. I try to make sure both adults & kids eat from a basic menu with exceptions for the kiddies...So, if adults are eating turkey, kids are eating it also unless there's an issue.

                                          Most kids like mashed potatoes, mac & cheese, basic green beans (not casserole), baby carrots with a sweet glaze...you can do a baby greens salad bar so that kids can pick out their own add in's like peas, cut asian baby corn, cheese, etc.

                                          Mini pot pies sound good as does something baked in individual baby pumpkins, but with kids, it's all about sight...I'm not sure a child that young would look at a pot pie and be like "oh, I want to eat that"..you have to hold their interest with something that looks like what they are familiar with eating. I would not rack my brain and make it more complicated than it has to be. Kids 3-6 are not going to eat much so I'd do a rift off the adult menu.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: Cherylptw

                                            I'm not sure a child that young would look at a pot pie and be like "oh, I want to eat that"."

                                            You haven't met my son, hehe.

                                            There he was, at 2 or so on his high chair, eating his "first" cooked flower of broccoli I snuck onto his plate, took a bite and said "Yum ! More.". Now at 7-1/2, he's also eating olives, (canned) artichokes, all types of tofus, edamame in addition to the typical diet of kids that age (hot dogs, chicken fingers, pizzas, M&Ms). He loves rice and eschews potatoes to the chagrin mf my wife who's English/Scot Heinz 57, haha.

                                            We often go down to Bellingham (WA) and regularly buy olive oil and balsamic at a store called Drizzle, where they have kegs of diff. oils and vinegars to sample and buy. My son is prolly the ONLY 7-yr old patron of theirs who could spend an hour trying diff. oils (they have bread cubes for the tastings).

                                            As far as I'm concerned, my job as a parent is done :-D

                                            1. re: LotusRapper

                                              If your child was not of the norm for that age group, then you are ahead of the game...personally, my own kids at that age was not used to eating artichokes, tofu, and other things that I didn't put in front of them on a regular basis. If, on the other hand, a child is used to a wider range of foods, I think that's great. I wish I would have expanded my kids horizons back then but the good news is that all of our tastes have changed now.

                                              For the OP however, the best way to figure out what to feed the kids of this event is to ask questions...

                                          2. I was a guest a couple times at my goddaughters' preschool Thanksgiving friends and family lunch, and it seems like catering (literally) to that age group's tastes is more about what you leave out of the traditional dishes - no mushrooms in the gravy, no wasabi or roasted garlic in the mashed potatoes, no chestnuts or oysters or chourico in the stuffing, etc. Also lots of dinner rolls for the really picky eaters. Oh and I know it's not traditional, but when it comes to dessert most of the young kids I know prefer something chocolate over apple or pumpkin or pecan pie. But they do love the whipped cream.

                                            4 Replies
                                            1. re: cookie monster

                                              No giblets in the gravy either (or at least leave them large enough that they can be picked out). Although, it really depends on the kids -- I recall a preschool age niece who first encountered giblet gravy at our house one Thanksgiving, and thought it was great. Of course, this was the same niece who, along with her older sister, was eating the olives on the relish tray during the pre-dinner cocktail hour as fast as I could refill the dish.

                                              1. re: masha

                                                See my post re: my son above, Masha. Maybe you can set your niece up with him ;-)

                                                1. re: LotusRapper

                                                  My niece is now in her 20s so a bit old for your son.

                                                  1. re: masha

                                                    Yeah a bit. And even if he were interested, I'd have to draw the line at 12-yr olds, max. :-)

                                            2. How about turkey meatballs instead of traditional sliced turkey? You could plate them with mashed potatoes and gravy, and some stuffing.

                                              Side note: I have 2 kids, but they would be annoyed if they didn't get to eat the regular Thanksgiving meal with us! They wait for Thanksgiving dinner with bated breath!

                                              1. It make me cringe now. But when I was a kid, one of things I looked forward to were the cadied yams with the little marsmallows. Drum sticks were always a hit at that age as well.

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: mike0989

                                                  Yeah, my cousins (speaking to their kids) called it "marshmallows with candied yams" so it sounds even more appealing.

                                                  1. re: mike0989

                                                    I still love both those things and I'm 45. I'm not embarassed.

                                                  2. I would just make every thing smaller, less spicy, and cute
                                                    I would serve green bean cassarol in hallowed out mini pumpkins
                                                    cut the turkey breast with cookie cutters
                                                    serve the gravy in actual boats ( mayflower)
                                                    roasted mini corns

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: girloftheworld

                                                      Along those lines, instead of pumpkin pies, we often make pumpkin tarts here at home.

                                                      The turkey may also be served in lil' sliders, with the gravy "Mayflowers" on the side for dippin' !

                                                      Cranberry jelly may be toppings on little bowls of vanilla ice cream ?

                                                      It's all about friends, family and fun. So make it fun :-)

                                                    2. When I was a daycare center cook (ages 1-4), I found the most important things were keeping things simple and separate--kids would rather eat plain turkey than a pot pie, rather eat bread and cheese cubes than mac and cheese (believe it or not!), rather eat chunked plain vegetables than salad.

                                                      At a gathering I helped cater this past weekend, the kids were offered fried mac and cheese balls, procured specifically for them, but they preferred the grapes.

                                                      If you keep things fresh, simple, clean, and discrete (not sauced, not creamed, not mushed up with other things), the kids will be happy and eat well.

                                                      I do remember loving those gloppy brown crusted marshmallows as a kid, though!

                                                      4 Replies
                                                      1. re: femmevox

                                                        Also, on vegetables, a lot of preschoolers won't go much beyond carrot sticks. We always put out a tray of raw vegetables (what my mother always called a "relish tray") as part of the pre-dinner nibbles, which always includes carrot sticks, as well as celery sticks, sweet pepper strips, etc. In my experience, the little ones would eat a fair amount of vegetables just during the pre-dinner nibbles from the relish tray. And I would always place the remains of the relish tray on the dinner table during the meal, as an alternative to the cooked vegetables that might not be to their tastes.

                                                        1. re: masha

                                                          And when we grew up to become sophisticated adults, we called them crudites :-)

                                                          1. re: masha

                                                            But there must also be enough pitted olives for each child to get one on each finger. Holiday meals, even with best manners, were a time when this small joy and play was OK.

                                                          2. Dishes we've made in the past to supplement the adult meal:

                                                            Sweet Potato Fries
                                                            Turkey Burger Sliders served on a cornbread bun with cranberry sauce
                                                            Turkey Meatballs served with mashed potatoes and gravy
                                                            Biscuits cut out in the shape of turkeys--used a large cookie cutter from the dollar store
                                                            Sugar Cookies in the shape of pumpkins with orange sugar

                                                            Individual foil tart sized:
                                                            Turkey pot pies
                                                            Green Bean Casseroles

                                                            and CranApple Juice Cocktails served in mini Pumpkins that have been hollowed out and have a plastic high ball glass in the cavity--always a big hit

                                                            1. A couple of Cornish Game Hens "miniature turkeys" for the kids table.

                                                              11 Replies
                                                                1. re: MidwesternerTT

                                                                  I guess miniature turduckens are out ......

                                                                  1. re: LotusRapper

                                                                    you could stuff a scotch egg inside and have somesort of cornish scotch pig thing

                                                                      1. re: girloftheworld

                                                                        Both of these comments are hilarious!

                                                                      2. re: LotusRapper

                                                                        For a miniature turducken, you could put a chicken nugget inside a quail and stuff the cornish hen with that.

                                                                      3. re: MidwesternerTT

                                                                        Wow...I can see someone having to do CPR on a kid right now because of choking on those small bones...

                                                                        1. re: Cherylptw

                                                                          How about stuffing muffins, or mini muffins?

                                                                          1. re: magiesmom

                                                                            Love mini stuffing muffins for the kiddies!

                                                                          2. re: Cherylptw

                                                                            nawwww it is a "corchiscopigin" it is deboned

                                                                        2. For dessert, pumpkin chocolate chip cookies or sugar cookies shaped like pumpkins.