Traditions for Family Holiday Meals

Your family can create its own traditions, developing family recipes with the help of the kids, and giving them a role in table-setting and decorations. Here's how:

  • Start planning a week in advance. If you don't want to be frantic, start talking to the kids about the upcoming holiday a full week ahead, inviting their participation and creative input on the menu, table settings, decorations etc., making a shopping list and divvying up the labor.
  • Talk with your kids about your childhood memories. Kids love to hear about their parents' special childhood memories. Paint pictures in their minds as you describe the sights and smells -- pumpkin pie in the oven, yeast for freshly baked bread -- that delighted your holidays when you were young.
  • Get everyone involved in menu planning. If it's going to be a family meal, discuss the various components -- meat, side dishes of vegetables, starches, dessert -- and ask each family member to take on one dish as their special contribution. Then spend time with each family member talking about their special dish, looking at magazines or cookbooks for inspiration.
  • Consider personal adaptations of family recipes. As you talk about your holiday meal, you may find that one of the kids never ate that wild rice stuffing because it has mushrooms in it. This allows you to adapt a basic side dish or stuffing recipe to please the young cook. Omit the offending ingredient and stop there, or encourage them to select something they adore in its place.
  • Make table decorations an opportunity for young artists to be creative. It does not take much effort to get out the construction paper, markers, staplers and glue and offer your children an opportunity to make a host of holiday table decorations. From napkin holders to place cards to place mats, it's not their utility that counts as much as the pride and love that goes into them and seeing them on the table for the family feast.
  • Include table manners as part of your celebratory meal preparation. Use the holiday meal preparation to talk about how a table is properly set, where the silverware and stemware are placed, how different courses might be served and how family members should help in serving, clearing and properly passing food to others during the meal. These points are often ignored, but when given attention, they heighten the experience for everyone.
  • Consider having everyone contribute to a blessing before the meal. When parents offer their children a chance to express whatever it is they are grateful for that particular day before the meal, they can learn precious information about their children they would be hard-pressed to find out otherwise. Don't hang on their every word; play it cool, and they're sure to drop real gems.
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