Thanksgiving Cooking Activities for Kids

Karen Frazier
Contributor: Amy Finley
girl helping with thanksgiving

Kids love to help in the kitchen. With age-appropriate cooking activities, children can get involved in Thanksgiving, making it a fun and exciting time. Thanksgiving cooking with kids can be a memorable part of any celebration, so use these recipes and ideas to get kids involved.

Toddlers and Pre-Schoolers

Toddlers love to engage in creative play. Thanksgiving activities in the kitchen need to be simple and short for children this age.

Pilgrim Hats

These adorable cookies require no baking, and very young children can put them together easily with a little parental guidance.

You will need:

  • Miniature peanut butter cups
  • Mini chocolate sandwich cookies
  • Melted chocolate
  • Food-safe paint brush
  • Yellow decorators icing
  • Condiment squeeze bottle with narrow tip
  • The orange parts of candy corn, cut into fourths

To make pilgrim hats:

Separate chocolate sandwich cookies and scrape off filling.

  • Paint chocolate with paint brush on the wide end (top) of a peanut butter cup.
  • Place peanut butter cup upside down on cookie, using the chocolate as glue.
  • Allow chocolate to harden for a few minutes so peanut butter cup no longer slides around on the cookie.
  • Place the decorator icing in a squeeze bottle.
  • Squeeze the icing around the edge of the peanut butter cup where it meets the cookie.
  • Stick a piece of candy corn in the icing to make a buckle.
  • Allow hats to completely dry before eating.
Pilgrim Hat Cookies

Acorn Donut Holes

This easy activity uses pre-made, plain donut holes and turns them into festive, Thanksgiving acorns.

You will need:

  • Plain, pre-made donut holes
  • Nut butter (peanut butter, cashew butter, almond butter, or Nutella)
  • Miniature toffee bits or chopped nuts
  • Thin pretzels, broken into pieces

To make acorns:

  1. Place nut butter in a small, shallow bowl. Warm it in the microwave for about 30 seconds.
  2. Place toffee bits or chopped nuts on a shallow plate.
  3. Dip the top 1/3 of the donut holes in the nut butter, and then in the toffee bits or nuts.
  4. Place a bit of broken pretzel in the center of the toffee bits or nuts, poking into the donut hole, to create the stem.
Donut holes decorated like acorns

Turkey Fruit Salads

These cute salads are made of fruit. It's easy for small hands to place them on plates in the shape of a turkey. An adult will have to help cut the fruit.

You will need:

  • Two small plates or saucers
  • One pear, halved lengthwise
  • One apple, cut into slices
  • One small orange, such as a satsuma, segmented
  • Four miniature chocolate chips
  • Two almond slivers
  • Two dried cranberries
  • Two dried apricots, halved

To make the turkey fruit salad:

  1. Place one pear half, cut side down, on each plate, with the narrow part of the pear pointing toward the top of the plate.
  2. Arrange the apple slices in a semi-circle, starting along the side of the wide edge of the pear and up around the narrow edge, all the way to the other side to make the turkey's feathers.
  3. Place orange segments between every two apple slices, slightly overlapping, to add orange feathers.
  4. Place two small chocolate chips to make the eyes.
  5. Place a dried cranberry to make the gobble, and then layer it slightly with the slivered almond to make the beak.
  6. Cut dried apricots in half, and then cut triangles out of them to make feet. Place the feet along the bottom of each turkey.
Children's hands peeling tangerine

Alternate Method

Another way you could make the turkey fruit salad (good for a group) is by using a medium or large plate, the pair half as the body, then placing fruit skewers around the 'body' as the feathers. You can use any medium-size pieces of fruit, such as bananas, strawberries, pineapples, melon, or orange segments.

Turkey Made Using Fruit

Early Elementary

As children get more coordinated, they are able to participate in more involved activities in the kitchen.

Slow Cooker Spiced Cider

Elementary kids can measure all of the ingredients for this fragrant drink into the slow cooker. It's great to serve guests at Thanksgiving dinner.

You will need:

  • Slow cooker
  • One gallon apple cider
  • Two cinnamon sticks
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • Whole cloves
  • Two apples
  • Two oranges

How to make it:

  1. Pour apple cider into the slow cooker.
  2. Add cinnamon sticks, nutmeg, and brown sugar. Stir to dissolve.
  3. Poke cloves into apples and oranges, using as many or as few as you'd like.
  4. Float the fruit in the slow cooker.
  5. Cover the slow cooker and turn it on to high, allowing it to heat for one hour.
  6. Reduce temperature to low, and allow the cider to cook for one more hour.
  7. Continue simmering on low, ladling it into mugs as needed.
Spiced Cider

Turkey Appetizer With Fruit Skewers

Serve fruit skewers with a Thanksgiving theme! An adult can help cut the cheese and peppers.

You will need:

  • Medium-sized platter
  • One pear
  • One honeydew melon
  • One red pepper
  • Cheese
  • Two raisins
  • Grapes
  • Wooden skewers
  • Toothpicks

How to make the turkey:

  1. Slice off a small, flat piece of the melon to stabilize it. Place, flat side down, on the platter.
  2. Cut the ends off a red pepper, and cut wedges in the ends to make them look like feet. Place them in front of the melon.
  3. Place a bamboo skewer in the pear and affix the pear to the melon, narrow side of the pear down, to make the turkey head.
  4. Cut a piece of cheese into a triangle. Using a toothpick, attach it to the pear to make the turkey's beak.
  5. Cut a narrow strip of red pepper, and affix it to the pear next to the beak to make the turkey's gobble.
  6. Attach two raisins to the pear with toothpicks to make the turkey's eyes.
  7. Cut the remainder of peppers into slices.
  8. Place toothpicks in the peppers and place them in the melon to make the turkey's side feathers.
  9. Skewer cheese cubes and grapes on long bamboo skewers. Stick them in the melon around the back to make the turkey's tail feathers.

Turkey Cookies

You can purchase pre-made sugar cookies, buy and bake a roll of sugar cookies, or use this easy sugar cookie recipe.

You will need:

One dozen, pre-made, round sugar cookies

  • Melted chocolate
  • Candy corn
  • Candy googly eyes
  • Orange decorator icing
  • One condiment squeeze bottle with a narrow tip

How to make them:

  1. Spread melted chocolate along the top quarter of the cookie edge, about the width of a piece of candy corn, following along with the curve of the cookie.
  2. Place candy corn, point side towards the center of the cookie, on top of the melted chocolate to make the feathers.
  3. Dot the backs of the googly eyes with chocolate, and affix to the cookie, just above the center.
  4. Place icing in the squeeze bottle. Squeeze an inverted triangle below the eyes to make a beak.
  5. Squeeze icing along the bottom of the cookie to make feet.
  6. Allow to dry and set completely before eating.
Thanksgiving Turkey Cookies

Upper Elementary

Upper elementary school children are old enough to help make Thanksgiving dinner. The following recipes are simple, hands-on recipes that allow older elementary kids to help feed your guests.

Pumpkin Pie Dip

This delicious dip for sliced apples uses traditional Thanksgiving pumpkin pie flavors, but it has a kid-friendly twist.

What you will need:

  • One, eight-ounce package of cream cheese, softened at room temperature
  • 2 cups of powdered sugar, sifted
  • 15-ounces of pumpkin pie filling
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • Apples, sliced
  • Mixer
  • Medium bowl
  • Decorative bowl
  • Plastic wrap

How to make it:

  1. Place cream cheese and powdered sugar in a medium-sized bowl. Using a mixer, beat the mixture on medium until it is smooth.
  2. Add pumpkin pie, cinnamon, and sugar. Beat on medium until it is well combined and smooth.
  3. Place in a decorative bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least eight hours.
  4. Serve with sliced apples for dipping.
Pumpkin pie dip

Cranberry Sauce

It's easy to make this yummy Thanksgiving side in just a few minutes. Have an adult supervise while you use the stove.

What you will need:

One, 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries

  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 cup of orange juice
  • 1 medium saucepan
  • 1 bowl
  • Plastic wrap

How to make it:

  1. Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan.
  2. Place the pan on the stove and turn it on to medium high.
  3. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to low.
  4. Simmer until berries begin to pop.
  5. Turn off heat.
  6. Stir the cranberry sauce as it begins to cool.
  7. Allow to cool to room temperature.
  8. Place cranberries in a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least four hours. Serve chilled.
Cranberry sauce

Crescent Rolls

These moon-shaped rolls are a Thanksgiving favorite. They are really easy and fun to make.

What you will need:

  • 2-packages of quick-rising yeast
  • 3/4 cup warm water (110 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 4 cups of flour, plus more for kneading
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, very soft
  • Instant-read thermometer
  • Two large bowls
  • Mixer
  • Measuring cups
  • Measuring spoons
  • Wooden spoon
  • Oil
  • Pastry brush
  • Towel
  • Rolling pin
  • Pizza cutter
  • Parchment paper
  • Baking pans

How to make them:

Note: These will take about four hours from start to finish, so if you are making them for dinner, start early in the day. You can also make them a day ahead and then reheat them, wrapped in foil, at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.

Mix:

  1. Measure the water and its temperature. The water should be between about 108 and 112 degrees.
  2. Pour the water into a bowl. Sprinkle the yeast over the top, and mix it lightly to combine.
  3. Set aside for five minutes. The water and yeast will start to look bubbly and fluffy.
  4. Add sugar, salt, eggs, and shortening to the yeast mixture.
  5. Using a mixer, mix ingredients on medium speed until they are smoothly combined.
  6. Stir in flour thoroughly to form a round ball of dough.
Crescent rolls

Knead and rest:

  1. Sprinkle a liberal amount of flour on a countertop, non-stick baking mat, or pastry cloth. Dip your hands in flour, as well.
  2. Turn out your dough onto the floured surface.
  3. With floured hands, fold the dough in half. Next, push the dough away from you with the palm of your hands. Now turn the dough one quarter turn. Repeat this process, which is called kneading.
  4. Knead the dough for ten minutes, until it is smooth and elastic. You can take turns with someone else if your arms get tired!
  5. You may need to keep adding flour to the countertop to make sure the dough doesn't stick.
  6. You can tell the dough has been kneaded enough when you poke it with your index finger and it springs back quickly. You can also place the flat of your hand firmly on the dough and count to 30. If there is no sticky residue between your hand and the dough, it has been kneaded enough.
  7. Use a pastry brush to brush oil all around the inside of a large, clean bowl.
  8. Place the dough in the bowl, turning it to coat it with oil.
  9. Cover the dough with a towel and set it in a warm spot away from drafts. Some people like to use the turned off oven for this step, since it is usually draft-free and reasonably warm. Be sure you don't accidentally turn on the oven while the dough is in there!
  10. Allow the dough to sit, covered, for about an hour and a half. The dough will double in size.

Make the rolls:

  1. Remove the towel from the dough when it has doubled. Make a fist and punch the dough right in the middle. The dough will deflate. This is called punching down the dough.
  2. Liberally flour a clean surface. Divide the dough into two pieces and form each into a ball.
  3. Flour a rolling pin. Roll the dough out into a large circle. Keep rolling until the dough is about 1/4 inch thick.
  4. Take half of the softened butter and carefully spread it evenly across the circle of dough.
  5. Line two baking pans with parchment paper or spray it with non-stick cooking spray.
  6. Using a pizza cutter, cut the dough just like you would a pizza, into eight wedges.
  7. Starting at the wide edge, roll the dough into a roll.
  8. Place the rolls onto a baking sheet with the point side down. Bend the roll slightly to make a crescent shape.
  9. Repeat steps 18 through 23 with the other ball of dough.
  10. Cover the pans with a towel and allow the dough to rest again. The rolls should double in size in about 30 to 60 minutes.
  11. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  12. Bake the rolls for 12 to 15 minutes, until they are golden brown on the outside.
  13. Cool on wire racks for use on a different day or serve immediately.
  14. If you are going to use the rolls tomorrow, place them in a tightly sealed container on the counter overnight.
Homemade crescent rolls

More Fun Thanksgiving Food Activities for Kids

These simple food activities can help engage kids of almost any age in the kitchen for this joyful holiday. They also incorporate some of the Thanksgiving foods kids love.

Cranberry-Topped Muffins

Make simple spice, cranberry or other healthy muffins (or purchase store-bought ones) and let the kids decorate them with pretty Thanksgiving themed toppings. Mix equal parts pudding and cool whip together and kids can squeeze the topping over the muffins from a piping bag then top with candied cranberries. (Parents can make the cranberries ahead of time by simmering cranberries in ½ cup of sugar and ½ water. When cool kids can roll them in sugar.)

Cranberry-Topped Muffins

Chocolate Turkey Pretzels

Make a festive after-dinner treat that couldn't be easier. Melt chocolate chips in the microwave, then help kids dip pretzel rods into the chocolate. Candy corn 'feathers' and the turkey's beak (parents can cut part of the orange candy corn to make peak shapes) should be affixed while the chocolate's still warm. Add a small circle of white frosting and cut small pieces of black licorice laces to place in the center of the frosting to make the eyes.

Chocolate Turkey Pretzels

Cranberry Flatbread Appetizers

Children can help put together these easy Thanksgiving appetizers in minutes. Cut wedges of flatbread or pita bread and thin slices of soft cheese (such as brie or cream cheese). Cover each bread wedge with cheese, a dollop of cranberry sauce, a walnut or other nut, and a small sprig of rosemary.

Cranberry Flatbread Appetizers

Colorful Roasted Carrots

Colorful carrots make a perfect side dish. Let kids season carrots with olive oil, salt, pepper and fresh herbs like chives, oregano, thyme or parsley. (Other vegetables like onions or parsnips, can also be added if desired). Kids can place the vegetables in parchment and an adult can cook them in the oven at 400 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until tender.

Colorful Roasted Carrots

Pumpkin Deviled Eggs

Put a new twist on classic deviled eggs; let kids help make them look like pumpkins! Depending on their age, kids can either help mix the ingredients or just help fill and garnish the eggs. Just make the deviled egg filling as you normally would, but add paprika until the mixture turns an orange color. Then add a small piece of chive for the top of the 'pumpkin,'

Pumpkin Deviled Eggs

Stuffed Squash

A healthy Thanksgiving food option that could be fun for younger and older kids to create, this stuffed squash is pretty and delicious. Squash can be cooked in the microwave, and then filled with cooked quinoa (you can also substitute rice or stuffing if desired) seasoned with nutgmeg, cloves, cinnamon and a little butter. Other additions, like chickpeas and cranberries or grapes can also be added to give more flavor and visual appeal.

Stuffed Squash

Thanksgiving Food Activities for the Classroom

If you are a teacher or need a Thanksgiving cooking activity for a group of children, consider these easy ideas.

Pumpkin or Spice Snack Cake

A plain pumpkin or spice sheet cake is the perfect canvas to get creative. Plain white frosting (you can use vanilla, cream cheese frosting or simply whipped topping) can be dressed up with sliced fresh fruit, dried fruit, dry cereal pieces, sprinkles, chocolate chips, cinnamon, and more. To make this a creative project, encourage children to create a Thanksgiving-themed design for their cake topper.

Pumpkin or Spice Snack Cake

Healthy Harvest Snacks

Thanksgiving classroom snack, first pass out plain rice cakes to the students. Set up stations to dress them up - first with nut butters, and then fun harvest-themed additions like dried fruits, nuts, and seeds. For classrooms where there are concerns about nut allergies, swap the nut butters for cream cheese or pureed fruits or vegetables and the dried nuts for dried or freeze-dried fruits and veggies.

Healthy Harvest Snacks

Thanksgiving Pudding Cup Treats

A fun treat for a class party might be these pumpkin pudding cups. Allow students to come to a stations or a table set up with pumpkin-flavored pudding, vanilla pudding or yogurt, chocolate or spice cookie crumbles, whipped cream, and accents like chocolate sprinkles. To make this a fun learning activity, explain or write out the directions and challenge the students to follow them in order. Or, allow them to get creative and layer the ingredients however they would like.

Thanksgiving Pudding Cup Treats

Autumn Harvest Stew

This can be done using a slow cooker in the morning and kids can enjoy the soup at lunch or an afternoon snack time. Add several cups of vegetable broth to the slow cooker, and have a variety of harvest vegetables (pre-cut and washed) such as carrots, squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, corn, turnips, and others as desired. Allow students to choose vegetables to add (either individually or as tables or groups) and salt to taste. Use as a springboard to discuss the first Thanksgiving or autumn harvests.

Autumn Harvest Stew

Other Ways Kids Can Help in the Kitchen

There are numerous other ways kids of different ages can help in the kitchen, either to prep for Thanksgiving beforehand or to help the day of. Kids can:

  • Set the table, help arrange centerpieces, or roll flatware into napkins
  • Arrange fruit, vegetables, cheese and crackers, or cookies/small Thanksgiving desserts on trays or platters
  • Help mix and stir punch, iced tea, lemonade, or other beverages
  • Mix up simple dips for vegetables, chips, or bread
  • Toss and/or add ingredients to salads
  • Mash potatoes
  • Help layer ingredients for casseroles
  • Stir in ingredients and/or mix batters for desserts or baked goods
  • Decorate or garnish dishes, desserts, or appetizers
  • Be a designated 'taste tester' for adults doing the cooking

Tips

Your Thanksgiving kitchen activities will go more smoothly if you consider the following tips.

  • Always read activity or recipe through completely before you begin.
  • Gather all the items you need before you start.
  • Wash and dry your hands thoroughly before beginning.
  • Protect your clothes with an apron.
  • If you have long hair, tie it back in a ponytail to keep it out of your food.
  • Have adults do the knife work for you.
  • Have adult supervision when using the oven or stove

Thanksgiving Fun

Participating in Thanksgiving cooking activities is a great way to get kids involved in this family holiday. Doing so may even create a new Thanksgiving family tradition. Whether you're planning on celebrating Thanksgiving with a big family gathering or just a simple dinner, involving kids in the kitchen can be a learning experience and create special lasting memories. After dinner, try some of these fun Thanksgiving games for kids!

Thanksgiving Cooking Activities for Kids