A Place Setting for a Traveling Toddler Thanksgiving

You climb into your vehicle. The kids are strapped in and you are praying that they sleep for at least half of your four-hour journey. As you back out of the driveway, a feeling of fear and unease washes over. “PLEASE let this day go well,” you tell yourself. In a flash, you wish you could simply turn around to announce that you are all just going to stay home and eat chicken strips.

If you are a Thanksgiving traveling parent of toddlers you know this scenario. 

Despite the urge to bail, I am a traditionalist and I feel that it is my motherly duty to provide my children with Thanksgiving memories. Furthermore, their great aunts only get to see them once a year. Turkey is the vehicle to providing them the chance to know who their relatives are.

Last year I was late into my third trimester and my little one was almost two. It was our first traveling Thanksgiving as a family and I was unprepared. Woefully unprepared. I didn’t adequately strategize for nap time or plan for the practicalities of breast feeding among family. There were few accommodating places to retreat to do either. I know it’s all ‘Norman Rockwell’ to have the table flanked with kids, their grandparents and their relatives, but let’s get real. It is a HUGE pain.

Coordinating your toddler’s schedule with the ceremonial turkey carving is complex. His nap was delayed, and predictably, the unruly child unleashed. Within five minutes my son decided that he was done eating and needed to be out of his chair to roam the house, someone else’s house. He was not old enough to be trusted to avoid places where he didn’t belong. My husband, being as chivalrous as always, took pity on his hunger enraged pregnant wife. He abandoned his coveted plate of warm food to be the watchful parent to ensure that our son didn’t become THE DESTROYER. By the time my husband was able to return, the table had cleared, the food was nearly consumed and his plate was a chilled heap.

Our family will once again load up for another toddler traveling Thanksgiving. In preparation, I worked to fix our fractured and frazzled feasting time. The solution is modeled off of the concept of the kiddie table and traditional meal settings of North African and Middle Eastern countries.

This Thanksgiving, I am moving my toddler’s place setting to the floor.

A Place Setting for a Traveling Toddler Thanksgiving | Twin Cities Moms Blog

It’s not traditional, but hear me out. It’s not a demotion, but instead an act of liberation.

Table setting on the floor?

During my time in Mauritania in Northwest Africa, all of our meals were served on the floor. The food was communal style in a large bowl or plate placed onto a colorful piece of fabric. This practice was intimate and inherently familial. The children would often sit in the lap of their father or mother while reaching their hand in for a bite. Mealtimes in Mauritania were consistently calm and orderly, even with a bowl surrounded by eight people.

Conversely, the kiddie table has historically provided the grown-ups a chance to have a meal without the mayhem of nearby children. The remote location of the kiddie table placement served an important purpose. The kids could eat on an appropriately scaled surface and were granted some flexibility to goof off.

A Place Setting for a Traveling Toddler Thanksgiving | Twin Cities Moms Blog

Together, these deconstructed concepts of the communal fabric clad floor surface of Mauritanian eating combined with the independent principles of the kiddie table will provide an ideal setting for my active toddler. This arrangement will allow him the liberty to shift and adjust with an open-ended timeline for eating.

What does this setting look like?

The eating surface can be as functional or creative as you would like and the spread tailored to their developing palates.

For example: If you are on a hard-surface floor, lay down some heavy duty butcher paper with Crayons. Your toddler can doodle with one hand while eating macaroni and cheese with the other.

If your toddler is sitting on a soft surface, lay down a large blanket or washable plastic table cloth. Your carpet will be protected and the surface is fully machine washable.

A Place Setting for a Traveling Toddler Thanksgiving | Twin Cities Moms Blog

This surface also lends to the flexibility of dishing up individual plates or having one communal source for a variety of toddler approved finger foods. I used a compartmentalized tray with a lid for ease in transport. Segmentation allows my toddler and his solids-loving infant sister the flexibility to choose their favorites. Fill it with items that are easy to procure and prepare or get cute and creative. 

Tailoring your Thanksgiving

Before I conclude this commentary of the traveling Thanksgiving toddler, know this:  This post was not meant to shame in-laws or family members. Instead, this post was designed to assist mothers who have found themselves in a similar situation or are about to enter into the abyss of the unknown. If you are an in-law who is hosting a family with small children, start a conversation with their mom about implementing an accommodation or two for your toddling guests. By doing so, you will forever be known as the most thoughtful hero.

Ultimately I share this story and the notion of having a toddler Thanksgiving on the floor because I want to encourage our turkey traveling moms to think ahead and have a plan. Regardless of the solution you devise, having a strategy provides a sense of control, and with that you are bound to have a wonderful Thanksgiving full of gratitude and love.

Are you a mom of a Thanksgiving toddler? What preparations do you make to promote a peaceful Thanksgiving? Post your thoughts. I and many other moms would adore to hear how you make your Thanksgiving on the road a little easier to manage.

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