Of all the family get-togethers in a year, Thanksgiving is often the main event, when every age group joins the feast. With a little planning, it's easy to accommodate a diverse group.
Separate Tables Versus One
Having separate tables for kids and adults may be the best solution, particularly if your tables are small or if you want to use your fine china without worry. "Plus, it's fun for kids to be set off," says Jodi Levine, a designer of Martha Stewart crafts products.
But there are also rewards in having everyone at the same table, Levine says. "That's how kids learn to try new foods, when they see relatives digging in to the vegetables and can taste dishes that are passed," she says. "And they get to hear interesting conversation." A good solution for a multi-generation table is to make one end kid-friendly.
Place Settings for Children
For very young children, stick with unbreakable plates, such as melamine or disposable bamboo. If in doubt, ask the child's parents what's best for him. The same goes for glassware. Kraft paper is an easy-clean-up tablecloth (and if you supply crayons, it's a canvas for kids' doodles). Or find Pilgrim-era maps of New England on the Internet, and photocopy them as place mats.
You can also enlist kids to help make table decorations. (An added benefit: This will keep them busy as you cook.) "The more you involve them, the more engaged they are," Levine says. Invite them to make place cards by writing names on fall leaves. Or ask them to sketch a portrait of each guest. Have art supplies ready and some snacks (such as dried fruit) to tide kids over.
Place Settings for Adults
At the adults' end, honor the occasion by using proper place settings. If it has been a while since you've set a formal table, here's a refresher:
Place the knife (facing in) and soup spoon to the right of the plate; forks go on the left, with the one for the first course on the outside. Set dessert utensils above the plate (the fork points right, and the spoon, above it, points left).
Put the bread plate and knife at the upper left of the setting, the glasses at the upper right, with the water glass above the knife and the wine glass to the right of it. If two wines will be served, make a triangle, placing the second wineglass above the other two glasses.