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How to Help Your Child Learn to Eat Turkey

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It was build-your-own burrito night. Everyone’s favorite night in the Green household. Even Olivia, the family’s picky eater, looked forward to constructing her burrito with ONLY the meat and cheese inside, just how she liked it! Tonight was a little different because her uncle was babysitting and he prepared the meal for everyone.

“This ground meat looks funny. It is light brown and dry, not dark brown and wet like it usually is.” 

Olivia was used to ground beef in her tacos, but her uncle unexpectedly used ground turkey.

“Oh, don’t start with me, you picky girl! It is pretty much the same thing. It’s turkey and it’s healthy for you. You can’t live off beef and cheese!”

Her uncle meant well. He wanted her to try something new. Still, Olivia’s picky eating didn’t allow her to get past the new look and feel of the unfamiliar meat. She ended up having only cheese in her burrito for dinner, and no one won this food battle! 

We know that it can be so hard when you prepare a thoughtful new meal for your picky eater and they totally reject it. We want to help put an end to these stressful situations by teaching you how to teach your kids to eat turkey. In this article, you will learn:

Related: Join BetterBites – the best selling course for the families of picky eaters

The Benefits of Turkey for Kids

Aside from being center stage at Thanksgiving dinner, turkey plays a lot of other roles, especially in our children’s bodies. Since it is high in protein, it contributes to the growth of many parts of the body, such as the brain, bones, muscles and immune system. 

Turkey is also high in B vitamins, specifically B3, B6, and B12. Vitamin B3 (also referred to as niacin) is important for the development and function of cells, while B6 is necessary for over 100 enzyme reactions in the body, which aid in metabolism. Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that ensures our children’s nerves and blood cells stay healthy. Fun fact: B12 assists in making DNA!

When Olivia’s uncle came to babysit, he thought adding variety to her diet by offering turkey would be beneficial. He was absolutely right–ground turkey has many benefits for kids. He just needed some better tools for teaching kids to eat turkey. That’s where we can help!

Related: Need recipes with turkey? Real Easy Weekdays: The Meal Plan for Busy Families

How to Serve Turkey to Picky Eaters

Many people can understand the concept of “eating with your eyes first.” Meaning, if something is presented in a nice way, it looks more appetizing. This concept rings true with our little fussy eaters, except their version of “nice” could mean so many different things depending on the child. So how do you figure out the best way to serve a new food to YOUR child? Trial and error, micro portions and no-pressure mealtimes. Let us explain.

First of all, try serving turkey in different forms. Ground turkey, like Olivia was given, can be used in salads, tacos, stir-fries, meatballs, sloppy Joes and more. Sliced turkey is great for sandwiches and with cheese and crackers. Roasted turkey is wonderful paired with some hearty sides. It is also perfect for soups, or in a quesadilla. Turkey is truly a versatile food that you can work into many different types of dishes, but it is important to note that these various versions of the food require different oral motor skills. Ground turkey (whether prepared loose or in meatball form) is easier for an immature chewing pattern, while roasted turkey requires more advanced oral motor skills.  

Our next hot tip for serving new foods to picky eaters: micro portions. A micro portion is a tiny, pinky-nail-sized portion of the new food. Big portions can be overwhelming for selective children, and a small piece alongside familiar foods is less intimidating. For that reason, it is much more likely your child will interact with the food. Even picking it up and putting it down is a great touching exposure, and it’s a step in the direction of smelling or maybe tasting it in the future. They will certainly start thinking about the food differently. 

Olivia’s uncle could have tried serving one piece of the ground turkey alongside Olivia’s meal as opposed to making an abrupt change in her routine, like replacing the ground beef completely. Changes to beloved meals can be hard for a fussy eater like Olivia to handle. 

Finally, we urge parents not to pressure children to eat at mealtime. Pressure can sound a lot of different ways. When Olivia’s uncle told her, “It’s turkey and it’s healthy for you. You can’t live off beef and cheese!” He was expressing concern for her health, but at the same time, he was unknowingly pressuring her to try the new food, which turned her off to it even more. Here are some other examples that you may not realize are actually pressure:

  • “If you eat all of your taco, I’ll tell your parents you were a good girl!”
  • “You can play on my phone if you finish your plate.”
  • “I had to clean my plate as a kid, you’re spoiled!”

Related: Get our picky eater guide – From Stress to Success: 4 Ways to Help Your Child Eat Better without Losing Your Mind

How to Talk About Turkey to Help Your Child Try It

The next time you have a meal with your picky eater and they don’t like something that was served, pay attention to the language they use to describe it. You may find that it is primarily negative. Using this negative language when talking about foods only reinforces picky eating and doesn’t teach children to think about the food differently. Our goal is to replace this negative language with neutral language

Why neutral language instead of positive language? When we are overly complimentary of a new food, a child may think we’re trying to trick them into eating it by obsessing over how “delicious” or “yummy” it is. If they think they’re being fooled, they’re less likely to try. Plus, sometimes kids just want to do the opposite of what their grown-ups say. Can you relate?

You might be wondering how you can get your child to replace their negative words with neutral words. The key is modeling. Modeling means that you are introducing these new words through your own actions. Start incorporating neutral terms into your vocabulary and watch your child do the same!

Once they start using these new words, children will think about foods differently. This won’t make a picky eater try turkey overnight, but it is essential to our overall approach of helping kids eat better. Getting kids to eat turkey is just the start!

Here are some words you can use to describe turkey to your selective eater: 

  • Light brown
  • Salty
  • Chewy
  • Tiny (if ground)
  • Small Smell
  • Crispy (turkey skin)
  • Crumbly (if ground)

Maybe if Olivia’s uncle knew about the importance of neutral terms, he would have described the ground turkey as “light brown and crumbly” instead of saying it was “the same thing as ground beef.”

How to Help Your Child Understand What Turkey Does in Their Body

The way we speak about foods in front of our kids is important. We don’t want to talk them into eating something they don’t want to eat because we know it won’t work. Picky children are confident they won’t like the food even before trying it! This can be very frustrating for anyone trying to feed them. 

Instead of convincing your child why a food is “good” to eat, try focusing on what the food does inside their body. The aim is to share information about the food that they can understand at their age and relate to. 

Helping children understand that foods can affect how their body functions is another step in getting fussy eaters to try new foods.

Below are some ways you can talk about turkey with your child:

Age 0-3: Brown foods give you energy to play.

Age 3-5: Brown foods like turkey give your body the power it needs to help your brain grow.

Age 6-11: Turkey has something called protein. Protein helps your brain learn new things and helps your muscles grow big.

Age 12-18: Turkey has protein that helps your brain, muscles and bones grow. It also has vitamin B12 which assists in making DNA! DNA makes you who you are.

Instead of telling Olivia that she should eat the turkey because it was “healthy,” he could have shared some of these cool facts about what turkey does in the body to get her to try it. This was just another step in introducing turkey to children.

Turkey Food Activity 

Food play is the secret sauce to helping restrictive eaters create open minds about the new foods we want them to try. 

You may have been taught not to play with your food, but at Kids Eat In Color, we encourage it! How does food play help picky kids? Kids are naturally drawn to play and activities. They learn so much about the world around them through play! Doing food play activities helps to desensitize their body and brain to the new experiences that foods offer. Once they interact with a food through sight, smell, sound or touch, they become more familiar with it, and it isn’t so scary to them. Over time, they may decide to lick or smell the food and then possibly even taste it. 

Food play activities can be as easy as arranging a meal into a smiley face on a plate. They can also be more involved if you have the energy to put into preparation. 

It is very common that kids need a lot of exposure and experiences with a specific food before they are ready to try it. This requires patience, so don’t be discouraged! You’re making progress anytime you put the new foods in front of them. 

Below is one example of a food play activity that you could do to teach your kid to eat turkey. We have over 100 food play activities for kids of all ages in our ebook: Food Play Every Day!

Dino Dig Site

Age: 2-8

Materials

  • 1 cup cooked and cooled ground turkey (rock/gravel terrain)
  • Cooked and cooled dinosaur nuggets (dinosaur figures could work too)
  • Ketchup (lava) or other favorite condiments/sauces
  • Spoon
  • Cupcake liner or small dip container
  • Plate
  • Other food elements, optional

Steps

  1. Arrange a dinosaur scene with all the materials on the plate. Use the ground turkey as gravel or rocks for a “base” that your child can use the spoons to scoop up. 
  2. Pour your condiment of choice into a cupcake liner or small container and call it “lava” (ketchup, bbq sauce, marinara, berry yogurt, etc. all work here) as an invitation for your child to pour it or interact with it as lava. You can also come up with different names for different types of sauces or condiments, like “melted glacier” for ranch, sour cream, yogurt, etc.
  3. Place the dinosaur nuggets or figurines around the scene.
  4. If desired, you can add broccoli “trees,” carrot stick “logs” or other food elements to make it more interesting.

For variations and more ideas, get Food Play Every Day: 102+ Food Activities for Kids!

Thanks for Being Part of Our Community That’s Teaching Kids to Eat More Foods!

About Kids Eat in Color

Kids Eat in Color gives parents the tools they need to teach their kids to eat veggies and try foods without a battle! From introducing new foods to a picky eater, to reducing meal-time stress, to taking off some of the burdens of meal planning, shopping, and cooking, we are here for parents. 

Author

Alysha Fagan

Reviewers

Jennifer Anderson, MSPH, RDN

Alli Delozier, PhD, Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Laura Petix, M.S., OTR/L

Erinn Jacobi, M.S., OTR/L

Stefanie Kain, B.S., M.Ed

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Alysha Fagan

Alysha is the Program Manager for Kids Eat in Color. She leads initiatives and creates content to helps caregivers reduce stress and help their kids thrive at mealtime. Prior to joining Kids Eat in Color, Alysha project managed and built high-performance Customer Service teams for Top corporations. She is currently working towards a political science degree to fulfill her passion of advocating for systemic change in government. She enjoys being a mom, lifting weights (you heard that right!), and writing

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