Colors of the Rainbow

Tips to encourage kids to eat a variety of nutritional foods.

Colorful food makes a colorful meal that really colors the way that I feel. I’m livin’ in a colorful way. I eat like a rainbow every day!”
—Lyrics from “Eat Like A Rainbow” by Jay Mankita on the Picnic Playground CD by Putumayo Kids

We all know how important it is to eat fruits and vegetables. They’re packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber— all the good things that keep us healthy. Nutritionists recommend that kids eat at least five fruits and vegetables a day. But how can we entice our kids to eat the colors of the a rainbow?

As a nutritionist, foster mom and founder of FoodPlay Productions, which makes good food great fun through interactive children’s theater, I know it can be hard to get kids to eat and enjoy produce. After all, the average child sees more than 10,000 food commercials a year, with the majority promoting junk foods. To aid in the effort of expanding your child’s palate, the following tips make healthy foods of all colors more entertaining than the most appealing commercials.

Ten Ways to Eat a Rainbow

  1. Make fruits and vegetables kid-friendly. Children generally prefer the bright colors and crunch of raw veggies to cooked ones. But rather than serving fruits and veggies whole, cut them into shapes and call them neat names. Presenting kids with carrot coins, zucchini pick-up sticks, broccoli trees and red pepper pinwheels is more fun than saying, “eat your vegetables!” Cut apples into slices, oranges into smiles and bananas into wheels. As kids love to dunk, serve raw veggies alongside a dip like hummus, salad dressing or even balsamic vinegar. Serve fruits with flavored yogurt or peanut butter.
  2. Pack up rainbow snacks that are easy to carry. Make veggie grab bags with your children— small plastic bags of crunchy veggies like baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, snow peas or whatever is in season. Keep the bags in the fridge, inviting kids to take a few on their way out. The contents of the bags are great to munch on throughout the day, especially when fast food and vending machines with candy compete for kids’ attention.
  3. Help kids learn where rainbow foods come from. To do this, visit local farms, shop at farmers’ markets and celebrate the seasons by going apple picking in the fall and strawberry picking in the summer. Grow a family garden— even if it’s only a windowsill herb garden— or join a community supported agriculture program, often referred to as a CSA. Whenever possible, try to buy fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season and grown locally. They’ll taste better and cost less.
  4. Start a cool family food ritual. Welcome your children to go food shopping with you and create regular Freaky Fruit Fridays, when each child chooses a new fruit or vegetable to try. Or, at mealtime, have children find a fruit or vegetable with a particular color. Create an ongoing family cooking show in which your kids act out making a fruit or veggie snack. Videotape each performance to share with friends.
  5. Pair reading time with eating time. Read children’s books that have to do with healthy foods, and then enjoy eating the food featured in the story as a family. Books like The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Blueberries for Sal, Stone Soup and my book Janey Junkfood’s Fresh Adventure! make good eating an enjoyable accompaniment to good reading.
  6. Explore cultural and ethnic food traditions, discovering how different cultures use fruits and vegetables in their cuisines. Instead of serving sugary treats at celebrations, consider foods from other cultures such as mango-on-a-stick from Mexico or edamame, cooked soybeans that are a Japanese favorite. Also play entertaining food songs from around the world, like the Picnic Playground CD by Putumayo Kids.
  7. Create refreshing alternatives to soda. The average child drinks more than 500 cans of soda a year. At 10 teaspoons of sugar a can, that means children are consuming more than 50 pounds of sugar from soda annually. To counteract this, have kids make their own Soda Naturale. Fill a glass halfway with 100 percent fruit juice and top it off with seltzer. Encourage kids to create their own combinations, and think up a special name for their natural sodas and even an advertising jingle. Diluting fruit juice with seltzer is a great way to cut down on the natural sugars found in fruit juice.
  8. Be a good role model. Show how much you enjoy eating fruits and vegetables in front of your children. Don’t pass on the peas and be enthusiastic when you munch on carrots and other produce. Serve healthy foods when your children are at their hungriest, likely after school or before dinner. Promote choice, but limit choices to two healthy options. Instead of asking your children the open-ended question “What do you feel like eating for a snack?” ask “Do you want a banana or a pear?” Also, request that children at least take a bite of an unfamiliar food. Studies show that it can take up to 15 tries for a child to come to like a new food.
  9. Involve kids in the preparation of healthy fruits and vegetables. The more children assist in preparing wholesome foods, the more apt they are to eat them. Even the youngest children can serve as rainbow chefs. A sampling of young rainbow chef tasks include washing an apple, tearing a piece of lettuce, creating a fruit smoothie and composing a rainbow stick comprised of sliced and diced fruit on a chopstick.
  10. For additional ways to make eating nutritious and colorful foods entertaining for all ages, explore www.foodplay.com. The site has activities and whimsical recipes that children can make with just a little help from grown-ups.