Since the beginning of time, moms have been telling their kids to eat their vegetables and that green things are good for you. In more recent years, the advice has shifted to encouraging kids to “eat the rainbow.”
It’s pretty straightforward — colorful veggies are good for our bodies. But not all veggies and fruits are created equal, and some are packed with more nutrition than others.
And no matter how pretty they are or how nutritious they are, parents continue to struggle with getting kids to like what’s best for them. What else do you need to know about getting kids to eat the rainbow? Some local dietitians weigh in.
“The greater variety of colorful fruits and vegetables in your diet the more vitamins and mineral you will consume,” said Allison Forajter, clinical dietitian with Community Healthcare System.
“Dark leafy green vegetables, such as broccoli and bok choy, which are high in iron, are also high in vitamin C so that the iron in these foods is very well absorbed.”
While those leafy greens have long been pushed by parents, there are colorful fruits with a sweeter taste that rival their dark green counterparts in nutritional value.
"Berries are a nutritional powerhouse because they are packed with antioxidants, fiber, vitamin C, potassium and folate,” Forajter said.
Rachel Savage, registered outpatient dietitian with Community Hospital, said there are many reasons that it is important for kids to eat a range of colorful fruits and veggies every day.
“Variety keeps things interesting and encourages kids — and adults — to incorporate new foods into their diet. One of the biggest reasons, however, is the unique benefits that a variety of colors in fruits and vegetables provides us,” Savage said.
“Each color represents its own special health benefits. For example, red and blue/purple fruits and veggies contain anthocyanidins, which are potent antioxidants. Research suggests these improve blood vessel health.”
There’s no disputing the "why," but the "how" is a little trickier. How do you get kids to eat more fruits and veggies?
Forajter suggests involving kids in the produce selection or even planting a garden together.
“The more parents and caregivers involve kids in cooking and grocery shopping, the more familiar they will become and more likely they will be to eat that fruit or vegetable. I encourage parents and caregivers to try unfamiliar fruits or vegetables, as well, so you can learn together as a family,” she said.
“Involving your child in gardening will help them learn about produce and increase their likelihood of eating fruit and vegetables.”
Savage echoes the idea of making a child part of the shopping experience.
"Involving children in the kitchen and in shopping is one of the best ways to help them increase fruit and vegetable intake,” Savage said.
“For example, put them in charge of choosing the fruits and/or veggies for your shopping trip that week. Or, let them pick one or two dinner recipes for the week and the ‘star’ fruit or vegetable to go with. You can even go so far as to create a fruit or veggie dish and name it something unique to make it special to your child, such as Suzie’s Spectacular Smoothie or Captain America Salad.”
Using fun shapes or designs with food is another tip Forajter offers.
“Cut fruit or vegetables into fun shapes or arrange cut-up produce into a picture or smiley face. You can use cookie cutters to cut melon, cucumber, carrots and many other fruit or vegetables into flowers, hearts or many other shapes,” she said.
“If your child doesn’t like baby carrots, try carrot coins.”
Making color-themed meals can also be fun for kids and make food more appealing.
Forajter said you can match these up with holidays and do a red-themed meal for Valentine’s Day with red bell peppers, raspberries and strawberries, or a green St. Patrick’s Day meal and work with cucumbers, kiwi, green bell peppers and green grapes.
Ultimately the goal is for kids to eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day and if you go to choosemyplate.gov you can customize meals to meet recommendations based on age, height, weight and physical activity.
Exploring the site with your kids will help you both reach a better understanding of how to incorporate more fruits and veggies into your diet and why they are so important.
And modeling good eating habits is one of the best ways to help your child on a lifelong path of healthful eating. “Don’t forget they notice what you’re eating, too,” Savage said.
“If mom and dad or other role models don’t prioritize fruits and vegetables, it’s safe to say kids won’t, either.