For generations moms have compelled, bribed, and forced their children to eat their veggies. What we moms seem to forget is that kids are made to play and there is nothing more fun to play with than food. SO- if you are trying to get your family to enjoy “Eating the Rainbow” find a way to turn this goal into a game. Here are some ideas to help you.
What does THIS do for me?
We grown-ups know that fruits and veggies are healthy. Their deep colors provide great anti-oxidants that fight off cancer and slow the slow the aging process, along with bioflavonoid that reduces inflammation and fights infection. They help with digestion and absorption, and help keep the body’s water levels in check. All that is great but our little ones really just want to know how they can get big and strong so all that medical mumbo jumbo is pretty much lost on them (OK a lot of it is lost on me too). So to get them recognizing the food-body connection I like to play a little impromptu game around the lunch table. I serve up a plate of colorful, fresh, finger foods and the kiddos hold up each bite asking “What will this do for me?”. I generally answer with these simple responses:
• RED fruits and veggies- keep your heart strong
• ORANGE fruits and veggies- Help you see in the dark and keep your eyes healthy
• YELLOW fruits and veggies- Keep you from getting sick
• GREEN fruits and veggies- make your bones and teeth strong
• BLUE and PURPLE fruits and veggies- help your memory
Once they’ve eaten everything, I point out that they helped every part of their body in just one meal. As a side note- I love it when they eat a cupcake, a chip, or another “sometimes” food and ask “What will this do for me?”. Resisting the urge to really tell them what it will do, I generally say “Hmm, not much”. Their little disappointed faces tell me they recognize the importance of using food to stay healthy and as they get older they will be more inclined to make good choices. (I have started going into more detail with the 12-year-old as she seems to be bombarded with junk food in school and other activities).
Add some COLOR to the day!
Preschoolers love to learn their colors and what better way to do it than to have a day totally devoted to one color. Clothes, crafts, and even food can all reflect the “color of the day”. One of my favorite websites offers free printables to help kids get excited about healthy eating habits. They have games, coloring pages, and other ideas that help children learn about eating their colors. This site also has some great suggestions for foods in each color.
Make Meal Time a Game
Set up a family competition to “Eat the Rainbow” every day. Follow the “recipe” to prepare the game and then gather your family together to decide on the prize you’ll enjoy when the family meets the goal. (Ideally this should be a non-food prize like a special family outing- they have been rewarded with yummy colorful foods all along right?)
You can use this rainbow coloring sheet, or find a different one, or just use that pent up artistic talent to draw your own!
Another fun way to introduce the concept of eating colorful foods is with this printable card game.
Avoid the Clouds
Puffy, white clouds look innocent enough as they float along; they are fun, cute, and occasionally give us rain. But have you ever thought that they are actually just there to cover up the beautiful colors found in the sky? Clouds may just be empty distractions that keep us from focusing on nature’s more vibrant displays. This is just like the phenomenon known in my house as “Cloud Foods”. These foods are the (generally) white foods that fill us up without providing much nutritional value. Cloud foods are often processed, boxed foods that are loaded down with fats, sugars, and salt. These foods make us feel full quickly, tricking our brain into craving them, and keeping us from eating the colorful, nutrient-packed foods presented by nature. Instead of feeling energized by living, healthful foods we are left feeling- well- cloudy. One of the best ways to eat the rainbow is to avoid the clouds. Try these simple tricks:
• Replace crackers with cucumber slices and top with chicken or egg salad.
• Drop the chips and use carrots, celery, jicama, and peppers to dip in salsa, hummus, and guacamole.
• Instead of white bread sandwiches try spinach or tomato tortilla wraps.
• Set aside cookies or cakes and enjoy fresh fruit topped with yogurt, nuts, and carob chips.
• Experiment with new flours: whole wheat, oat, garbanzo, sorghum and others are now readily available and are a healthy replacement for some or even all of your bleached “all-purpose” flour.
We all know habits are hard to break so it’s up to parents to help their children set up good habits early. If parents make fruits and veggies fun, kids will enjoy being exposed to new foods and will connect happiness to healthy eating. Remember- the only white in the sky is the clouds, and those are just puffy packages of empty nothingness. So blow away the clouds and gobble up the rainbow. Happy Cooking!