Helping Children Enjoy the Experience of Eating the Rainbow
By: Dr. Laura Jana, Pediatrician and Advisor to Once Upon A Farm
I have long been convinced that achieving parental success in getting children to eat a healthy, nutritious diet right from the start involves two key considerations. The first involves an awareness and understanding of just what constitutes “healthy and nutritious.” Which foods and how much of each certainly factor into the decisions that all parents have to make when introducing children to an array off foods. For that, I recommend looking to any one of the evidence-based nutrition books out there. The other consideration? Well that has to do more with reality and the recognition that all of the awareness, understanding and commitment to serving healthy and nutritious foods does not, in fact, insure a healthy nutritious diet. Why? Because it’s not just what you serve, but whether or not your child actually eats it that determines how nutritious it is! Making this point ever-so-succinctly, one of my favorite healthy eating truisms is that in the world of early childhood nutrition (and at all ages, for that matter!), food is only nutritious if and when it’s actually eaten!
In short, this means that your recipe for nutrition success is dependent on two absolutely necessary components:
- Your choice of nutritious foods
- Your child’s ultimate receptiveness to eating them
With that in mind, it becomes crystal clear why rainbows so often enter the nutrition picture. The beauty of “eat the rainbow” advice is that it does such a great job of simply and effectively addressing both considerations.
Let’s start with the first – the selection of healthy foods. One of the main reasons that nutrition experts almost universally recommend presenting vegetables in a colorful array, aside from the fact that it is so easy to remember what to do when you’re walking through the produce section of the grocery store, is because the more colorful array you choose, the more likely it is that your child will be served up an equally wide array of valuable nutrients. From the orange and yellow contributed by carotenoids to the blue, red and cream of flavonoids and the chlorophyll’s contribution of green, serving up brightly colored vegetables help insure that your child will be presented with the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants they need to nourish their growing bodies.
While gaining an understanding of the nutrients found in colorful vegetables will undoubtedly serve you well, I can say with complete certainty that the details of what I just wrote above will be completely lost on your infant, toddler, or preschooler (and, based on personal parenting experience, perhaps quite a few teenagers as well!) when they’re faced with sitting down to eat what you’re serving up. What’s not lost on even very young and/or tentative tasters, however, is that colorful foods are visually and naturally enticing. Or, as one of the many fruit and veggie-promoting website puts it, its entirely possible (and in advisable) to dazzle your kids with color – expanding both the palette of colors on your child’s plate and, at the same time, the nutritional status of your child’s palate.
As for specific strategies that support eating the rainbow, they are plentiful as soon as you start looking for (or googling) them. From pretty presentations on toddlers’ plates to colorful purees and even enlisting fruit- and veggie-loving books (Lois Ehlert’s Planting a Rainbow and Eating the Alphabet were two staples in my household for years!) there are lots of fun and appetizing ways to make your important mission of helping your child eat the rainbow all the more fruitful!
For more information on this and other aspects related to the most common nutritional challenges of parenthood, be sure to check out my book, Food Fights: Winning the Nutritional Challenges of Parenthood (AAP 2nd Edition, 2012)