‘Rainbow Diet’ a Healthy, Vibrant Option for Family Meal Planning
Parents know that a child's lunch should be a well-balanced meal containing a protein, starch, vegetable or fruit and occasional treat. However, we all are stuck in our lunch planning ruts, and when things get hectic and harried, it's easy to fall back on unhealthy lunch options.
So how about packing a rainbow to help get more fruits and vegetables into your child's diet? Parents of young children may already be aware of a recent Sesame Street campaign to encourage children to eat a “rainbow diet,” focusing on a large array of fruits and vegetables.
This campaign has been coordinated with United Healthcare in an attempt to foster healthier eating habits among children because, as different colors of fruits and vegetables indicate the different nutrients they contain, consuming a rainbow of fruits and vegetables helps ensure that children and adults get enough of the different nutrients that we all need for good health.
Anthocyanins, which are found in red, blue and purple fruits and vegetables, have antioxidant properties that help limit damage caused to cells and may lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, and macular degeneration and memory problems. Lycopene, found in tomatoes, may help lower your risk of cancer and heart disease, and red, blue, and purple fruits and vegetables contain potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C and folate.
White fruits and vegetables contain anthoxanthins, antioxidants which may also help lower the risk of heart disease and cancer. These foods may also be good sources of potassium, vitamin C, folate, niacin and riboflavin.
The compounds that give orange and yellow fruits and vegetables their color are called carotenoids. Carotenoids may help improve immune function and lower the risk of heart disease, vision problems and cancer. Some infants and toddlers who cannot get enough of these pureed orange and yellow fruits may take on an orange appearance - carotenoids are the substances responsible for this benign condition.
Last but not least, everyone's “favorite” vegetables- green.
Chlorophyll gives green fruits and vegetables their color. Greens also contain indoles and lutein, which may lower the risk of cancer and prevent problems with vision. Other common nutrients in many of these fruits and vegetables include vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K and folate.
As a mother of two as well as a pediatric gastroenterologist, I know that serving lots of fruits and veggies of varying colors helps to get children to eat the essential nutrients, vitamins, and antioxidants necessary for optimal growth and development.
Implementing a rainbow diet brings a fun aspect into meal planning by allowing children to help pick which fruits or vegetables they would like to try.
Get your children excited to participate in their health eating habits by encouraging them to pick out a new fruit or vegetable to try when they are shopping with you, and then by packing these new treats into their lunch in inventive ways.
One trick that has worked for me in my own home has been to pack these fruits or vegetables with a healthy dip (such as hummus) to make lunches more exciting. I cut fruits or veggies into fun shapes or make them into “fruit sushi”- joining them with whole grain rice and some yogurt sauce.
Some of my patients have also told me about playing the “guess the food” game in which their children win prizes after tasting a new fruit or vegetable. Involving your children in meal preparation is also a great way to work towards getting your children their recommended five daily servings of fruits and vegetables.