This is a much-touted tip for healthy eating, and part of our 5 key guidelines for packing a healthy lunchbox. But why should we do it? And what are some ways to incorporate the rainbow into lunches?
We sometimes get stuck feeding our kids (and ourselves!) the same thing over and over as we know they will eat it. And while this is totally normal, breaking out of the box has benefits for your health and beyond.
It’s Healthy… Surprise!
The bright colour in fruit and veg is a guide to the various nutrients they have tucked within their cells: green is great for bones, teeth and eyes; orange/yellow is for immunity, eye and heart health; red foods assist your memory and your heart health too; blue/purple foods help with memory and in ageing well; and brown/white foods are good for our hearts and cholesterol. Plus, broadening your range can help you manage your microbiome which can help with weight loss, mood, fatigue and gut irritability. Read more over here.
Keeps it fun
Here at The Wholesome Feed, eating the rainbow is another way to think about eating as wide a variety of foods as possible. Yes, with the goal being the intake of a broad variety of nutrients, but also to open our minds and palettes to everything the incredible world of food has to offer. If we encourage our kids to try new things from a young age, we are setting them up for a lifetime of joy in healthy food and eating, instead of it being a chore. Of course, it makes sense that variety makes things more interesting too and that is very important in getting our kids to eat well.
How to do it
Some tips for encouraging our kids to eat the rainbow:
Cutting up fruit and veg makes it more appealing. I don’t know why, but it does. I don’t mean into fancy shapes – though if you have time, go for your life – but slicing into manageable portions really helps. Sprinkle a little cinnamon over the cut side of an apple to make it yummier and disguise the brown.
Dipping into stuff is fun. Make an avo dip (stabilized with lemon juice), a yoghurt dip, a vegie dip, or a legume based dip such as hummous.
Rainbow sandwiches. Some kids love vegie sandwiches, but for the rest of them, add something they love to sweeten the deal. Some ideas are salty grilled haloumi, homemade nut spread (or nut-free alternative), sweet chilli sauce, homemade tomato sauce, bacon, salami or ham, crushed boiled egg, or cream cheese.
Introduce your children to salads and make your salads better. It doesn’t need to be full of lettuce for it to be classified as a salad, and dressed greens don’t stand up too well to a day in a lunchbox. We cook pearl barley, then chop all the vegies we have in our fridge into quite small pieces and roast with olive oil and cumin seeds. Toss it all together with the barley and some feta and you have a really delicious salad for dinner. Pop leftovers into a food thermos for a filling and tasty rainbow lunch.
Give your kids some credit and talk to them about why eating a rainbow is so good for them. Getting them involved in conversations about how they can take charge of their own health is giving them a critical life skill. Give each vegie a background story. For example you could explain that the reason they say carrots help you see in the dark is because the orange stuff is full of Vitamin A which is good for eye health.
For Crunch & Sip, aim for a 5:2 veg:fruit ratio and take cues from your greengrocer to cast your net wider than apples, tomatoes, celery and carrots. Some alternatives are:
- sugar snap peas
- snow peas
- baby cucumbers
- cherry tomatoes
- raw zucchini ribbons or spirals
- heirloom carrots in purple and yellow
- raw (or cooked) corn kernels (cut from the cob in slabs)
- just-cooked spears of asparagus, crunchy green beans or broccolini
- thinly sliced radish if your kid doesn’t mind the mustard
Another place to look is the world of Asian veg.
- Edamame beans (you can buy them frozen, podded)
- Baby corn
- tinned bamboo shoots
- bean sprouts
Jazz it up
You may have bad memories of overcooked and underseasoned veg, but many of these veggies are way better if you have them raw, or dressed with a little lemon juice, olive oil and a touch of salt. Don’t underestimate your child’s tastebud sophistication and treat veg the same way for them, as you would yourself.
If you are having some trouble getting your kids to eat more of a variety, there are ways to incorporate different foods into their diet with a little less drama, albeit with a bit of extra effort.
Make a fancy yoghurt dip for Crunch & Sip with finely grated zucchini, seasoned with olive oil, salt and lemon juice, then mixed into yoghurt.
Green pancakes made by blending a little flour, baby spinach, peas, ground cumin and egg. Add some whole peas and corn to the mix before frying in a pan. Cook them the night before and pack with a little tub of the above yoghurt dip.
Grated heirloom carrots in a variety of colours, with cream cheese and sultanas on a sandwich.
Chargrilled capsicum is sweet and soft and a nice change from raw. You could add home made or bought chargrilled capsicum to rainbow sandwiches or wraps, or blend with yoghurt and ground coriander seeds into a dip. The nutrients in cooked capsicum and carrots are more easily absorbed in the body than their raw version so this is a great alternative.
At dinner, try some of these ideas:
Add grated raw zucchini into guacamole on taco night, or even into coleslaw for a fish burger.
Puree peas, baby spinach and a bit of mayo, salt and pepper and spread onto the same fish burger, or just use as a dip for grilled fish.
Sweet corn fritters: Add a handful of grated zucchini, finely chopped broccoli stem, or finely chopped capsicum to a recipe like this one.
Fresh is best
You don’t have to have a chef’s palette to be able to taste the difference between an old zucchini and a fresh one. A fresh zucchini is creamy and sweet, while one you’ve left in the crisper for too long may look ok, but can taste bitter and acrid. One bite of this and your little tike may get a long-term case of anti-veg-itis!
And that’s your tastebuds telling you something… A University of California study shows that vegetables can lose 15 to 55 percent of vitamin C within a week. Some spinach can lose 90 percent within the first 24 hours after harvest! Don’t let this panic you, as the way you store your veg can improve these statistics. But being a thoughtful shopper and buying just what you need will help.
These are all simple little ideas. Just incorporating one or two might be the change you and your family need. Good luck and start thinking in colour!