Eating a nutritious diet is an important element of a healthy lifestyle. Kids that start out eating fruits and vegetables tend to lean toward these foods instead of less healthy choices. One way to help kids start and maintain healthy eating habits is to get them involved in the growing process. According to recent studies, kids that spend time outdoors gardening and communing with nature show improvements in self-discipline, and in children with attention deficit disorder, their symptoms decrease. These are two good reasons to get your kids started on the gardening path and to introduce them to the concept of Eat a Rainbow.
Eat a Rainbow?
In case you’ve never heard of “Eat a Rainbow” outside of eating those rainbow-colored candies, here’s a brief primer. Fruits and vegetables aren’t just green or yellow. They literally run the gamut of a rainbow. Each color represents different nutrients that the food item provides. Not just your usual vitamin A, C and roughage, but also phytonutrients, substances in plants that aren’t actually vitamins or minerals, but offer health benefits. The color of the fruit or vegetable protects its nutrients. So, by eating a selection from the entire rainbow you get the optimal vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.
Sounds great, right? Bet you think it’s hard to do, huh?
Nope. It’s much easier than you think. We all know that a healthy diet consists of at least 5 servings of fruits and veggies a day, and you most likely eat most of the rainbow on a regular basis but just don’t realize it. For example, if you eat strawberries and bananas in your cereal and half a grapefruit in the morning, put blueberries in your yogurt at lunch, eat a salad with carrots and spinach along with your eggplant parmesan for dinner, and snack on an orange, you just ate a rainbow.
“Active involvement in a garden can also make kids more willing consumers of vegetables, including unfamiliar varieties.” – Shannon Brescher Shea, Washington Post
Learn Which Phytonutrients You’ve Absorbed
Check out this table from the Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center:
Phytonutrient(s) Associated with Color
Health Benefit Associated with Phytonutrients
Example Fruits and Vegetables
Lycopene and Anthocyanins
Strengthening collagen proteins in the body Preventing lung, prostate and stomach cancer
Strawberries Tomatoes Watermelon
Beta-carotene and Liminoids
Protecting against chronic bronchitis, asthma and emphysema Reducing the risk of cataracts and lung cancer Decreasing cholesterol levels
Liminoids, Beta-carotene and Zeaxanthin
Protecting against chronic bronchitis, asthma and emphysema Reducing the risk of cataracts
Decreasing cholesterol levels Protecting vision Preventing tumors and cancer in the colon, breast and prostate glands
Lutein, Saponins and Glucosinolates
Preserving eyesight Maintaining heart and skin health
Increasing enzyme activity to detoxify carcinogens Preventing cancer and lowering lipid levels
Collard greens Broccoli
Anthocyanins and Flavonoids
Strengthening collagen proteins Preventing cancer Providing anti-inflammatory and analgesic benefits
Did you know that being exposed to good bacteria early on in childhood builds a strong and healthy immune system? So get your kids gardening – get them outside and let them play in the dirt. A little dirt never hurt!
“Picking up soil and smudging it into their face, there’s nothing wrong with that,” – Jack Gilbert, Microbiologist, and Author of Dirt Is Good
Now that you know what Eat a Rainbow means and you know what fruits and veggies are included (the table above is a small example), there’s even better news: Most of these fruits and veggies you and your kids can grow yourself! Many of the foods in the chart above are kid-friendly foods, meaning most kids like the majority of the included fruits and vegetables, but you can also experiment with other foods before committing to growing them at home. If you’re looking for a way to keep track of each food you and the kids try? Use the handy how-to guide and chart below:
How to Use the Chart
Choose several fruits and vegetables from each color from the list above.
Before you start tasting the food, identify the different parts of the plant and determine which part of each plant we eat. For example, we eat the roots of some plants, the leaves of another plant and in some cases, we eat both the root and the leaves.
As you and the kids try each food, fill out the chart below.
When choosing taste, pick descriptive, objective terms. For example, if a child doesn’t like grapefruit because it’s too sour, instead of including the reaction (yuck, bleh, etc.), state that the fruit was too sour.
Once you’ve completed the chart, choose the foods that you and the kids most enjoyed. If you didn’t choose at least one food from each color, pick different foods from the missing colors until you find foods that everyone enjoys.
What Part of the Plant?
Was It Raw or Cooked?
How Did It Taste?
Would You Eat It Again?
Now Let’s Start Planting!
With a list of rainbow foods that your kids enjoy in hand, it’s time to gather the seeds and seedlings you need to grow your own rainbow. You can research online to learn the climates each food requires to grow (see USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map), or you can take a trip to the local nursery or home and garden store for information and supplies. And if you are looking for ways to help your plants thrive, check out our selection of pots and planters. Made from a wide variety of materials, our containers will keep your plants happy and healthy.
Teaching kids to eat healthy early only leads to good eating habits later on. Get your kids on the right path by eating a rainbow every day and teaching them how to grow one. The earlier they start, the better chance both habits will last for the rest of their lives.