By Adrian Kohrt
People love rainbows. They are beautiful — with an array of colors that capture the eye and the imagination. Because they are amazing and beautiful, why not capture them in your own home on your own plate? By eating an assortment of colorful vegetables, it is not only pleasing to the eye, but to the palate, too. And, most importantly, it helps to provide the wide assortment of nutrients that you and your children need to be healthy.
It has been in the news repeatedly that the number of overweight children is skyrocketing in the United States. According to the Alaska Obesity Facts Report of 2014, three in every 10 high schoolers in Alaska are obese and four in 10 toddlers ages 3 and under are obese. These are disturbing facts. We all want to do something, but what can we do?
To assist parents in helping their children to eat in a manner that will help prevent obesity, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has created a guideline called MyPlate. MyPlate (www.choosemyplate.gov) recommends that half your plate at each meal consist of fruits and vegetables, with vegetables making up the majority.
What does “eating a rainbow” have to do with combating obesity and following MyPlate guidelines? By eating a variety of colors of vegetables, kids get the nutrient-packed foods they need to grow. Eating vegetables according to the recommendations from MyPlate assists parents and children in eating a well-rounded meal that will lead to a healthier lifestyle.
Choose variety of vegetables throughout the day. The more colors on your plate at each meal or snack the better. Do not make a rainbow with artificially colored foods.
Here are some examples of a rainbow of vegetables that you and your family can enjoy:
• Red — beets, radicchio, radishes, bell peppers, red onions, red potatoes, red chili peppers, tomatoes (even though they are considered fruit)
• Green — artichokes, arugula, avocados, broccoflower, broccoli, broccoli rabe, Brussels sprouts, chayote squash, asparagus, Chinese cabbages, cucumbers, endive, green beans, green cabbage, green onions, peppers, leafy greens, leeks, lettuce, peas, snow peas, spinach, sugar snap peas, okra, watercress and zucchini
• Yellow/orange — butternut squash, pumpkin, rutabagas, sweet corn, carrots, sweet potatoes, yellow beets, yellow peppers, yellow tomatoes, yellow potatoes, yellow summer squash and winter squash
• Blue/purple — purple peppers, black salsify, eggplant, elderberries, grapes, plums, prunes, purple Belgian endive, purple or blue potatoes, purple cabbage, purple asparagus, and purple carrots
• White — cauliflower, garlic, ginger, Jerusalem artichoke, kohlrabi, mushrooms, onions, potatoes, jicama, shallots, parsnips, turnips and white corn
The Whole Kids Foundation provided these tips for parents to get their kids eating vegetables:
• Put at least one produce item of each color on your shopping list each week.
• Buy what is in season to enjoy peak flavor and lower prices.
• Serve produce at peak ripeness.
• Rinse and prepare fresh vegetables as soon as you get home so they are ready for kids to grab and eat. Store them within kid reach.
• Arrange raw vegetable rainbows on plates, thread them through skewers or make funny faces.
• Let kids play with their food. Allowing kids to build their own food rainbow and sculptures will inspire children to eat them.
• Serve a weekly rainbow dinner with each color represented in one meal.
• Put a rainbow of foods in their lunch box. They will love showing it off and may encourage classmates to eat more colors, too.
Variety is the spice of life, not only to our eyes, but to our taste buds as well. Eat a variety of vegetables in a wide array of colors every day. Be an example to your children and eat vegetables with them!
Adrian Kohrt is the family nutrition coordinator for Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For questions, she can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (907)474-7930.