Eating a range of fruits and vegetables not only adds color and variety to our diet, it ensures that our bodies get the nutrients it needs to thrive: naturally.
Fruits and vegetables contain vitamins and minerals and other naturally occurring substances that may help protect us from chronic diseases. Studies show that people who eat generous amounts of fruits and vegetables are likely to have reduced risk of chronic diseases, including strokes, type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer, and perhaps heart disease and high blood pressure.
Doctors recommend that we eat each colors of the rainbow daily, but that can certainly be a challenge for adults, and especially for children. A more realistic goal is to include a range of colors and cover the whole rainbow over the week.
Ok, let’s get into the why and how to eating a rainbow:
Red fruits and vegetables are packed with disease-fighting lycopene. Some health benefits of lycopene include protecting our skin from harmful sun damage, reducing the risk of certain cancers and heart disease, and decreasing asthma-type symptoms when we exercise. The redder the fruit or vegetable, the more lycopene it has. Reds include: watermelon, red bell pepper, guava, tomato, pink grapefruit, red grapes, beets, strawberries, rhubarb, cranberries, pomegranates, red potatoes & cherries.
Easy ways to get your reds: pasta sauce, red bell pepper strips dipped in hummus, dried cranberries in trail mix or oatmeal, or dessert of strawberries drizzled with chocolate sauce.
Fun fact: while beta-carotene is in many vegetables like kale, spinach and broccoli, this nutrient is in such a high dose in “oranges” that it’s what gives it the orange color. Beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant that can help keep our immune system strong, among other benefits like supporting vision. And we’re not just talking oranges – carrots, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, peaches, apricots, nectarines, tangerines, pumpkin and winter squash are healthy orange foods.
Easy ways to get your orange: carrot sticks for snacks, dried apricots with nuts, pasta tossed with pureed squash and parmesan cheese, or shredded carrots in meatloaf.
Similar to the oranges, yellows contain carotenoids which decreases our risk of lung cancer, heart disease and arthritis, and supports our respiratory system so our kids can run, skip and play all day. Healthy yellows include bananas, corn, yellow squash, pineapple, pears, lemons, yellow apples, yellow tomatoes and yellow bell peppers.
Easy ways to get the yellows: yellow tomatoes or bell peppers sautéed for a fresh pasta toss, yellow squash on grilled kabobs, or chilled pineapple on a popsicle stick.
A few kid-friendly greens packed with nutrients include:
Broccoli – just one serving provides 2 days worth of vitamins C and K. Try pesto with broccoli instead of basil or spinach, toss small bites into macaroni and cheese, or use as a pizza topping.
Avocado – not just full of vitamins, but a great source of healthy fats.
Spinach – Popeye was smarter than we thought. Full of iron and folate, spinach does wonders for growing bodies. Try tossing it into a stir fry with other vegetables, use in a pesto sauce with pasta, or layer into lasagna or enchiladas.
Other great greens include zucchini, romaine lettuce, asparagus, green beans and peas, kiwi, limes, honeydew melon, pears, cucumbers, green grapes, green apples and kale.
BLUE and PURPLE
Blue and purple vegetables get their color from healthy flavonoids – the key to maintaining healthy bodies and aging well. This color group is also believed to help reduce the risk of cancer, stroke and heart disease. Blackberries, raisins, eggplant, figs, radish, blue potatoes, purple grapes and plums give children a good dose of nutrients.
Blueberries are often a favorite antioxidant. These disease-fighting balls of goodness can easily be a year-round treat by freezing some over the summer. Try them in smoothies, dried in trail mix, cereal, and use them to sweeten just about anything, including unflavored yogurt.
Foods from this color group may help lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and could reduce the risk of stomach cancer and heart disease. Some members of the white group, such as bananas and potatoes, are good sources of the mineral potassium, too. Great whites for your family include cauliflower, bananas, potatoes, garlic, ginger, jicima, mushrooms, onions and parsnips.
Here’s a great winter veggie dish: Roasted Vegetables. Dice up carrots, parsnips and small potatoes. Toss with olive oil, garlic & lightly salt before they go into a 400 degree oven. Roast for 30 to 45 mins, tossing once about half way through. You can blast them near the end with the broiler. Warning: they’re addicting!
Make it fun, and easy to get your nutrients from the rainbow of fruits and vegetables. Remember: the key to getting your recommended variety is to take it slow by adding in new colors and flavors each week. A great first step to encourage your little ones to try new fruits and vegetables is this Today I Tried chart from the wonderful people behind Today I Ate A Rainbow. You can download it here.