Eating the Rainbow

“Struggling to get your children on board with eating fruits and vegetables? You are not alone!

A lot of parents have difficulties with inspiring their little ones to explore new foods. Fruits and vegetables are often at the top of that list. Commonly, parents resort to a punishment or reward model in an effort to encourage more veggie consumption. For example “if you don’t eat the rest of your broccoli you can’t have your dessert” or “if you can finish your carrots then you can have a treat.” 

While this approach has been normalized for quite some time, we know now that it encourages children to start developing an impaired relationship with their food. They start to develop a thought pattern that vegetables are “bad, so we need to choke them down to earn a reward.”  Or that treat foods like ice cream are “bad foods” that we need to earn. When children, and adults alike, get caught in this type of food dichotomization it sets the stage for disordered eating, chronic dieting, and the inability to trust their own interoceptive cues like hunger and satiety.

So, what if we changed the narrative around these foods? At HEC our dietitians try to encourage varied and balanced food consumption, with the driving motivator being how and why those foods fuel our bodies. Instead of vegetables being undesirable and untasty, they can be presented as a rainbow of colours that help us to grow and get stronger.  Instead of treat foods being the reward for getting through those veggies, they can be offered in a neutral way alongside other options. A great place to start is by trying to elevate the benefits of fruits and vegetables in a fun way for kids. Consider teaching them about “eating the rainbow”.

The attached handout offers some of the key benefits of different coloured fruit and vegetables, which may be important to your little one(s)! This is a more neutral and/or positive approach to food with children. Some steps to encourage  “eating the rainbow” could include having them pick a new coloured food to try each week. Or having them come to the grocery store and observe all the different options available. Letting children pick a new coloured food can be a great way to get them involved in their dietary choices. This fosters the growth of their interoceptive awareness – rather than the degradation of it.”

Amber Whittemore RD BSN MHSc