Healthy eating can be fun and games

Follow the food rainbow to better nutrition

Next time you head for the grocery store, invite your kids to come along and play a game.

On the drive over, each person states how many items he or she will be able to identify in the produce section. Once you get to the store, take your time looking at all those items you routinely breeze by. How many could you and your kids identify?

Being able to identify a kumquat or bok choy does not necessarily mean your kids will be prepared to eat them, but it can be a first step toward broadening their fruit and vegetable repertoire.

While we all know that eating fruits and vegetables every day is important, it is equally important to eat a variety, says Nanci Guest, a registered dietician and personal trainer.

“Every fruit and vegetable has its own unique profile of phyto-chemicals and antioxidant value,” she says. “Some are good for the prevention of cancer, others for heart disease, some repair muscles while others improve brain function.”

In short, giving your kids carrots for their vegetable intake and apples for their fruit intake every day is simply not enough, Guest says, as a variety provides a full complement of vital nutrients.

Food Rainbow

Changing your child’s diet — sound easy to say but not to easy to do?

Getting your kids involved will help with the process, hence the game in the produce section. Next, Guest suggests introducing the idea of eating from the rainbow simply to illustrate what they need to eat in a fun way.

The produce rainbow has five colour groups: white (potatoes, bananas, mushrooms), red (apples, strawberries, tomatoes), orange/yellow (squash, carrots, oranges), blue/purple (blueberries, plums, raisins) and green (cucumber, spinach, green grapes).

If the fruit has a different colour on the outside from the inside, go with the colour that you will actually eat. The yellow banana peel goes in the green bin and you eat a white banana. While the flesh of an apple is white, you eat the red skin therefore it goes in the red group.

For a comprehensive list of fruits and vegetables by colour in a handy grocery shopping list format visit

Make it fun

For younger children it is always helpful to make food and nutrition a fun activity.

In keeping with the grocery store game theme, visit with your kids and let them explore all the games, activities and contests including a bingo card you fill with PLU stickers pulled from the fruit and vegetables you bring home.

They have also created a useful chart to hang on your fridge and track your family’s colour consumption each week.

If your kids still remain reluctant to try new fruits and veggies, Guest offers some other tips.

Kids who are into sports, dance or other physical activities may be motivated if they hear their idols eat this way, too.

“I tell my young hockey players, ‘I have worked with the Vancouver Canucks and this is how they eat’,” Guest says. “I often get calls or emails from shocked parents who want to know how I did it.”

She also suggested giving kids a more complete picture of why these fruits and vegetables are necessary beyond the standard ‘because they are good for you’ rationale.

“I talk to kids about phyto-chemicals, but change the spelling to ‘fight-o-chemicals’ to illustrate how they fight the bad buys and make you stronger.

“The key is to touch on something that will resonate with them,” Guest says.

If they are into video games, “try talking about how the body produces waste that needs to be cleaned up and the good stuff in fruits and vegetables are like a Pac Man character that goes through the body gobbling up the bad guys,” Guest suggests.

Most importantly, parents need to remember that it can take up to 20 times for a child to accept a food so “keep trying,” Guest says.

“Be patient and persistent and remember you are in control.

If you make fruits and vegetables part of your family meal time, children will not see them as a yucky food group.

“Just make it part of what you do and part of life.”

About this article:

Posted: Mar 29 2011 11:46 am
Filed in: Health & Wellness
Edition: Toronto