"Color is often an indicator of nutritional content when it comes to produce," says Ellie Krieger, a registered dietician, the host of the Food Network's Healthy Appetite, and a national spokesperson for the "Just One More for Healthy Living" program (a campaign that encourages families to reap big health rewards by taking little steps, like adding one more physical activity or serving of fruits and vegetables to their daily routine). "So when you eat a variety of different colors, you're ensuring that you're getting a variety of different nutrients."
Each food color group has a unique nutritional makeup, and one that's full of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, Krieger explains. Oftentimes, the nutritional makeup of a fruit or vegetable actually causes its color. For example, beta-carotene, an antioxidant found in cantaloupe, carrots, and yellow bell peppers, imparts a yellow-orange color.
Another antioxidant called lycopene, which imparts red or pink, is the color source of tomatoes, watermelons, and pink grapefruit. As far as fruits and veggies go, the more colors you eat, the more vitamins and antioxidants you take in.
Here, Krieger offers eight simple ways — and three yummy recipes — to make your family meals more colorful.
Be playful. To motivate your child, invite her to "eat a rainbow." Create a grid, colors along the top and days of the week down the side, and hang it on the refrigerator. Your child can keep track of which colors she eats each day by putting stickers inside the appropriate boxes. "Every night," says Krieger, "I ask my 4-year-old daughter, 'Did you eat your rainbow today?'"
Make it matter. To help your child understand why colorful foods are good for her, explain it in her terms. For example, she may not understand the significance of vitamin C or calcium, but she will know what it means if you say these foods can help her to be strong and smart. If she's interested in games and sports, explain that fruits and veggies will help her run fast.
Cook together. Involving your child in prep helps her feel invested in the meal. Give her a safe task, like sprinkling cheese on a pizza or cutting peppers with a butter knife. "If kids make it, they usually want to try it," Krieger says.
Do as you say. Show your child that vibrant produce is delicious by eating it yourself. If you're not used to eating a lot of fruits and vegetables, this is a great chance to start. You don't have to remember all of the nutritional science behind the colors to enjoy their flavors and health benefits — just know that a variety, in all the colors of the rainbow, is good for you.
Start small. Incorporating new things into your food routine can feel overwhelming. "Begin by adding just one more serving of colorful fruits and vegetables a day," Krieger suggests. "Throw some peas or corn into a pot of macaroni and cheese, or toss some raspberries or sliced bananas into a bowl of cereal. Small things really can make a huge difference."
Be daring. Put canned beets in salad, avocado on sandwiches, or blackberries in oatmeal. Slip a slice of orange into your water or lemon in your tea. "We eat with our eyes," Krieger says. "An enticing array of hues can make mealtime more exciting."
Stock up. Quick and easy access to healthy foods makes it easier to eat them. Keep chopped or small produce, like blueberries or cherry tomatoes, in your refrigerator, and fill a shelf in your pantry with canned fruits and veggies. Store bags of frozen berries and veggies in the freezer. "Canned and frozen veggies are comparable in nutritional value to fresh, and you can always have them at your fingertips," Krieger says.
- Shop smart. Try to get at least one fruit or vegetable of each color. In this rainbow, white counts, too. Generally, deeper, darker colored produce is more nutrient-dense. For example, romaine lettuce has a higher nutritional value than iceberg. Also, ask your child to help you shop. She's more likely to want to try the foods she picked out herself.
What you need:
- 4 whole wheat pocket pita breads
- 1 8-ounce can no-salt-added tomato sauce
- 1½ cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 cups sliced mushrooms or chopped, cooked broccoli
What to do:
- Preheat oven to 400°F. Slice each pita in half to make 2 rounds.
- Place the pita rounds, cut side up, onto baking sheets.
- Spread 2 tablespoons sauce on each round. Sprinkle with cheese and oregano. Top with mushrooms or broccoli.
- Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Makes 4 servings.
Rainbow Fruit Skewers with Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries
What you need:
- 1⁄2 cup of blueberries
- 1 kiwi, peeled
- 1 cup of pineapple chunks
- 1 large orange, peeled
- 12 chocolate-dipped strawberries (recipe follows)
What to do:
- Cut the kiwi and orange crosswise into 4 rounds, then cut each round into 3 pieces, so that you end up with 12 pieces of each fruit.
- To prepare the skewers, put 2 blueberries about 1⁄3 of the way down the skewer. Add a piece of kiwi, a pineapple chunk, a piece of orange, and top with a chocolate-dipped strawberry (see next recipe). Makes 12 skewers.
What you need:
- 2.5 ounces dark chocolate
- 1 16-ounce container of strawberries, trimmed
What to do:
- Line a tray with wax paper.
- Break up the chocolate into small pieces and place about 2⁄3 of it into the bowl of a double boiler over barely simmering water. Make sure that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Stir occasionally, very gently, until the chocolate has melted, about 1 minute.
- Remove the bowl from the double boiler and add the rest of the dark chocolate, stirring gently until it has melted.
- Dip the strawberries in the chocolate, place on the wax paper, and chill in the refrigerator for 15 minutes or until chocolate is set. Makes 6 servings
Recipes copyright 2007 Ellie Krieger. All rights reserved.