This is a challenge I give to children of all ages. I tell them to see if they can eat all the colors of the rainbow in the course of a day (*or a week if they are just getting started with learning to broaden their eating habits.)
Why is this important? Isn’t it enough to eat corn, carrots, and apples over and over and over?
Well, that is definitely an excellent start. And certainly much more than some people (adults included!) will eat. The truth is we are all better off with creating some diversity in the plants in our diets which I will explain below. I’ll share what I say to convince kids to eat fruits and vegetables. Finally, I will link to and explain how to use the tools above to motivate kids to reach their Eat the Rainbow goal. (Click here to go directly to the FREE printable handouts.)
WHY WE ALL SHOULD EAT THE RAINBOW
Fruits and vegetables contain different phytochemicals which are substances that give plants their color. They help to protect the plant and when we eat them, they benefit our health.
HOW I GET KIDS TO EAT THE RAINBOW
For many years I gave kids my standard advice on healthy eating.
“It is important to eat fruits and vegetables so you will have a strong body.”
Seriously, in one ear and out the other. Their eyes would glaze over. Sometimes they would even make gagging sounds. While this still happens sometimes, I have started approaching the conversation differently.
I tell them this:
I’m going to let you in on a secret. Something I didn’t even learn in medical school. Something that a lot of doctors don’t even know. You’re going to know something more than some doctors!
This piques their interest. “Really? I’m going to know something more than a doctor?”
I go on to tell them about the gut microbiome and how we have trillions of bacteria that live in our body. I compare the microbiome to a rainforest – every living organism in the rainforest plays a part in keeping the forest alive. If one of the animals went extinct, this would disrupt the balance in the rainforest.
Well, this is also true of our gut. And do you know what the bacteria in your gut like to eat?
Only plants have fiber. Fiber is not found in meat, cheese, eggs, fish, or milk. This is why it is important to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and beans in our diet.
The bacteria in our gut RELY on us to feed them. They have no other source of food! If you don’t eat these foods that contain fiber, then some of your bacteria won’t have enough food to eat.
For the older kids, I go on to explain that bacteria produce something called SHORT CHAIN FATTY ACIDS which our body uses to help with our immunity and digestion. We also have a discussion about the connection with the gut and the brain and how an unhealthy gut can lead to alterations in mood.
The other important thing to know is different strains of bacteria eat different types of fiber. And there are many types of fiber. And THIS is the reason why you shouldn’t only eat carrots. If you do this, the strain of bacteria that rely on the fiber from broccoli may not survive. And the ones that rely on black beans may not survive. And so on.
So, as the owner of YOUR body AND YOUR bacteria, it is do important for you to try to work on eating a variety of plant foods in your diet.
I understand that you are the boss of what goes in your mouth. BUT, with that freedom also comes a level of responsibility for you take care of YOUR body. Will you do this for your body?
So usually I get a yes here. But I don’t stop there. Because they will probably forget our conversation on the car ride home.
I give them a SMART goal. SMART stands for:
- Time connected
Instead of telling them, “Eat more fruits and vegetables”, I might say something like “Eat an apple at breakfast for 3 days this next week.” I tailor that goal to wherever they are in their wellness journey. I might ask them to “Eat all the colors of the rainbow in a day” (or week to make the goal easier to achieve.) A more advanced goal would be “Eat 30 different plant foods within one week.”
I negotiate with the kids on if this goal will work for them. Sometimes they say no and we make an adjustment. It is important for them to feel successful with the goal to drive them to add more to the goal the next time.
It helps to write it down for them or if they are older I will have them write it themselves on paper or on their phone.
EAT THE RAINBOW PRINTABLE HANDOUTS
This is the Eat the Rainbow printable handouts I created for parents and healthcare providers to use to help children eat more fruits and vegetables and therefore more fiber. I created this tool to provide an easy reference sheet for kids to remember to eat all the colors of the rainbow. It becomes a game. Which means it is now fun to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. Bingo! And by the way, I also have an Eat the Rainbow Bingo Game. You can download all three of these handouts for FREE here.
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE GUT MICROBIOME
I have to give credit to gastroenterologist Dr. Will Bulsiewicz, MD, MSCI at The Plant Fed Gut for teaching me all about the gut microbiome. He published a book this year called Fiber Fueled if you want more in depth knowledge on the gut microbiome. He includes 4 weeks worth of recipes at the end of the book if you want to work on upping your fiber intake and feeding your gut microbiome.
You can also listen to an interview with Dr. Bulsiewicz here on Veggie Doctor Radio. This was the first time I heard him speak and I found the interview quite compelling. It’s not everyday you hear someone speaking about fiber so passionately.
There is also a kids book called Buddies in my Belly by Sarah Morgan. Ms. Morgan calls the gut bacteria “buddies” and teaches kids how they must take care of their buddies. Like a pet. The bacteria are given cute nicknames and are dressed like superheroes. The book explains their different jobs and what they like to eat. I show my patients in clinic this book to help them to visualize their gut bacteria.
CALL TO ACTION
Parents: This is my challenge to you. Print out the Eat the Rainbow Tools for your child. You might even want to laminate them so they can be reused. Go through the list and have your child pick something in each color category to try. Even if your child chooses not to eat it, start the conversation. This is still progress. Don’t give up! You got this.
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