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Getting Kids to Eat the Rainbow

My four year old, Sam, is a great eater.  But once upon a time he went through the dreaded Brown Food Phase (aka as the White Food Phase) and I just didn’t like the fact that he wasn’t really getting the whole rainbow of foods into his system.  He would be thrilled to eat oatmeal, hummus, beans, bread and peanut butter etc. all day long.  It felt weird to always be saying, “Eat your fruit and then you can have your beans…”

So, I set out on a campaign to make his diet more colorful again.  We experienced one day where he didn’t eat breakfast until about eleven because all I offered were brightly colored fruits and veggies and all he wanted was oatmeal.  I know, I know, oatmeal is perfectly healthy.  And he does eat a huge bowl of it every morning still.  But I felt like we were in a food rut and I wanted him to be eating other things throughout the day.  By that afternoon he was sampling the rainbow of foods I had placed on his tray and actually liking some of them.  Now I offer him only one or two things at a time, often doctoring them up in a way I know he likes (see below) and usually placing a piece of something new on the tray.  They say you often have to expose a kid to a new food around ten times before they like it, or sometimes before they’ll even try it!

Here are some of the ways that were effective in getting Sam to eat a more varied, colorful diet:

  • Green smoothies and veggie ice cream (basically a frozen fruit-heavy green smoothie, but thicker.  We just use less liquid and blend frozen fruit until it’s like soft serve.  Try thinning it with carrot juice.  Sam is nuts about it).  A simple and surprisingly sweet and delicious combination is spinach and pineapple (we use frozen).  The spinach really doesn’t alter the taste much and if they balk at the color just serve it in an opaque sippy cup!
  • Grated or minutely chopped carrots, cabbage, red peppers, even spinach etc. (get the red peppers organic, cabbage though is surprisingly low in pesticides when grown conventionally).  I find that if I chop things really tiny he’s more likely to eat them, especially with a liberal dousing of his favorite dressing, a homemade vinaigrette made with apple cider vinegar, olive oil, garlic, herbs etc.
  • Place a piece of something new on their tray each meal without mentioning it or coercing.  9 times out of 10, they will try it eventually, even if it takes a few days.
  • Have something for dipping (dressing, peanut sauce, homemade ketchup, fruit purees etc).  The trick is getting them to actually eat the thing dipped and not just the dip.  For this reason, I make sure the dip is healthy too, since often mass quantities get consumed.  Homemade sauces are much better because you can control what goes into it.
  • And lastly, just don’t offer the junk, keep only healthy snacks around.  Sam loves dates as a treat.  We also call his chewable vitamins “candy” and he thinks those are treats.  Fruit leathers and corn chips are about as junky as I try to let it get.  That way he feels some liberty in being able to choose snacks and I feel good knowing that any option chosen isn’t too bad.

I’ve been reminded of all of this because my normally adventurous eater, Vivian, is heading into Sam’s Brown Food Phase and I’m revisiting all my old tricks.  How do you make sure your kids eat a wide variety of healthy foods?

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