Three Ways to Help Your Kids "Eat the Rainbow"

Three Ways to Help Your Kids "Eat the Rainbow"

Heather is a mom of two boys, ages 4 and 2, and cooking instructor specializing in bringing cooking into preschool classrooms. After college, Heather knew she wanted to be a teacher, but first followed her lifelong dream of going to culinary school. Teaching cooking combines both of her passions, and she truly enjoys introducing young children to the joys of cooking with fresh ingredients. Find Heather on Instagram (@heather_kidskitchen), where she shares inventive kid-friendly recipes and ideas for cooking with kids at home.

"Eat the rainbow" is a phrase I often use to explain healthy eating to the children in my cooking classes and with my own little ones at home. Nutrition is a complicated topic, but we can all agree the more vegetables we get into our kids and ourselves the better. Trying to include all the colors of the rainbow while planning meals and packing lunches helps us be mindful of eating a balanced diet while making food that not only tastes good—but looks good as well. Like many children, my boys are often hesitant about trying new foods and less than enthusiastic about eating all the veggies I serve them. I’ve found a few ways that help us incorporate colorful, nutrient-rich foods in our lives every day, and I’d love to share some of those tips and recipes with you so you can do the same at your home.

1. Shop together: Taking young kids on grocery shopping trips can be stressful, but making time once in a while to browse the produce section or visit a local farmer's market can be the perfect opportunity to let your kids make their own healthy choices. Make it a game and challenge your child to choose one or two new fruit and/or vegetables during the shopping trip. I find my kids are much more likely to eat something if they picked it out themselves.

2. Grow together: Just like shopping together, seeing where food comes from makes vegetables more fun and less intimidating to children. My son wouldn't touch green beans on a plate, but one day when I came to pick him up from preschool, he and a few of his other friends were plucking green beans right from the vines of their school's garden and munching on them like potato chips. Even something as simple as helping grow one herb or a tomato plant in a pot can give your child ownership of the food they eat and make them more excited about trying new things.

3. Cook together: Being that I'm a cooking teacher, I think this is obviously one of the most important steps in helping our children eat a wide range of healthy foods. My biggest advice is to buy a child-safe knife and get chopping! Start simple; cut something like a cucumber into more manageable strips then have your child cut them into bite-sized pieces. Eat the veggie as is, put right into a lunchbox, or use in as part of a salad or other dish. I also like to keep a pair of child-safe scissors in the kitchen. They are a great way to have kids snip herbs or cut leafy greens into small pieces. Make sure to taste the food you cook together and season it! If the food doesn’t taste good to you, then your kids probably won’t enjoy it either.

Get your kids excited to eat colorful food by making it together. The children I teach are so incredibly proud of the food they make, but if they aren't open to trying what they've made right away, don't force it. The exposure and fun experience will help them try new things in the future. Keep cooking and learning together, and it will make a difference.

Both of the recipes I’ve included are pretty simple, but I love them for several reasons. My four year old loves pasta and my two-year-old will pretty much eat anything with eggs. Combining new foods with a child's favorites is usually a good way to warm them up to vegetables they may not have liked it the past. You can use almost any fresh produce you have on hand which means you can incorporate any herbs or veggies your child chooses at the market or any you might grow at home. Both recipes involve some amount of chopping or veggie prep which my students and kids always get very excited about. You can include two or three colors or throw in the whole rainbow! Plus, both dishes are perfect to make ahead and pack in your child's (and your own!) lunchbox.

Rainbow Pasta Salad with Lemony Yogurt Dressing

8 ounces your favorite pasta (We love to use ones with a higher protein and fiber content like chickpea or lentil based pasta.)
3 cups chopped raw, steamed, or roasted veggies, such as cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, carrots, snap peas, broccoli, red cabbage, and corn
¼ cup Greek yogurt (or dairy free yogurt alternative)
1 to 2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs, such as chives, parsley, or basil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, optional
¼ teaspoon salt
A few grinds of fresh black pepper

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water. Add pasta and veggies to a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients, adding cheese if you wish. Add dressing to bowl with pasta and stir to coat. Taste and add more salt, cheese, lemon juice, or other seasonings to taste. Store in the fridge for up to 5 days.

Veggie-Filled Egg Muffins

Makes 6

3 eggs
2 tablespoon milk (any kind)
1 ½ cups shredded or finely chopped veggies (I used zucchini, carrots, broccoli, and tomatoes)
¼ teaspoon coarse salt
¼ teaspoon turmeric, optional
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
A few grinds of fresh black pepper
1/3 cup shredded cheese, such as cheddar or mozzarella, optional

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use oil or non-stick spray to grease 6 silicone muffin cups or a silicone muffin tin. If you don't have a silicone tin, spray 6 paper cupcake liners in a regular muffin tin.
Crack eggs into a large bowl and whisk together. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Use a ¼ cup measuring cup or portion scoop to evenly distribute egg mixture into the prepared muffin cups.
Bake until puffed and cooked through - about 15-18 minutes.
Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.

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