I have not had an easy relationship with food. My childhood food experience could be summed up by the phrase, “nothing in moderation.” No that is not a typo, I lived in a home of extremes, NO sugar! NO salt! Handfuls of vitamins! to name a few of my most vivid memories. I know that my parents really were trying to be their version of healthy, but it wasn’t very healthy for me. And it was not just the food itself, but the attitude around it. We had no set meal times or rituals and food was talked about mostly in the negative.
And so like we all do, I was set on doing things differently when it was my turn to create the food culture of my own family. And for the most part I am happy with our rituals, our group cooking projects, our meals shared with conversation and love. BUT. . . I also noticed that my children were becoming “Carbovours” more or less. I have always been very encouraging of their making their own food choices and have offered lots of healthy variety. BUT, the crackers were winning! What about fruits and vegetables? How could I even begin to think about “controlling” or limiting what they eat after having had such a negative experience myself?
My husband was raised with the complete opposite food experience from me. He is Italian, like grew up there Italian. His family grows food, loves food, spends lots and lots of time preparing and eating and talking about food. And they are fit, healthy and have low cholesterol! Ah, how much I have learned from him. In the beginning things like, “wouldn’t you like to come over here and sit next to me while we eat dinner?” gently mentioned as I wandered around the house with a plate of food. What, sit and have a meal? together? Hmm, might be nice.
Then I began watching him cook. He starts by thinking about what is in season. How many times have I heard him suggest we get a big bunch of something and cook it up in some wonderful way. He takes his time, sometimes a long time, and eventually there is a dish on the table for us all full of flavor, love and health. And he has such a good attitude about it all: food is supposed to be delicious and make you feel good. Food is supposed to be enjoyed and prepared with care.
It was from his example of being thoughtful and positive about good food that I came up with a plan. Instead of focusing on what I didn’t want them to eat so much of, I would use a little imagination to get them excited about enjoying fruits and vegetables. I remembered reading about “eating the rainbow” in a Dr. Sears nutrition book for kids.
And so we created our own Eating the Rainbow chart. I know, a chart, ugh, but this is a rainbow! More of an eating related art project. I sat down with my six year old and reminded her how important it is to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. We talked about what she likes to do when she feels strong and healthy. I then asked her if she thought that she could eat the rainbow. She looked at me with big eyes and I clarified, “Could you eat a fruit or vegetable from every color in the rainbow?” And so we decided to try. We have a chart to keep track of the colors we are eating and as the week progresses our rainbow grows.
Here is how it works, she tells me the fruits and vegetables that she likes or is willing to try. We come up with a color code for each food. Our goal is at least six servings a day (ideally two fruit and four vegetable). But the quantity is not the focus, the variety and the colors are the focus.
Our chart gets reviewed each week and foods can enter and exit. We added olives and removed squash this week. There are lots of green items so we got creative with the color key: dark green= spinach, light green=green beans, aquamarine= peas. Looks beautiful. At the end of the week we look at our rainbow and talk about what we notice. “I ate ALL the colors!” my daughter said at the end of the first week. Beautiful, I thought as I contemplated more ways to eat purple.
Download Leyani’s Eating the Rainbow chart here!