Summer gardens are in full swing! Green beans, tomatoes, sunflowers, cucumbers, squash, okra, melons, basil, corn, eggplant, peppers, and more. This is such a colorful, juicy, flavorful season…perfect for garden adventures with kids. Now is the time to plan outings to community gardens, farmers’ markets, and farm stands, and befriend neighbors with gardens. You’ll see what grows well in your area and gather lots of ideas for what you might plant in your own garden.
Given the right opportunities, kids will get excited about fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains and other wholesome foods. Yes, really.
Since helping kids learn to love fresh, nutritious, whole foods can seem overwhelming at first (Where do I start? Which foods are best?), we’ve made it easier with three simple guidelines that work for kids, and really, anyone at any stage in their healthy eating journey.
We believe these three basic healthy eating principles:
- Eat a rainbow of colors.
- Eat leafy greens first
- Eat as close to nature as possible
Let’s take a look at why these principles work and what they look like in action, at home.
Eat a Rainbow of Colors
Fruits and vegetables get their color from naturally occurring micronutrients like vitamins and phytonutrients — essentials for good health. One key function of these nutrients is antioxidants, which include beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, and vitamins A, C and E. (Not all antioxidants impart color, but eating a colorful range of foods helps you get them all!)
The more naturally occurring colors of whole foods — including whole grains and beans — you eat at each meal or snack, the better. So, aim to "eat a rainbow" throughout the day and week to help your body get a complete range of nutrients. Here are some examples:
- Red — apple, cherries, red peppers, strawberries, tomatoes & watermelon
Possible nutrients: flavonoids, lycopene, vitamin C, and folate
Supports: Heart health & memory
- Orange/Yellow — cantaloupe, carrots, mango, oranges, pineapples, pumpkin, sweet potatoes & yellow peppers
Possible nutrients: beta-carotene, vitamins A & C
Supports: healthy eyes, heart health & immune function
- Green — asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, collards, cucumbers, grapes, green beans, green peppers, kale, peas & spinach
Possible nutrients: chlorophyll, vitamin K, carotenoids, isothiocyanates & omega-3 fatty acids
Supports: healthy bones, teeth & eyes
- Blue/ Purple — beets, blackberries, blueberries, dark beans, eggplant & figs
Possible nutrients: anthocyanin
Supports: memory and healthy aging
- White — ginger, jicama, onions & mushrooms
Possible nutrients: flavonoids
Supports: heart health and good cholesterol levels
- Start slowly: Gradually transition to filling at least half of your or your child’s plate with colorful veggies at each meal.
- Put at least one produce item of each color on the shopping list every week.
- Serve a weekly rainbow dinner with every color represented at one meal.
- Rinse fresh fruits and veggies and store them within kids’ reach so they're ready to grab and eat.
Try this recipe: Rainbow Soba Salad
Read on: Check out our Better Bites: Eat a Rainbow and discover more easy tips, games and recipes like Rainbow Fruit Skewers with Yogurt Dip.
Eat Leafy Greens First
Reach for nutrient-dense leafy greens first in a meal. Why greens? Each serving of green veggies (especially dark, leafy greens like kale, collards and spinach) are low in calories but a rich source of vitamins and minerals for your body.
- Serve a salad every day — they can be very affordable, offer great variety and there’s no cooking required!
- Add leafy greens to smoothies, baked goods, pasta sauces, scrambled eggs and soups. You can purée them before adding so they’ll go unnoticed, if desired.
- If you’re new to greens, try milder options like romaine, spinach, Swiss chard and bok choy first.
Try this recipe: Green Spring Salad
Read on: Discover more with our Better Bites: Eat Greens First and find additional tips, a delicious recipe for kale chips and a taste experiment for the whole family.
Eat as Close to Nature as Possible
In general, fresh and minimally processed foods retain more nutrients than processed foods. So, concentrate on whole foods in their natural forms, such as fruits and veggies. Bonus: Raw foods like carrots, snap peas and bell peppers don’t just offer big nutrition. They’re also budget friendly and usually cost less than processed foods. Plus, they’re easy to prepare — just wash, cut and serve!
- When shopping, you'll typically find the least processed foods around the perimeter of the store like in the produce department.
- Reach for foods direct from nature like veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils and whole grains.
- Make smart swaps like choosing whole grain versions of your favorite bread products like loafs of bread, tortillas, bagels and waffles.
Try this recipe: Healthy Aqua Fresca
Read on: Our Kids Club feature on raw foods for more tips, recipes and a fun, family-friendly food challenge.
Dig In: Remember, if you’re looking to build healthier habits, no need to change everything at once. These transitions take time, so start with small steps that you can feel good about. Small changes really can add up to long-term results.