Getting Your Kids to Eat the Rainbow – Tips from a Registered Dietitian

By:  Lucy Jones, MRES BSC Hons RD MBDA

July 31, 2019

It’s not uncommon to find yourself searching for the holy grail of food. The bottom line is though that good nutrition isn’t about finding the perfect food…the fruit with the highest ever vitamin C or the superfood packed with magnesium. This is because no single food can provide you with everything you need and too much of anything becomes a negative, rather than a positive, for your health. This is where the saying ‘Eat the Rainbow’ comes from. A visual guide to filling your family’s plates with varied and colorful foods. It is, after all, the best way to ensure we get enough of everything.

When wanting to make healthy changes to your family’s diets, it can be a great idea to start with a little audit. Make a note of what your little ones eat for each meal and snack over 7 days. This is much more helpful than a snapshot of a single day as children eat more on some days than others and a week allows you to balance this out. It also allows you to look at the range of foods in each food group eaten.

Ask yourself:

  • How many different fruits and veggies and what colors?
  • How many different wholegrains or carbohydrates?
  • How many different proteins?
  • Are there any groups or colors missing?

Veganism and other meal trends

When we look at a whole community’s nutrition, there are certainly issues that occur frequently and we can therefore use the information to steer our focus for healthy changes. On average for instance, sugar intakes are too high, fluctuating between 11-14 percent of energy intakes depending on the age of the child, and fiber intakes too low1. There are also often low levels of key nutrients such as iron, iodine, calcium and folate, particularly in teenage girls1. A key trend in diets and nutrition at the moment is the reduction in red and processed meat intake2, with a significant increase in plant-based diets and veganism3. While beneficial environmentally and in terms of bowel and cardiovascular health4, there are potential impacts on macro- and micronutrients including protein, iron, zinc, selenium and vitamin B124. Becoming completely plant based can also implicate calcium, vitamin B2 and iodine due to omitting dairy products4. This doesn’t mean that plant-based diets can’t be balanced and nutritious – it just takes a little more planning to ensure you are all getting what you need. The key is ensuring a wide range of foods from all the food groups and including all colors.

Beans, pulses, nuts and seeds provide great proteins for example as do soya products, quorn and wholegrains. When having plant proteins, mix them up to ensure you get all the amino acids needed for growth and health. An example would be mixing a bean and soya mince chili with wholegrain rice.

Iron is key for children’s health and teenage girls, in particular, often fall low in their intakes1. Red meat is an excellent source, but so are beans and pulses, tofu, dried fruits, nuts and even fortified breakfast cereals.

Colorful fruits and vegetables

Colorful fruits and vegetables such as green leafy veg are great for iron, vitamin C, calcium and vitamin K, while red options such as tomatoes pack vitamin C and lycopene, and orange fruits and veggies provide vitamin A and C. Beans and Pulses are also colorful with different nutrients found in lentils, red kidney beans and haricot beans. Nuts and seeds are rich in a variety of nutrients and make a wonderful natural snack. Each type of nut has its own perks such as walnuts for fatty acids alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3) and linoleic acid (omega-6)while almonds are rich in vitamin E6so there is a good rationale for mixing it up and include different types throughout the week.

Wholegrains are a great option to include for B vitamins and fiber; protective for your heart and digestive system7. Replacing whites for browns when it comes to your carbohydrates as well as including more oats, quinoa and even popcorn can help to bump up your intakes.

There are lots of fun ways to incorporate these foods into children’s diets too. Nut butters like almond or peanut butter have all the nutrition of the nuts and you can now buy them without added sugar or salt too. In terms of wholegrains, mixing them with white grains in a 50:50 split can help little palates get used to them as can thinking about the ones they may like a little more such as popcorn and oats. Baked beans, falafel and hummus are great introductions to beans and pulses and following this, you can then try a mild beany chili or lentil balls from there.

Get your child involved

Fruits and vegetables should be featured in every meal and there are lots of ways to boost how much your family eats. Get your children involved in shopping, prepping, cooking and even growing them to boost motivation. Make sure you model healthy behavior by eating a good range too, especially at family meal times, offering plenty of encouragement and reward for trying. Lastly, don’t give up. Repetition is key and it can take time for us to grow to like new flavors and textures. Continue to offer, encourage and model by showing your enjoyment and over time, they will grow to accept, like and eventually love their rainbow of food!


1.  Public Health England (2018) National Diet and Nutrition Survey – results from years 7 and 8 combined. Accessed from Last Accessed 10/07/2019
2.  Public Health England (2019) National Diet and Nutrition Survey – Years 1 to 9 of the rolling programme: time trends and income analysis. Accessed from Accessed 10/07/2019
3.  The Guardian (2018) Third of Britons stopped or reduced meat intake article. Accessed from accessed 10/7/19
4.  British Dietetic Association (2017) Plant Based Diets. Accessed from accessed 10/07/2019
5.  California Walnut Board (xx)
6.  SELF nutrition Data (2019) Almonds Nutritional Breakdown. Accessed from Accessed 10/07/19
7.  Whole Grains Council (2017) ICQC consensus statement on wholegrains and health. Accessed from accessed 10/7/19

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