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Eating the Rainbow

I don’t often recommend talking about nutrition with kids. It tends to put pressure on them to eat certain foods. That being said, there are certain kids that are going to be naturally curious about what they are eating and may ask about what different foods do in their bodies. They may have been told in school that “eating the rainbow” helps them to get all the nutrients that they need, but they may not understand exactly what that means.

ALL foods provide something to our bodies. Even if that something is just energy. It’s important to keep in mind that food is more than just nutrients and energy, it’s also part of our culture, family, and heritage. Many times foods provide comfort. These things are just as important as the nutrition that the food provides.

While this article will be focusing specifically on different colored foods and what they bring to the table nutritionally, one way to help keep foods off of a pedestal is to talk about the nutrients in all foods. Chocolate, for example, contains magnesium. Many candies may just provide energy and that’s ok! Kids need a lot of energy. Try not to focus on just foods that have traditionally been labeled as “healthy” or “good.”

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Talking with Kids

You’ll need to tailor your conversation to YOUR child. One of my kids is very into the pathophysiology of the human body. Way more so than other kids his age. For him, I may go into way more detail about how certain foods are broken down and how vitamins and minerals are used than I would for another kid his age, because that’s what’s interesting TO HIM.

If your goal is to teach kids about the nutrients in foods so that they will eat “healthier” or so that they will eat more foods, then I wouldn’t recommend talking to them about nutrition at all. If your goal is to discuss science in a fun way or answer questions your kids already have, then I would definitely go for it.

Kid Food Explorers on Instagram is a great account for learning about food in a kid friendly way. Dani shares a ton of fun resources for making food fun without pressuring kids to eat.

Red Foods

Many red foods get their color from lycopene or anthocyanin. Lycopene is an antioxidant that has been shown to reduce heart disease, protect eyes, and fight infections (1). It also seems to have a protective effect against prostate cancer. Anthocyanins help to protect the liver, help with eyesight, and can reduce blood pressure and inflammation (2).

Younger kids may want to know that red foods help their heart and their eyes. They can also help protect you when you get sick. Fun fact: cooking tomatoes can help your body absorb the lycopene better.

Some examples of red foods: beets, red cabbage, tomatoes, red bell pepper, radish, chili pepper, radicchio, rhubarb, red onion, red potatoes (with the skin), pomegranate, and many berries.

Orange Foods

Many orange foods get their color from beta carotene or provitamin A. Your first thought may be vision, but it’s also great for immune function as well (3). In fruits, the orange color is often from vitamin C, not beta carotene. Vitamin C is super helpful for iron absorption.

Younger kids can learn that orange foods help their eyes and their bodies when they get sick.

Some examples of orange foods: pumpkin, bell pepper, apricot, cantaloupe, mangoes, carrots, oranges, sweet potato, persimmons, butternut squash

Yellow Foods

Many yellow foods contain phytonutrients (like bromelain in pineapple) that can help support digestion and have antioxidant properties. The yellow color that we see is often vitamin C. Bananas, a popular yellow food, are a great source of potassium.

Younger kids may want to know that yellow foods can help their tummies and help when they get sick.

Some examples of yellow foods: golden delicious apples, Asian pears, bananas, lemons, pineapple, corn, onion, bell pepper, squash

Green Foods

Green foods often contain different phytonutrients such as catechins, flavonoids, chlorophyl, folates, isoflavones, nitrates, phytosterols, and tannins. These can help support heart health (4). Greens tend to be good sources of minerals such as calcium and magnesium as well as vitamins such as vitamin K. There are many greens powders available, however it’s usually better to get your nutrients from the foods themselves.

Younger kids may be interested to know that green foods can help their heart and their bones.

Some examples of green foods: apples, artichoke, avocado, bean sprouts, bell pepper, broccoli, cabbage, celery, cucumber, edamame, grapes, green beans, green peas, kale, kiwi, lime, olives, pears, salad greens, spinach, okra, kohlrabi

Blue/Purple Foods

Many blue and purple foods get their color from flavonoids such as anthocyanin (2). These flavonoids may help slow cognitive decline, improve motor skills, and reverse memory loss. There are also polyphenols such as resveratrol and ellagic acid which are being studied for protection against certain types of cancer. They are antioxidants which may protect cells from damage that’s linked to diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.

Younger kids can learn that blue and purple foods are good for their brain and their heart.

Some examples of blue and purple foods: blackberries, blueberries, boysenberries, eggplant, plums, purple cabbage, purple grapes, purple potatoes, raisins, figs

White Foods

White foods do contain nutrients! One phytonutrient that you may have heard of is allicin which may have antiviral and antibacterial properties (5). Bananas (the insides are white) contain potassium. Some other fruits and veggies contain beta-glucans and lignans which can help the immune system.

In addition to the fruits and veggies, there are many white foods that tend to get a bad reputation: breads, pasta, cereals, etc. These foods tend to be fortified with a lot of the nutrients we need. They may not have as much fiber as their whole grain counterparts, but they can definitely be part of your child’s diet. In fact, for many vegetarian/vegan families, it’s recommend to not give all whole grain products, because kids can actually get too much fiber.

Kids may like to know that white foods can help with their immune system and many white foods are fortified with a lot of the nutrients they need.

Some examples of white foods: potatoes, onions, garlic, mushrooms, cauliflower, turnips, leeks, parsnips, bananas, white nectarines, white peaches, pears


All foods offer some nutritional value, along with things that are harder to measure such as being a part of our cultural or familial traditions. They can provide comfort as well as the nutrients we need. Talking about the different colors is one way to talk about foods with kids who may be curious about the nutrients in their foods, but shouldn’t be used to try and pressure kids into eating a certain way.

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