By Lindsey Shay | Contributor
Ensuring that kids are “getting their greens” is a necessary part of healthy eating, but getting them to eat a wide variety is equally as important.
Many vegetables are high in essential vitamins, antioxidants, minerals, and fiber that can promote good health and aid in preventing disease, ensure healthy growth and development, strengthen immune systems, and aid in proper digestive function (Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, Children’s Medical).
However, not all vegetables are the same.
Each vegetable provides different essential minerals and nutrients, which is why “eating the rainbow” is one of the most important dietary concepts to base dietary structure on.
“Eating the rainbow” is a simplified way of encouraging a balanced diet by incorporating a vast range of whole foods. By eating a variety of colors, you ensure the consumption of a wide range of minerals, vitamins, nutrients, and antioxidants that power your body. As an added benefit, the natural colors of vegetables and fruits come from the phytonutrients they contain and hold powerful properties varying by color.
So, what are the colors and their benefits? (Eatingtherainbow.org)
Red foods, such as tomatoes, peppers, watermelon, apples, and raspberries, are generally full of antioxidants and have been proven to be anti-inflammatory as well as lower the risk of heart disease. Dark red foods, such as beets and pomegranates, have been noted for helping the blood take in oxygen and therefore reduce the chance of high blood pressure and aid in urinary tract health.
Similarly, orange and yellow foods tend to also have anti-inflammatory properties as well as a vast range of antioxidants. However, orange and yellow foods uniquely have nutrients that highly beneficial to good eye health. Highly powerful orange and yellow foods include sweet potatoes, oranges, bananas, squash, and carrots. These foods tend to be high in biotin, promoting bone, skin, and hair health.
Of all the wonderful colors of foods, green ones are incredibly important, especially in lowering the risk of suffering from cancer as well as heart disease. Increasing the intake of greens such as kale, broccoli, chard and spinach will provide copious health benefits. Other green veggies, such as peas, asparagus, broccoli, and brussels sprouts hold numerous vitamins and minerals that also are extremely nourishing and beneficial.
Blue and purple foods have been seen to enhance brain function and lower the risk of neurological disorders. Additionally, blue and purple foods can be very helpful in the fight against type 2 diabetes as well as cancer and heart disease. And, like many other vegetables and fruits, they are also home to many anti-inflammatory qualities and antioxidants. These include eggplant, purple cabbage, purple potatoes, blueberries, blackberries, and plums.
Lastly, white and brown vegetables, such as cauliflower, jicama, white onion, and mushroom, can be extremely beneficial in colon health as well as electrolyte and fluid balance.
From this, the logical idea of eating the rainbow makes perfect sense, but not all children are so apt to try new things, especially if they are aware that what they are eating is a vegetable. The answer does not lie in coating them with oils and frying them up, but rather in adapting your favorite recipes to include a plethora of vegetables without unhealthy oils and fats. Here are a few of my favorites:
Hidden Veggie Mac and Cheese
(Variation of a recipe by Tasty)
- 1 lb red lentil rigatoni pasta
- ½ cup water
- 1 cup cauliflower florets
- 1 cup butternut squash, diced
- 1 cup carrot, sliced
- 2 cups skim milk
- 2 cups low fat shredded cheddar cheese
- 4 oz light cream cheese
- Add water, cauliflower, squash, and carrots in a pot over medium heat. Cover and cook until vegetables are tender.
- Add everything into a blender, including cooking water, and blend until smooth.
- Return blended veggies to the pot over medium heat, and add the milk, cheese, and cream cheese. Stir until smooth.
- Add noodles, reduce heat, mix thoroughly, and cover for 20 minutes.
Chocolate Veggie Muffins
(Variation of a recipe by Food Network)
- 2 large eggs
- 2 medium bananas, mashed
- 1 cup grated carrots
- 1 cup loosely packed spinach or kale
- 3 tablespoons coconut or avocado oil, melted
- 1/4 cup maple syrup or honey
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup white whole wheat flour
- 1 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 cup cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Dark chocolate chips, to taste
- Preheat your oven to 350 ℉ and line a 12-hole muffin tin with liners. Set aside
- In your blender, combine eggs, banana, carrots, spinach/kale, maple syrup/ honey, oil, vinegar, and vanilla.
- Blend until mixture is smooth.
- Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cocoa powder and cinnamon. Process until just mixed. If you do not have a high speed blender, combine everything in a bowl and mix by hand.
- Fold in chocolate chips.
- Portion batter into prepared muffin tin and top with extra chocolate chips if desired.
- Bake for 20-22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.
Hidden Veggie Chicken Nuggets
(Variation of a recipe from Kidgredients)
- 500 grams white meat chicken, minced
- 1 egg
- ½ head cauliflower, chopped into florets
- ½ head broccoli
- 2 carrots, grated
- 1 egg whisked with ¾ cup water
- ¾ cup flour
- 1.5 cups panko breadcrumbs
- Preheat oven to 350 F
- Combine the chicken, egg, cauliflower, broccoli and carrots into a food processor.
- Process until smooth and like a dough.
- With wet hands, form tablespoonfuls into nugget shapes.
- Coat in flour, then dip into the egg water then coat in the panko crumbs.
- Space them out on a lined baking tray and drizzle with olive oil.
- Bake for 20 minutes then flip and bake for another 20 minutes.
Baked Veggie Tater Tots
(Variation of recipe from Kidgredients)
- 1 large zucchini
- 1 medium white potato, peeled
- ½ small head of cauliflower
- 1 medium carrot, peeled
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 egg
- 1/3 cup parmesan cheese
- 1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs
- ¼ cup finely chopped parsley
- ½ medium white onion, finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
- Into a large mixing bowl, grate the zucchini, potato, cauliflower, and carrot and mix together with ½ teaspoon salt. Let mixture sit for 20 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 400 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper
- Transfer the veggies to a clean kitchen towel and strain as much liquid as you can.
- Place veggies back into the bowl and mix in egg, parmesan, breadcrumbs, parsley, onion, garlic, pepper and ½ teaspoon salt, mix until well combined.
- Scoop out 1 tablespoon of mixture and form into tot shape, transfer onto lined baking sheet.
- Bake 25-30 minutes, flipping halfway through. Enjoy!
SHOP LOCAL FARMER’S MARKETS
As an added benefit, eating veggies, especially when sourced locally at Farmers Markets, is an easy way to take part in taking care of the environment. Buying organic is climate friendly due to the reduced dependence of non-renewable fossil fuel-based practices and is wildlife friendly, reducing the amounts of chemicals that are introduced into animal habitats. Moreover, organic products mean there are no genetically modified or bioengineered ingredients, ensuring no “junk” in your family’s diet. Some local farmer’s markets in the Greater Dallas metroplex include:
- Dallas Farmer’s Market – 920 S Harwood St Dallas, TX 75201
- Frisco Fresh Market – 9215 John W. Elliott Dr Frisco, TX 75034
- Lucky Layla – 3721 Jupiter Rd Plano, TX 75074
- Georgia’s Farmers Market – 916 E 15th St Plano, TX 75074
- Coppell’s Farmers Market – 768 W Main St Coppell, TX 75019
- NRH Farmers Market – 7700 Davis Blvd North Richland Hills, TX 76182
- Grand Prairie Farmers Market – 120 W Main St Grand Prairie, TX 75050
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Lindsey Shay Pidgeon is a Certified Nutrition Coach and Certified Personal Trainer with two undergraduate degrees with highest honors from The University of Georgia. She is currently embarking on a Master of Public Health at UT Health in Dallas, Texas.