A: Vegetables can be a tough sell for some children. Trying different fruits and vegetables can be fun and exciting for the child if presented properly. In Norfolk Public Schools, the School Nutrition department promotes ‘Eat Your Colors!’ through weekly fresh fruit and vegetable selections, taste tests, and the USDA Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program.
The fruit and vegetable rainbow consists of five color groups: blue/purple, red, orange/yellow, green, and white. Each color group contains a unique antioxidant in the form of a pigment that gives the fruits and vegetables their defining color. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables from all color groups is recommended for optimal health benefits.
Red fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, red apples, beets, strawberries, peppers, and raspberries contain pigments called lycopene and anthocyanin. These pigments give the red fruits and vegetables a bold red color while reducing your risk for cell oxidation which can lead to cancer. Anthocyanin is also found in blue and purple fruits and vegetables such as blackberries, blueberries, eggplant, and fig. Green fruits and vegetables such as kiwi, green beans, and cucumbers contain a pigment called chlorophyll. Chlorophyll acts similar to anthocyanin and lycopene by reducing your risk for cell oxidation. White fruits and vegetables such as bananas, cauliflower, jicama, and mushrooms contain a pigment called anthoxanthin. Anthoxanthin reduces your cholesterol and overall blood pressure. Lastly, the orange and yellow fruits and vegetables such as cantaloupe, lemon, nectarines, pears, squash, carrots, and pineapple contain carotenoids. Carotenoids work with vitamin A in your body to maintain healthy skin and eyes. Consuming a rainbow of fruits and vegetables can have a lifelong effect on your health.
Now you know the science behind eating your colors, but how do you encourage your child to ‘taste the rainbow?’ First of all, when you offer your child new fruits and vegetables, I recommend making extra time to ensure the presentation is eye appealing. For instance, when I introduced zucchini to the district lunch menu I requested that they be cut in strips instead of medallions. The strips gave the zucchini more color contrast with the long strip of dark green against the long strip of white. Also, the cut of this vegetable lends itself to my second piece of advice - cut the fruit or vegetable in a way that is easy for the child to pick up and dip (into a reduced fat dip, of course). If the child is enticed by the way something looks they are bound to pick it up and try it!
Every Tuesday School Nutrition offers a new fresh fruit while a new fresh vegetable is offered every Thursday. Some of our fresh fruit and vegetable selections for the year have consisted of: sugar snap peas, asparagus, blood oranges, yellow squash, and zucchini. No worries, the May menu is full of exciting fresh fruits and vegetables as well - orange peppers, strawberries, and watermelon to name a few!
Breakfast and lunch are free of charge for all free and reduced students. For the paid student, breakfast is $0.90 in all schools and lunch is $1.60 at the elementary level and $1.75 at the secondary level.
To share your good school meal experience or to learn more about school meals visit www.traytalk.org
for more info!
See you in the cafeteria!
Christina Kepa, M.S. RD