My 2 year old daughter had always been a pretty good eater. She was fairly fearless and willing to try anything at least once. She liked Indian, Thai, and Mexican cuisine, and fruits and veggies were her favorite. We had some tough times between 8 months and 1 year because I was doing the whole, puree/mash everything method and really, who wants to eat that? (With our second kid, we are planning on doing baby-led weaning and I will be taking Michelle’s class on that at Enso for sure). So, everything was going great until all of a sudden, it wasn’t. Suddenly, meals were these difficult ordeals: things she’s always loved, she would no longer eat; foods she loved one day became cry-worthy the next, there were tears, huge messes, and lots of stress. My daughter has been pretty tall and thin from the get-go, but her food-difficulties were starting to show. At her 2 year wellness check-up, the doctor was concerned at how prominent her rib-cage was and to be honest, so was I. I think it was a combination of toddler-itis and her coping with a new baby in the house and all of the big changes that come along with it.
During this time, she had also become obsessed with rainbows. I’m talking, constant color-talk. I only want to draw rainbows and watch you draw rainbows over and over. Organizing her toys, books, and puzzle pieces by color. OCD. Rainbow. Obsessed. One night at dinner, I noticed her deconstructing her salad and putting the veggies in rainbow order. She then gleefully ate them after shouting out the corresponding colors. The next day at lunch I wanted to do something special for her. Other than the food issues, she really was handling these big life-changes very well and was very understanding when my 3 month old was still eating almost hourly during the day. I decided to blow her mind and make her a “Rainbow lunch”. I tried to give her at least 2 choices for every color because I wasn’t sure how it was going to go over. Red tomatoes, orange carrots, apricot jam on toast, and cheese, yellow romaine lettuce, green kiwi and broccoli, blueberries, purple cauliflower and pink salami.
She loved it and practically cleaned her plate! So for the past 2 months, whenever possible, we do rainbow lunch and sometimes even rainbow dinner. Mealtimes have become pleasant and fun, she’s eating so much better and she’s gaining weight, has filled out a bit and is out of the scary-skinny-zone.
When making these meals, you have to keep in mind the big picture, what did they have for breakfast? What will they be having for snacks and dinner? It’s so much easier to feel ok about just grilled cheese or pasta for dinner when they’ve eaten a rainbow of fruits, veggies, and protein at lunch. Toddlers love having options and making decisions so I try to give her choices like, “what red do you want? Tomato, apple, or strawberry? What about orange?” She loves having a say and she’s way more likely to eat everything if she gets to have some input. I definitely have to steer her in the right direction so that she ends up with a fairly balanced meal, and not just a plate of fruit each time. Truth be told, I’m having just as much fun with this as she is. When I have a little extra time, it’s fun to make mandalas or other fun food-art, but simple little piles of each color on the plate is easy and effective. I’ve been eating better since starting this as well, which means that the kiddo I’m nursing is eating better too!
Some food suggestions for each color:
Red- tomatoes, beets, peppers, radishes, apples, strawberries, cherries, watermelon, raspberries,
Orange- carrots, peppers, goldfish crackers, oranges, cantalope, papaya, nectarines, apricots, cheese
Yellow- corn, peppers, beets, tomatoes, carrots, squash, lettuce, bananas, pineapple, cheese, pears, apples, starfruit,
Green- snap/snow/green peas, beans, avocado, celery, lettuce, peppers, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cucumbers, pickles, apples, grapes, kiwi, pears
Blue- blueberries, blackberries, grapes, blue corn tortilla chips, purple potatoes
Purple- cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, grapes, plums, lettuce, potatoes, eggplant, raisins/craisins
Meats, beans, grains, crackers & toast are good for pink and brown. Yogurt mixed with fresh fruit or jams can be used for just about any color as well as jelly/jam on toast. There are also quite a few natural pre-packaged foods that use fruit and plant based dyes that can be found (Annie's animal cookies and cheese crackers for example).
To make life easier and lunch prep faster, I try to wash/peel/cut up any fruits and veggies that keep well ahead of time, in one big prep session after grocery shopping. I have even given up my kid-free shower time to do this on occasion because it’s worth it to have lunch and snack prep fast and easy for the rest of the week/s. I’m not sure if this is just a phase she's going through, or if we will continue with this for years, but as long as it’s fun, effective and healthy, I’ll keep at it.
Beth Cecere is an Enso Mama and at-home mom, living in Colorado Springs, CO.
Enso offers Mom & Tots Yoga, Tots Morning, & Baby Led Weaning!
This blog is not intended to be a source of medical information or advice. Please discuss all of your concerns with your care provider.