My daughter once told me that she would rather eat dirt than cauliflower. I was so tempted.

In all fairness, even some adults find foods like brussel sprouts difficult to swallow. Why is it that we much prefer our green beans, zucchini, mushrooms, onions, cauliflower and green peppers deep fried or smothered in gooey cheese?

Sometimes, we parents have to be deviant to get healthy foods into our children’s bodies. Maybe we hide carrots in cake, or zucchini in bread. My sister’s pediatrician tricked his children into believing that broccoli was a dessert.

The children’s book, “I Will Never Not Ever Eat A Tomato” by Lauren Child, takes a humorous look at the picky eater. Lola is the fussiest of fussy eaters; but, her older brother Charlie cajoles Lola into eating foods that she claims she would never ever eat. Charlie tells Lola that the orange things on the table are not carrots, but "orange twiglets from Jupiter" and peas are in fact "green drops from Greenland." Mashed potatoes are tastier when described as a "cloud fluff from the pointiest peak of Mount Fuji." And, tomatoes, they are none other than “moonsquirters.”

Lola reminds us that fussy eating can be as much a part of a childhood as skinned knees, grass stains and Kool-Aid mustaches. So, should we just wait and hope that our children outgrow the fussy eating stage? The answer is no. Research suggests a direct positive correlation between the diet of our children and their behavior and intelligence.

The Produce for Better Health Foundation, www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org, created the catchy phrase, 5 A Day The Color Way, to encourage both adults and children to enjoy a diet that is balanced with all the colors of the rainbow: blue/purple, green, white, yellow/orange and red.

Why a color-coded diet? The plant compounds that give fruits and vegetables their color may also provide important disease protection to humans. No one group provides all of the protection, so it is best to eat a wide variety.

Now, is the challenge: What color is a banana? Or a green apple? Or a beet? If you guessed yellow, white and purple you’re wrong. A banana is white, a green apple is green and a beet is red. Perplexing, isn’t it? The color category is based upon the health-promoting qualities the food possesses.

The 5 A Day concept can be a fun way for your child to integrate fruits and vegetables into his or her diet. A simple chart can help track their daily fruit and vegetable consumption – five columns labeled at the top with each of the five color categories, and seven rows labeled along the left side for each day of the week.

Add color with markers or crayons; if you want to get really fancy, add stickers or look together online for free clip art of fruits and vegetables. Hang it on the refrigerator so that your child can fill in a box each time a fruit or vegetable is eaten.

When your child sees that he or she is low on yellows, for example, he or she might grab a carrot. The goal is that at the end of each day, your child will have eaten a combination of five fruits and vegetables in all the colors of the rainbow.

Additional ideas for charts are available at these sites: www.greatgrubclub.com and www.rewardcharts4kids.com, as well as all over the internet.

Don’t let this concept be reserved only for your children. If you’re hit by a foggy mind, sluggishness and hunger throughout your day, it may be what you’re eating – or what you’re not eating.

Don’t expect your child to develop an overnight admiration for asparagus or begging for broccoli. Children need time for their taste buds to move beyond whatever preconceived notions they have about peas or pineapple. Call upon your creativity – low fat yogurt mixed with fruit and ice makes a tasty smoothie; or, layer them both with granola to make a fancy parfait. Light ranch dressing goes well with carrot and celery sticks. Salads can easily disguise green peas, tomatoes and cucumbers when tossed with some low-fat dressing. The possibilities are endless.

Fruits and vegetables can be fun for children to eat. Some squirt you (oranges), others have to be peeled (bananas); some have hair (corn) and others have eyes (potatoes). And, then there’s the moonsquirters …

Check out the 5 A Day website at https://www.fns.usda.gov 

Pamela Henderson is the director of development and communications at Dunebrook. To learn more about parenting and support programs at Dunebrook, call (800) 897-0007. Email Pam with parenting questions and comments at pam@dunebrook.org.

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