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Taste the rainbow: 6 colorful, kid-friendly meal ideas

colorful recipes

I'll never forget the night before my son's first really big day of preschool; I was going to mark the occasion with a healthier, homemade version of his fast food favorite. I smugly cooked up some chicken fingers (organic with whole grain breading, of course) and some oven-baked fries. Dessert was vanilla yogurt topped with banana slices.

My enthusiasm diminished as I plated it. Sure, I healthified the heck out of the happy meal, but the result was still a sad beige result void of nutritional variety (and visual interest). Was this how I wanted to fuel my son for such a momentous occasion? That night, I committed myself to serving much more colorful dishes.

Eating by color

Nutritionists will tell you that the best way to ensure your child is getting a broad variety of nutrients is to serve a rainbow of fruits and vegetables. The color of your produce provides clues to its nutritional content: red choices tend to be high in cancer-fighting lycopene, orange and yellow choices are rich in beta-carotene, and so on. Colorful plates also add visual interest, a clever ploy for encouraging your little one to eat up. Here are just a few ideas to help you get started.

Colorful meal ideas

Oatmeal with mix-ins: Start with a wholesome bowl of Irish oats, the healthiest variety on the shelves. Stir in an assortment of dried or fresh fruit. Toss in some walnuts, almonds or flax seed to boost healthy fat, including brain-empowering omega fatty acids. Tip: Prepare slow-cooking Irish oats overnight in the crock pot for stress-free mornings.

Rainbow salad: Start with shredded or thinly sliced carrots, red peppers, cucumber (or zucchini), and any other veggie you think your kids will eat, then toss in your favorite homemade vinaigrette. For an Asian flare, toss in a dressing of olive and sesame oils, garlic, grated ginger and a dash of soy sauce.

Fruit kabobs: Everything tastes better on a stick. Cube or slice a diversity of colorful fruit and thread onto either blunted skewers or coffee stirrers. Serve alongside a yogurt or cream cheese dip.

Summer pasta: Toss hot, cooked pasta with sautéed zucchini, onion and mushrooms. Stir in chopped, roasted red pepper and spinach. Cover until the greens have wilted, then finish with some feta cheese and a drizzle of heart-healthy olive oil.

Hummus faces: Toast a whole grain pita or English muffin, then top with a layer of hummus. Use assorted vegetables to design a "face." Be creative. Use olive for eyes, a tomato wedge for a mouth, shredded carrots for hair and so forth.

Veggie roll-ups: Start with a whole grain tortilla spread with a layer of cream cheese (hint: mix the cream cheese with some mashed avocado for a healthy boost). Top with finely diced veggies. Roll the tortilla and slice into bite-size "pinwheels" or "snails." For a sweet treat, replace the veggies with fresh or dried fruit.

Strategies for picky eaters

If a colorful plate doesn't tempt your child to indulge in their veggies, try another approach. If you serve a side salad with pizza, your child is much more likely to fill up on the latter. Instead, offer a variety of veggies with dip while you prepare dinner to limit the unhealthy competition. Also consider including your child in meal preparation: pick out your produce together, then encourage your child to help you prepare and serve it. Getting your child involved in the kitchen is a sure-fire way to pique their culinary interest.