Kids at the Table? Serve Them a Rainbow

If your kids are still young like mine, you probably plate their foods for them. They pick what they want to eat, but cannot reach the serving spoon, so you step in. And odds are that you form a plate the way you’d like it to look if you were eating it.

Turns out that’s a mistake. Research from Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab found that when it comes to plate style and design, what children like is drastically different than what’s pleasing to your grown-up eyes.

Most adults like simple, uncrowded plates with food in the center, and not more than three components or colors on the plate. So, let’s say a central mound of rice, topped with broccoli and a filet of salmon. Lovely.

But kids are drastically different! They embrace the chaos, preferring foods positioned on the lower half of the plate (probably so they can see it and reach it), and they prefer a rainbow of six different colors and seven different foods!

Rainbow Bright

It’s not always easy to figure out the picky palates of young kids, so any hints can be lifesavers. Today’s tip: Plate a variety of colors. And the easiest way to add a splash of different hues? It’s not with candy. Most grains are beige or brown; most dairy foods are white; and most meats are white, beige and brown. Boring!

But vegetables and fruits? They come in virtually every color of the rainbow, and are the simplest, tastiest and most nutritious way to make a child’s plate come to life. And, kids who are excited by the visual appeal of foods are more likely to taste whatever is served to them. Problem solved!

So take that salmon, rice and broccoli, and add carrots, blueberries, orange peppers and cherry tomatoes. Keep easy-to-prep vegetables and fruit on hand so it’s always simple to add a splash of green or a hint of purple. My go-to art palate of fresh produce includes:

  • Yellow, orange and red mini-tomatoes
  • Carrots (orange of course, but heirloom purple ones too!)
  • Cucumber
  • Purple cabbage
  • Blueberries, raspberries and strawberries
  • Green, yellow, red, orange and purple peppers
  • Salad mixes with dark leafy greens and red radicchio
  • Oranges

Fun on a Plate

You may not always have a variety of six or seven veggies on hand, but any splash of color can make a plate more child-friendly.

Kids at the Table? Serve Them a Rainbow -

Look at the difference that a hint of color makes. The first plate on the left is a simple meal of tofu, cauliflower and rice. Healthy, yes. But oh, so bland!

In the middle, a simple splash of color from peas, carrots, peppers and corn turns the meal into a work of art.

If you want to take it one step further and hear some giggles, make plate art, demonstrated on the right. It doesn’t take much time, and any design you come up with will render you Picasso in your 5-year-old’s eyes. My go-to design is anything with two eyes (sometimes three), a nose and a mouth, with some hilarious hair.

Guaranteed laughter every time. And an almost-guarantee that those vegetables will be eaten up.

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Cara Rosenbloom
Cara Rosenbloom, RD, is the president of Words to Eat By, a Toronto-based nutrition communications company specializing in recipe development, writing and nutrition education. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.