March is National Nutrition Month, an annual celebration sponsored by the American Dietetic Association.
This year's theme, Eat Right With Color, seems especially relevant for kids. All too often, children eat a rather beige diet, dominated by chicken nuggets, french fries, macaroni and cheese, and white bread.
Adding color to their plates not only makes the meal more visually appealing, but the varied hues also help boost the nutritional power of what you serve, says registered dietitian and dietetic association spokeswoman Karen Ansel.
Color is one of the best cues of nutritional density — and the darker, the better. Well, that's true as long as the vibrant tints are natural and not due to artificial coloring. All bets are off if you're talking about neon-blue juice drinks or bright-pink breakfast cereal.
Beyond those obvious exceptions, color is a reliable way to decipher nutritional value. Brightly colored fruits and vegetables contain plant compounds or phytonutrients that provide the distinctive shade that you see and specific health benefits you may not even know about.
Each color provides something different. Eating well means much more than having different food groups at every meal. It's important to keep track of colors too. Have kids look for a rainbow on their plates.
Dark-colored fruits and vegetables are good sources of anthocyanins, the purplish phytonutrient that put blueberries on the map as a superfood. Other blue and purple foods offer similar benefits.
Choices: Purple grapes, plums, raisins, dried plums, purple asparagus, purple cabbage, purple carrots, eggplant, purple potatoes
You'll find ample amounts of antioxidants, such as
) in yellow and orange fruits and vegetables.
Choices: Apricots, cantaloupe, mangoes, oranges, tangerines, butternut squash, carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes
Red is a flag for such health-promoting compounds as lycopene and anthocyanins. The darker and richer the tones, the more phytonutrients you'll get in return.
Choices: Cherries, cranberries, red grapes, raspberries, strawberries, watermelon, beets, red peppers, tomatoes
Green is a signal for chlorophyll, and green vegetables are potent in folate and such phytonutrients as carotenoids,
lutein and indoles. Dark, leafy greens such as spinach and kale are richer in nutrients than paler iceberg lettuce.
Choices: Asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, green beans, leafy greens, peas, snow peas, spinach, zucchini
To help families year-round with ideas on how to improve children's diets, the ADA recently launched a new campaign called Kids Eat Right. Learn more at kidseatright.org.