I have mixed feelings about the annual “Eat a Rainbow Week” our local health department organizes in our community. It’s a week of events designed to promote fruit and vegetable eating – in schools, restaurants, farmer’s markets, etc. This is the second year I’ve served on the planning committee, and this year I also organized some special events in the preschools and child care centers I work with.
Even as I participate enthusiastically I fret about the message we are sending – that fruit and vegetables are something special to be eaten during “Eat a Rainbow Week” when really they should be nothing special at all. They should not be celebrated, just eaten, every day, a regular part of our daily lives, a part of our food culture. How has it come to this – that we have to organize incentives and special events for people to eat fresh foods. Are we promoting a culture of health or highlighting just outside the norm that healthy eating has become?
In between overthinking the whole thing I spent a happy and illuminating week visiting preschools and child care centers with paper sacks of fruits and veggies, letting the children guess what was inside, encouraging them to taste it. I loved seeing every one of their bright, shiny, beautiful faces. I loved the refreshing honesty with which some of them told me on no uncertain terms that they had no intention of eating the yucky red cabbage I’d brought, no matter how pretty it was.
It’s part of my job to help child care centers improve the quality of the foods they serve, and during Eat a Rainbow Week I got a real taste of the challenge facing them. Anyone who’s ever tried to feed a young child knows there’s a huge variation in what kids will eat.
When I sit with child care centers to suggest ways they might improve the nutritional content of their menus I hear a lot about those challenges – picky preschool palates, tight budgets, allergies, and regulations, regulations, and more regulations. There’s a reimbursement program that dictates what they can serve, and it is at best, several years behind current nutritional research.
They all want to do the right thing for the kids.
This week I got a good taste of the picky palates part of the equation. I’m still dealing with this at home with my two kids, even though they are long past the age when their palates should be so picky. Imagine trying to feed 10, 20, or 50 three and four year olds!
I had some “star” vegetable eaters during my fruit and veggie tastings. It was easy to pick out the ones that were given a lot of veggies at home – they were familiar with what was in the bags, had tried many of them. Some told me proudly about the gardens their families had at home. Others looked at the carrots and pears I brought as if they were unicorns.
Events like Eat a Rainbow Week help. Policies that help child care centers and schools serve fresh fruits and vegetables help more. Making it easy for families to buy fresh fruits and vegetables at prices as affordable as big macs helps even more. The list goes on.
Next year, many of these kids will enter elementary school. Even with new rules brought about by passage of the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act last year, they’ll be served plenty of pizza and chicken nuggets. Those whose parents can afford it can send them with money to buy cookies and ice cream. As kids will be kids it’ll be hard for the fresh pears to compete.