Edgy Mama: Improving what young kids eat

I’ve heard of lots of ways to get young kids to eat healthier — from pureeing vegetables and adding them to pizza sauce, to using cookie cutters to make food into fun shapes. But the Rainbow in my Tummy program is one of the best models I’ve come into contact with for promoting healthy eating in toddlers.

After all, what kid doesn’t want a rainbow in their tummy? I was almost inspired to eat some green peas when I saw RIMT in action at Mountain Area Child and Family Center in Swannanoa. Almost.

The idea is that children at MACFC and several other preschools in the area get access to a wide variety of healthy and yummy foods while at school (up to two-thirds of some children’s weekly food intake is at their daycare centers). Each food that the kids eat is grouped according to color. The students can chart the colors they eat (that’s the rainbow part — see photo). The goal is to decrease child obesity while increasing vitamin and mineral levels through a diet rich in “a rainbow of colors” for the wee-est ones up to age 5.

The program was developed by Leslie Blaylock, MACFC operations director, and Susan Patrice, former MACFC kitchen manager in 2008.

“Both the teachers and the kids were initially resistant,” Blaylock says. “The teachers would say, ‘Kids aren’t going to eat eggplant.’”

But the kids in this program do eat eggplant, and happily. Seventy-five percent of the 92 children at MACFC are classified as low income, but none of them are classified as obese. Yet 16 percent of Buncombe County’s low-income children aged 2 to 4 are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

There was also resistance from some kitchen staff to the changes, according to Blaylock. The RIMT goal is to eliminate trans-fats and high fructose syrup and serve non-processed whole foods. Cutting up fresh vegetables instead of opening a can requires slightly more prep time when cooking for lots of eaters. But the results seem worth it.

“The program’s awesome, and I’ve seen lots of change in the kids’ eating habits,” says Jenny Edgmon, who has been the MACFC kitchen manager for a year. “I would never have expected some of the foods they love, like lentil curry and turkey meatballs and salads. I get call backs for more salad all the time.”

The program also encourages family-style meals. Children eat with their teachers in their classrooms.

“Everyone’s eating the same foods and the teachers are modeling good food choices,” Blaylock says. “We want to make mealtimes a happy, positive time for our kids.”

“We’ve learned that kids will eat the same foods as grownups, especially if those foods are introduced early,” Blaylock adds.

Nor are meals rushed. Children are encouraged to take their time eating.

“A factor that plays into obesity includes kids throwing down non-substantial empty calories in a rushed manner,” notes Blaylock.

So far, Blaylock and Patrice have helped five other WNC childcare centers implement RIMT, including the YWCA, the Irene Wortham Community, Kaleidoscope Child Care, Eliada Child Development Center and Hominy Baptist Church. The program has received funding from The United Way and Mission Hospitals to expand to other childcare centers in 2012 as well.

I asked one 4-year-old what her favorite food is. “Peas!” she answered.

Guess it’s unfortunate RIMT wasn’t around when I was that little.

Want to try Rainbow in my Tummy yourself?  On Monday, January 23 from 10:30 a.m. to noon, MACFC is hosting an open house that will include a RIMT lunch for families with children ages 0-5.  RSVP required. For more information or RSVP, call 298-0808 x105 or email shackett@macfc.org.


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