A Conversation with Kia Robertson from “Today I Ate a Rainbow”
Early last week, I had the pleasure of having a conversation with founder and president of Today I Ate a Rainbow, Kia Robertson. Today I Ate a Rainbow is an interactive program, developed by Robertson, working to increase daily consumption of fruits and vegetables by encouraging children—and parents—to attempt to consume a full rainbow daily.
Here is some of our conversation:
LC: First, why don’t you tell me a little bit about your philosophy at Today I Ate a Rainbow?
KR: Our main goal is to help parents set healthy eating habits for kids. Healthy eating is this big idea and everybody has their own opinion, so we decided to focus in on just fruits and veggies—that is one thing we know that everybody needs. And, let’s be honest, most of us are not meeting the daily requirements—especially our kiddos. We really want to make it fun and easy. So the concept of a rainbow, thinking of the colors, is so simple. Even for little two year olds to grasp. We made it really basic.
I started out doing this for my own daughter when she was four years old. We started doing chore charts, and she loved it—and I love charts—and so we just whipped one together to see how many colors we were eating. I had just come across a little text somewhere saying that kids should be eating a variety of colors, and I had never thought about it like that before. We quickly discovered that she was eating a lot of green and orange, but that was about it. It was a really great eye-opening thing for our whole family to start tracking what colors we were eating; and Hannah, being four, was all of sudden saying, “Mommy, I need some bananas. I need to get my yellow!” or “Blueberries so I can get my purple!” It was so cool to see a little kid taking interest and ownership. So that’s how it all started and we really feel like its something simple, because parents are so busy, we want to put something out there that is quick and easy for parents and for the kids.
LC: A lot of what you talk about it taking “ownership” and “responsibility” over your body as a child. Can you say more about that?
KR: Yes! Usually, [kids] are just going to eat what is put in front of them. They don’t usually have that active role in, say, going out and picking the food at the store or farmers market or deciding together “what should we eat.” Whereas, when we are thinking about the rainbow and the rainbow chart, it really gets everybody thinking about it. I’ve heard from so many parents where they are just like, “My kid is asking for things. This is so weird!” It’s such a strange thing, especially with little ones when they say, “Oh, I need an apple!”
The earlier we can get kids understanding [the importance] of eating these fruits and vegetables and that it feels so good and makes them feel strong and helps them to be smarter—whatever it is—the better; because it is harder to create those habits, or try and recreate habit, as an adult. So setting them when they are really young, I think is fabulous. And connecting the dots for them that the food they eat is going to impact the way they feel and how they go about their day.
LC: As a parent, have you seen any differences in your diet since starting Today I Ate a Rainbow with your daughter?
KR: Oh, yes! Personally, just to give you a little backstory, I was a super picky eater my whole life. As a kid, I would pick out carrots in the carrot cake—I was dedicated to not eating vegetables at all. So, when Hannah came along, I really didn’t want her to go through the picky eater struggles because it’s actually very hard and socially limiting because you don’t want to go to new restaurants, and it’s stressful to go to other people’s houses because you don’t know what they are going to serve.
Being a recovering picky eater, I honestly have a hard time getting all my colors if I don’t do a smoothie. Because it is still not something that is natural for me to do—to just grab an apple or a piece of celery. Whereas, for my daughter, who has grown up with this, it is such a normal thing, and it’s so easy for her that in just two meals a day her chart is filled! It’s such a simple thing for her!
It has really improved my diet a lot because when you have the chart up and you have one magnet and your kid has five already… it’s a little embarrassing! Let’s be real. The competitive side of me is like, “Oh! I need to get some more colors in!” And the really cool thing is, with all these colds going around, we rarely get sick anymore; eating all these fruits and vegetables have just boosted our immune system so much. There have been benefits for the whole family.
LC: Would you say, and I think I know the answer to this one, that your daughter is a more fearless eater than you are?
KR: Oh, absolutely, yes. Her attitude, just a willingness to try, is so good and just so much better than mine. She totally is. One time, we were with our good friends and they offered Hannah some octopus. [She ate it!] And there is no way I would, even now. Not happening.
LC: There are a lot of resources on your site for parents. Do you have any tips or advice for emphasizing positive change to your child when you’re exhausted, and tired, and at the end of a long day and just at your wits’ end?
KR: Just to go with really small steps. Ridiculously small steps that seem silly. It’s a slow process; don’t expect them to go from picky to adventurous right away. It takes a lot of time and patience. If they are willing to have that grain of rice or that half of a pea, celebrate that because one day, they are going to eat a lot more.
There are going to be some foods that people just don’t like – and that has to be alright. But what we have learned is that a lot of dislike comes down to texture. It’s easy to give up because it’s hard and its frustrating to make something for your kid and they don’t like it—especially if they reject it over and over again, you kind of start to take it personally. Studies show that it takes at least ten times to try something before they accumulate a taste for a new food.
LC: You spoke about texture and how that is a trigger for a lot of people. What are some other food sensitivities that you see with kids?
KR: Visually, they will just refuse to eat something if it doesn’t look good. Or if it’s green, in a lot of cases. I don’t know what it is about that color, but a lot of kids are just not into it.
If you look at it sensory wise; the way things look make a difference, the way things smell, that’s a really big thing. If you look at it from the perspective of sensors, that can be helpful when trying to feed a picky eater. You can see, based on the sense, what may be triggering it for them.
LC: You also say on your site not to overdo it, in terms of modifying a food. What would be a good example of this?
KR: I always suggest breaking it down. If eating a rainbow in a day is too much or too overwhelming, make it a rainbow a week. A color a day!
We don’t want to vilify food, that “good” and “bad” stuff – kids can really play into that. It’s more about asking how it makes you feel and not so much about what the food is. I think parents have so much on their plate already that adding that extra stress of “my kid isn’t eating right” is so hard, and it’s such an emotional thing – feeding our kids.
LC: It sounds like patience is a huge factor here.
KR: Yes, absolutely. Patience is huge. And persevering. You know, don’t give up. Don’t give up on your kids.
For more information, or to contact Kia and the Today I Ate a Rainbow team, check out their website at todayiatearainbow.com.
Also, stay tuned for the exciting new Eat a Rainbow project coming out of the Today I Ate a Rainbow offices. It is an integrative program connecting teachers and parents, the two biggest role models our kids have, to get one another on the same page while encouraging healthy eating habits!