Eat a Rainbow: The Autumn Harvest

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This lesson gives kids a delicious, hands-on way to remember a simple phrase that will help boost their fruit and vegetable intake.


To introduce the importance of eating a rainbow of colors of fruits and vegetables while emphasizing and celebrating a seasonal harvest.


  • a variety of vegetables and fruits in five color groups: red, orange/yellow, green, blue/purple and white
  • bamboo kabob skewers
  • napkins or paper towels
  • mixing bowl
  • paper cups
  • toppings for snacks: yogurt or whipped topping; salad dressing
  • Access to or materials downloaded from
  • Food Sense: Preparing Fresh Produce


Everyone knows that fruits and vegetables are important components of a healthy diet. They contain essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber along with other health-boosting chemicals known as phytonutrients that are linked to benefits such as reduced risk of stroke, cancer, and heart disease. Although young gardeners (and most older ones, for that matter!) may not remember which phytonutrient provide what sort of health benefits, we can all remember that “eating a rainbow” is good for us.

Many phytonutrients are also the pigments responsible for the colors of fruits and vegetables. Plants have pigments to protect them against environmental factors (such as sunlight) and from harmful byproducts of plant processes like photosynthesis. Thus, when we consume fruits and vegetables, our bodies receive similar protections from environmental factors and cell-damaging chemical byproducts. By "eating a rainbow," you consume a variety of these vitamins and phytonutrients.

In addition to using intensity of color as an indicator of potency, research suggests that fruits and vegetables picked at their prime contain higher levels of nutrients than those picked early for long distance shipping. This means that locally grown fruits and vegetables may pack a more powerful punch than those that travel farther to arrive at your store. Processing (freezing, drying, canning, juicing, etc.) and cooking can also affect nutrient content, so many nutritionists recommend eating as many seasonally available fruits and vegetables as possible raw.

Before you begin, please review classroom Food Safety Guidelines and Tips for Classroom Cooking.

Laying the Groundwork

  • Ask students to make a list of fruits and vegetables they commonly eat. Next, have them study the list and suggest different ways to group them (such as size, shape, season, and color). If color isn’t listed, suggest it as a category, and then you can introduce the concept of phytonutrients.
  • Discuss the fruit and vegetable recommendations from Ask students to track their fruit and vegetable consumption for a week and then discuss their findings. Do they eat enough fruits and vegetables? If no, ask them to suggest habits or ideas that will help them eat more.
  • Investigate the types of fruits and vegetables grown in your area. Create a harvest schedule to determine when they are in season. Your state department of agriculture should have this information.  Find your state's website here.


Provide students with the chance to create a seasonal, edible rainbow recipe. Below are suggestions for making a fruit salad and a vegetable kabob. Try to include at least one item from each color group, and if at all possible, use produce from local farms to help emphasize the seasonal availability of foods. (Note: If finding local foods is a challenge, expand your options to include foods in season in your region, or throughout the United States. If certain colors aren’t available in fresh form, supplement with canned or frozen produce).

Fall Rainbow Fruit Salad
Collect a variety of fresh fruits representing each color listed below. Wash them in cold running water and then pat dry. Cut produce into bite-sized pieces and mix in a large bowl. Divide into individual servings and garnish with yogurt or low-fat whipped topping. Here are some options available in fall (note that what's available by season can vary greatly by region):

Red: cranberries, raspberries, red apples, strawberries
Yellow/Orange: grapefruit, oranges, peaches, yellow pears, persimmons
Green: green apples, green grapes, green pears, kiwi
Blue/Purple: plums, purple grapes, raisins
White: bananas, jicama, white peaches

Fall Rainbow Vegetable Kabob
Follow the same prep procedure as above, but with fall-harvested vegetables. (Note: The vegetables marked with (C) should be cooked. Others can be served raw.) Ask students to layer prepared produce onto bamboo kabob sticks. Provide fat-free salad dressing for a garnish. Fall-harvested vegetables include the following:

Red: beets (C), radishes
Yellow/Orange: carrots, squash, sweet potatoes
Green: broccoli, kale, cabbage, chard, green onions, spinach
Blue/Purple: purple cabbage
White: mild turnips, potatoes (C)

Making Connections

  • Ask students to consider and discuss the impact of modern transportation on the availability of fruits and vegetables. What do they think their diet would look like if all their food had to be grown within walking distance?
  • Introduce the history of food preservation, and complete some follow-up activities using material and lesson ideas from the Preserving the Harvest Classroom Project.

Branching Out

  • Prepare additional goodies using fruits and vegetables.
  • Schedule a visit to a local farm or invite a farmer to your classroom to talk about the harvest.
  • If you don’t already, plan to include vegetable plants and fruit shrubs and trees in your school or community garden. Check out NGA's Edible Landscaping with Charlie Nardozzi for ideas.

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