Eat the Rainbow
Discovery Place Science
In this three-part activity, join us as we explore the connections between healthy eating and the plants that provide our fruits and vegetables.
We will also explore how to build a colorful plate that can make our meals healthier – because when we “eat the rainbow,” it helps us incorporate lots of nutrients and vitamins that serve as fuel for our bodies.
Many of those colorful foods are fruits and vegetables, which we can grow in our gardens or pots right now! Fruits grow on a mature, flowering plant, usually have a seed inside and are eaten by animals that then spread the seed around, allowing new plants to grow. Examples of fruits include apples, strawberries, watermelon and tomatoes. Vegetables, on the other hand, are edible roots, stems or leaves that are part of the plant itself. Examples include lettuce, carrots, radishes and celery. You may be surprised that some common things we call vegetables are actually fruits by these definitions.
This activity will take about 20 minutes and is best suited for children in elementary school.
- Variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, canned fruits and vegetables
- Magnifying glass
- Potting soil
- Plastic knife
- Spoon (optional)
Part 1 – Sorting
Find examples of fruits and vegetables around your house. You will only need one of each, but get as many different kinds as you can. Feel free to grab cans of fruits or vegetables if you have those handy. If you don’t have any fruits and vegetables, or would like more, you can also print this sheet and cut out some fruits and vegetables to use in Parts 1 and 3 of the activity.
Using the definitions above, sort your collection into a group of fruits and another group of vegetables.
When we sort, we put things into groups that share common characteristics. Ask yourself these questions as you think about which group something fits into:
- Where on a plant do you most likely find this item?
- Is it near the flower for animals to eat?
- Is it a leaf?
- Is it part of its stem?
- Is it in the roots?
Here is a picture of a plant that may be helpful during this process:
If you answered that it is near the flower or that animals (including you!) eat it and it has a seed inside, then go ahead and place it in the fruit group. If you answer that it is part of the plant’s stem, root or leaves, then place in in your vegetables group.
Note: As you talk about it with your family, if you feel like you need to change which group something falls, go ahead and do it.
When you are finished, reflect on the groups that you created. Were you surprised by where some things ended up? Which were the hardest to sort? Which were the easiest? Why?
Part 2 – Seed Dissections
Next, let’s take a look at the seeds that are so critical to making a fruit, or rather making new plants using the fruit. For this part, we are only going to be working with your fruit group.
Pick no more than three to five fruits that you know have different seeds in them. (Plan to eat what you use as your morning or afternoon snack!) Set the rest aside.
Using your hands, a plastic spoon or a knife, remove the seeds from each fruit. Save the fruit as you will need it again in the next part of the activity.
Once you get the seed out, clean off any pieces of the fruit that may be stuck to it, so the seed is as clean as possible. If it helps, you can also rinse the seed under tap water.
Take some measurements and collect other data so we can compare seeds of different fruits. Here are a few things that we can observe and measure:
- Size – Using your ruler, measure the longest side of the seed.
- Color– Using your knowledge of colors, describe the color of your seed.
- Surface – Does the surface of the seed feel smooth or rough?
- Hardness – When you squeeze the seed, does it push back? Is it hard or soft?
- Shape – What is the shape of the seed? Feel free to draw the seed if that’s easier.
- Other Notes – What else do you notice about the seed that makes it interesting?
Feel free to record your data in a chart like the one below o better see the differences and similarities in your fruits.
After you finish, take a look at what you have recorded about the seeds. How are the seeds similar? How are they different? Why do you think they may have differences? How do the characteristics of your seeds help the plant when it wants its fruit to be eaten by an animal?
Part 3 – Colorful Plate
One of the ways that you can be sure that you are eating a healthy meal is be sure there are many different colors on your plate. Just like with a rainbow, ROY-G-BIV (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet) might be a helpful to think about when it comes to putting colorful foods on your plate.
Let’s go back to all of your fruits and vegetables. Go ahead and mix them back up so that they are all in one group. Sort them again, this time putting them together based on their colors.
What do you notice about the groups? Are there any that are bigger than others? Are there any colors missing? Which groups have your favorite fruits and vegetables in them?
Now that we are finished, go ahead and eat the fruits that you dissected as a tasty snack and return the rest of the fresh and canned fruits and vegetables to where you got them.
The next time you are thinking about what you are going to eat for breakfast, lunch or dinner, try to get some more color on your plate so that your body can get some great fuel to think faster, run longer and jump higher!
Here are some fruits and vegetables that are in season in the spring sorted by colors:
How to adjust for younger and older learners
For younger learners, read the story Gregory, the Terrible Eater by Mitchell Sharma and talk with your child about what made Gregory a terrible eater. Ask your child these questions after you read the book:
- How is what Gregory eating different than what his parents are eating?
- Why did Gregory’s mom and dad think Gregory was a terrible eater?
- What did Mother and Father Goat do to help Gregory try to eat new things?
- Why did Gregory have a stomachache?
- What did Gregory’s “just right” plate look like? Why was that better?
For older learners, advance the activity by planting the seeds used in the activity. Fill a cup or planting pot with soil about halfway to the top, then place the seed below the surface. Place it somewhere it will get sun about eight hours per day and be sure to water at least twice a day. Once the plant gets bigger, it will need to be transferred to the ground outdoors. Some, such as apples, can take as many as eight to ten years to eventually bear fruit.
Additionally, students can look at the inside of the seed to reveal structures that are part of the plant’s reproductive process. Very carefully, with beans, peaches and some other seeds, have students open the seed by prying the two sides apart or cutting it at the seam to reveal the cotyledon, or parts of the embryo, found inside. The number of cotyledons inside the seed serves as an important way in which botanists classify plants as being cotyledonous (1 cotyledon) or dicotyledonous (2 cotyledons).