I’m like you. I scroll through my Instagram feed, double-tapping lovely photos and those with lovely captions, inspired by all the pretty things and places, words and FOOD. With so many people sharing snapshots of their day-to-day lives and the lives to which they aspire, disseminated virtually everywhere in seconds, social trends crop up and spread unbelievably fast.

I’ve been there, through smoothie bowls and Buddha bowls, avotoast and sweet potato toast, nice cream and zoodles, and now – rainbow unicorn everything.

As an observer, I’m intrigued and impressed at the level of creativity that goes into crafting these arrangements and colour selections for gorgeous imagery. I’m a firm believer that food is more fun and satisfying if it is wholly appealing to the eye as well as the mouth.

As a nutritionist… I also sometimes observe food trends with a liiittle bit of terror. While the bulk of the trends I’ve listed above can be made healthy with little to no effort, this rainbow unicorn trend is hit-or-miss when it comes to healthfulness.

In some of the obvious ways, depending on the ingredients used to get those lush pastels, we’re looking at lots of beautiful but empty sugary calories, loaded with mind-bending artificial dyes linked to behaviour disorders and allergies, and likely more troublesome ingredients and net-negative health effects.

Take, for example, a certain large coffee chain’s – *cough* S-Bux *cough cough* [excuse me!] – addition to the menu this month. While it does certainly look fittingly glam-tastic, a venti (24oz) with all the trimmings clocks in at over 75g of sugar! While the chain has responded to queries on social media about the source of the colours in the drink to say they use natural colours like spirulina to get the blue, and fruit powders for the red and purple, it doesn’t disguise the fact that this is still a sugar bomb – and should be treated as such.

I mean, it’s literally called a Unicorn Frappuccino. I hear “rainbow” or “unicorn” and try to apply it to food, I think cotton candy and jelly beans. And Adventure Time. I don’t know what I was expecting.


Lady Rainicorn, Adventure Time. Image from Adventure Time Wiki.

This brings me to the point of this post. How do we indulge in dubious food trends like this one, and still manage to take utmost care of our own wellbeing?

In mentioning how I associate the words with Adventure Time, I also realize I associate pastels and unicorns with my childhood. Being a smaller-than-average bookish girl with mostly boys to play with on a regular basis, I struggled to fit in with other girls. In a nutshell, I collected a LOT of stuffed animals and dolls to be like the other girls (while playing Ninja Turtles and Lego with my brother and friends). When given a choice of colours to redecorate my room, I chose a bright turquoise for the walls, picked out bedding in turquoise and pink (even though I would’ve said I hated pink), and put up posters of – wait for it – rainbow unicorns.

Even though I could sum up my childhood most simply as awkward, it was the beginning of my love of bright colours… and I believe this is so for many people engaged by the rainbow unicorn trend. It taps into nostalgia. The colour combinations make me smile, and think of more innocent times. I can feel like a kid again by indulging in the creation and enjoyment of these colours.

Most simply, it brings us joy. In this, we are exercising one level of self-care. Self-care is multi-faceted and means different things to different people. For some it can mean regularly taking time to consciously unwind with a glass of wine or cup of tea. For others it’s using the routine of the morning run to relieve stress, organize thoughts, and prepare for the day ahead. And for still others, it’s engaging in activities or practices that make us happy by reminding us of our most innocent time of life, whether it’s doing adult colouring books, playing video games, or, of course, making unicorn toast.

To take it to another level, by choosing cleaner, more wholesome avenues to explore the trend, we continue to care for our physical health as well. We can tailor the trend to our health needs while catering to our emotional desires.

And so that’s what I did this morning! I decided to take a stab at creating something “rainbow unicorn” and came up with a layered smoothie.

(You can enjoy my making-of video here!)video thumb apr20-2

It wasn’t perfect by any means – my “blue” layer came out kind of gray-green – but it was delicious, loaded with antioxidants, protein, and probiotics, and still indulged that kid-again feeling. Winner all around.

Check out the recipe below!

Rainbow Unicorn Layered Smoothie

20170420_140839These pretty pastel creations are everywhere on social media right now. This is my healthy take on the trend! Ditch the coffee shop sugar bomb and get in on the craze in a way that your body and tastebuds (and IG followers!) will love.

I chose to pop my jar into the freezer between pouring layers into it, to keep it cold and to help the layers firm up a bit before adding the next, to help keep the colours separate.

 I used a liquid wild butterfly pea extract, which is naturally a deep blue, to get the “blue-green” layer. To get a richer colour, reduce or omit the matcha entirely, and add more liquid or yogourt if needed. Another option for getting a natural blue is to use blue algae (not to be mistaken for blue-green algae!).

Decorate if you like, and enjoy!

Purple (bottom) layer:

  •  1/3 cup frozen mixed berries (blackberries, cherries, blueberries for purple; strawberries and raspberries will make for a pinker shade)
  • ¼ cup plain or vanilla almond-cashew or coconut yogourt
  • ½ scoop vanilla or berry plant-based protein powder (option: with greens – the purple hides the colour best, so they’re best added to this layer!)
  • 1/3 banana
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened almond or hemp milk

Yellow (middle) layer:

  • 1/3 cup frozen mango chunks
  • ¼ cup plain or vanilla almond-cashew or coconut yogourt
  • ½ scoop vanilla plant-based protein powder (no greens this time!)
  • 1/3 banana
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened almond or hemp milk

Blue/green (top) layer:

  • 1/3 banana
  • 1 Tbsp. coconut butter OR ¼ cup plain or vanilla almond-cashew or coconut yogourt, optional
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened almond or hemp milk
  • ¼ tsp. matcha tea powder, optional
  • Liquid wild butterfly pea extract OR serving size blue or blue-green algae, added slowly as required for colour


Combine the ingredients for the purple layer in your blender. Blend until smooth. It should be a little on the thick side (see notes). Pour purple smoothie into a 750ml mason jar. Place in freezer to set a little while making the yellow layer.

Rinse blender until clear. Combine ingredients for the yellow layer in the blender. Adjust for thickness as needed (see notes). Pour evenly over purple layer in the jar. Place in the freezer to set while making the blue/green layer.

Rinse blender until clear. Combine ingredients for the blue/green layer in the blender, adding butterfly pea extract or blue algae to desired shade of blue/aqua/green. Pour over yellow layer.

Decorate by sprinkling with berries, cut shapes in fresh mango, top with seeds, or even edible flowers. Admire your beautiful creation, and enjoy!

Notes: Add more yogourt, frozen fruit, or alternatively add 1 tsp. white chia seeds, to increase thickness of layers if needed. It should be thick enough to support the weight of the next layers without bleeding. While it’s still in the blender, stop blending and test by inserting a straw or spoon straight into the middle – if it stays straight, rather than falls to one side of the container, it’s thick enough! Otherwise, freeze each layer addition for 5-15 minutes before adding the next layer.

Full spectrum variations: Start the purple layer with half the amount as strawberries and raspberries. Pour half the resulting pink smoothie into the jar, then add blackberries and/or blueberries to the remaining in the blender. Pour purple smoothie over pink layer. Do similar with the yellow layer: make as directed, but pour half the yellow smoothie over the purple layer. Add matcha or a leaf of kale to the yellow smoothie to make a light green layer. Pour over yellow layer. Make blue layer as directed, omitting matcha entirely from this layer. Pour over green layer. Decorate as desired. Serve!

Printable pdf

2 thoughts on “Finding Self-Care in Food Trends

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