GO, SLOW, WHOA Foods

Healthy eating habits are formed in childhood, and most of these habits come from us – parents.  At an early age, children can learn that food is a source of energy, and that healthy foods in particular can help them have loads of energy to play, to grow strong, and to be a healthy person. Easy to say, and not-so-easy to do, right?

The concept of Go, Slow, Whoa Foods is an updated version of the Red, Green, Yellow Foods concept. It was developed by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute as a simple way for children (adults too!) to identify foods to eat a lot (GO), a little (SLOW), and not so much (WHOA). This newer language gives kids a fun and easy guide for making healthy choices.

You can probably guess which foods fit into which category, but… Here’s what the labels mean:

GO Foods

GO Foods contain no added sugar, are lowest in fat, and are minimally processed. They’re “nutrient dense,”meaning they’re high in nutrition and low in calories. They’re good food sources of many vitamins and minerals, fiber, and protein. Kids may also identify these as POWER foods that offer the best kind of energy for playing, growing, and becoming strong.

GO Foods are foods to eat almost anytime, and include items you’re likely already thinking of: all fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables; fruits canned in juice and vegetables canned without added fat and sauces; whole grain breads and cereals such as brown rice, oatmeal, and quinoa; low fat milk, yogurt and other dairy products; beans and legumes, extra lean meats, tuna canned in water, and other grilled, broiled or steamed fish.

Encourage your child to choose these kinds of foods frequently and for most of their food choices. GO Foods are, primarily, REAL foods. Include at least two GO foods at each meal, and especially in children’s lunch boxes.

SLOW Foods

SLOW Foods are more processed, higher in fat and sugar, less nutrient-dense and more calorie-dense, meaning they’re lower in nutrition and higher in calories. Kids may identify these as foods and drinks to consume sometimes. Items like fruit juices, dried fruit, and fruits canned in syrup fall in this range, as do vegetables with added fat or sauces. Refined grain foods made with white flour turn whole grain GO foods into SLOW and sometimes foods.

Items like waffles, pancakes, white bread, rice and pasta fall into this category. “Healthier” snacks such as pretzels, fig bars, and frozen yogurt are considered SLOW foods too. SLOW = a few times per week.

WHOA Foods

WHOA Foods are – you guessed it – the most processed, highest in fat and/or sugar, and are calorically-dense. Opposite of the GO foods, they’re high in calories and low in nutrition.  Big WHOAs go out to French fries and other fried foods, fruits canned in heavy syrup, pastries and other breakfast sweets, full-fat dairy products, highly processed meats, sweets like cookies and cakes, and salty snacks like chips and buttered popcorn. That’s right – these foods are every once in a while or special occasion foods – not for everyday consumption.

As parents, we can encourage our children to be thoughtful about their food and drink choices, and GO, SLOW, WHOA is one great way of doing this. Modeling GO, SLOW and WHOA choices ourselves (as parents) is the number one way to, um… go.

Anne Marie Kuchera, our Kids Plus Nutrition Consultant, is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Registered Dietitian.