Wouldn't it be great if all foods were healthy for your body? Unfortunately, many foods don't help build healthy bodies and minds for our growing children, and some have such high amounts of added sugar and fat that they can be harmful. Helping children make healthy food choices can be challenging.
The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) offers a great way to help children make healthy snack choices by categorizing snacks into "GO, SLOW and WHOA" foods. Adults understand the difference based on the context in which words are used, but young children do not. Therefore, using the terms "good" and "bad" to describe a snack to young children should focus on taste only, not nutritional value or health.
GO FOODS are foods that can be eaten "almost any time." They have the highest amount of vitamins and minerals and are the lowest in added sugar and fat.
Examples are fruits and vegetables.
WHOA FOODS are foods that should only be eaten "once in a while" and in small portions. Typically, they are low in vitamins and minerals and have large amounts of added sugar and fat.
Examples: soda, cookies, chips, doughnuts, and fries.
SLOW FOODS can be eaten “sometimes, or less often.” Examples include veggie pizza, ice cream and 100% fruit juice. While they may have some GO food qualities (e.g. veggie pizza has cheese and vegetables, ice cream has milk, apple juice is a fruit juice), they are considered SLOW foods because they can also be higher in fat and sugar.
Examples: Veggie pizza, ice cream, and 100% fruit juice.
While it is important to recognize what SLOW foods are, they are not typically part of the discussion with preschool children, as they are “concrete” thinkers, seeing the world in black and white.
Introducing a third category often confuses the child’s basic understanding of GO and WHOA foods.
While it is important to offer children a variety of healthy foods to try, never pressure them into eating a particular food. Sometimes a child won't accept a new food on the first try, so foods should be offered on more than one occasion, but not forced or used with negative language.
Want help choosing healthy snacks for your preschooler? Visit Go, Slow, Whoa Snacks. to create healthy meal plans using Go, Slow, Whoa.
Use this Daily Food Checklist as a guide to ensure your preschooler receives food from the 5 food groups.
Adapted from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Healthy Kids Resource Center
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Buffington, A. and Lindsay, A., 2021, Go, Slow, and Whoa Foods, Extension | University of Nevada, FS-21-86
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