Lindsay, A. 2020, Go, Slow, and Whoa: Healthy vs. Unhealthy, Extension | University of Nevada, IP

Wouldn't it be great if all foods were healthy for your body?

variety of fruit and vegetables

Unfortunately, many foods that are often advertised 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 over time. We can help our children recognize which foods are better choices with GO, SLOW and WHOA.

What foods help keep my heart, muscles and bones strong?

The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) offers a great way to teach children abstract concepts such as "healthy" and "unhealthy" snacks.
These are called "GO, SLOW and WHOA" foods.

GO FOODS are foods that can be eaten "almost any time". They are lowest in added sugar and fat. They have a lot of vitamins and minerals. Examples are fruits and vegetables.

WHOA FOODS are foods that should only be eaten "once in a while" and in small portions. They are loaded with added sugar and fat. Typically, they are also low in vitamins and minerals. Examples of WHOA foods are ice cream sundaes, cookies, chips, doughnuts, and fries.


The National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute (NHLBI) recognizes another important mid-range category called SLOW foods that fall between GO and WHOA. 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 qualities (e.g. veggie pizza has cheese and vegetables, ice cream has milk, apple juice is a fruit juice), they are considered SLOW because they can also be higher in fat and added sugar.

While it is important to recognize what 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.

Offer these Healthier Snacks to your Child

  • Serve refreshing GO water instead of pouring a WHOA soda.
  • Offer naturally sweet GO foods such as canned or fresh fruit instead of WHOA foods like cookies or other sweets.
  • Use color to brighten up snack time by serving 2 or more differently colored GO fruits or vegetables together.
  • Choose apple slices instead of French Fries (which are fried making them a WHOA food).
picking apples

When Preparing Foods for your Child, Try These Helpful Tips!

  • Make your own GO "soda" by adding a splash of 100% fruit juice to sparkling water instead of the WHOA soda
  • Try baking, broiling, or grilling instead of frying (roasted chicken is a GO food, but fried chicken is a WHOA food)
  • Try roasted or grilled vegetables that are GO foods, but become a WHOA food when fried or cooked with butter.
  • Top an English muffin pizza with low-fat cheese for a GO food, rather than serving up a WHOA food like pepperoni pizza
  • Serve GO vegetables in a variety of their textures, for example a sweet potato may be baked in wedges, microwaved in slices, served raw in sticks, or mashed
It is important to offer children a variety of healthy foods to try, never pressure them. Sometimes a child doesn't accept a new food on the first try, so food should be offered more than once, 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

Learn more about the author(s)


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Associated Programs

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Healthy Kids Resource Center

A one-stop shop for evidence-based research, resources, curricula, activities and materials that focus on obesity prevention for teachers and parents of young children. It is designed to educate parents and teachers as well as provide the tools needed to teach young children how to live a healthy lifestyle.

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Healthy Kids - Nutrition Toolbox

This toolbox covers tips to increase childrens' overall levels of health and gives information pertaining to changing health habits.


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