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

variety of fruit and vegetables

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.

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

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.

Offer these Healthier Snacks to your Child

  • Serve water, a refreshing GO beverage instead of soda, a WHOA beverage.
  • Offer naturally sweet GO foods, such as canned or fresh fruit, instead of WHOA foods, such as cookies or other sweets.
  • Use color to brighten up snack time by serving two or more differently colored GO fruits or vegetables together.
  • Choose apple slices, a GO food, instead of French fries, a WHOA food because they are fried.

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 (oven baked chicken nuggets are a GO food, but fried chicken is a WHOA food).
  • Top a whole grain English muffin with pizza sauce and low-fat cheese for a GO food, rather than serving up a WHOA food like pepperoni pizza.
  • Serve GO vegetables in a variety of shapes and textures, for example a sweet potato may be baked in wedges, microwaved in slices or mashed.
picking apples
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

Buffington, A. and Lindsay, A. 2021, Go, Slow, and Whoa Foods, Extension | University of Nevada, FS-21-86

Learn more about the author(s)


Also of Interest:

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Buffington, A., Lindsay, A. 2021, Extension | University of Nevada, Reno, FS-21-106
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Lindsay, A. and Taylor, S. 2020, Extension | University of Nevada, Reno
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