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Nutrition & Fitness Center

Go, Slow, and Whoa! A Kid’s Guide to Eating Right

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Lots of kids want to know which foods to eat to be healthy or lose weight. Most kids don’t need to be on diets, but here’s something kids can do to eat healthier: Learn the difference between Go, Slow, and Whoa foods.

You probably know that foods fit in different categories. MyPlate puts them into these categories:

  • fruit
  • vegetables
  • grains
  • protein (meat, beans, fish, and nuts)
  • milk and dairy products

But foods also can be classified in three groups: Go, Slow, and Whoa. The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (part of the National Institutes of Health) suggests kids think about whether foods are Go foods, Slow foods, or Whoa foods.

Go Foods

These are foods that are good to eat almost anytime. They are the healthiest ones. Example: skim and low-fat milk.

Slow Foods

These are sometimes foods. They aren’t off-limits, but they shouldn’t be eaten every day. At most, eat them several times a week. Example: waffles and pancakes.

Whoa Foods

These foods should make you say exactly that — Whoa! Should I eat that? Whoa foods are the least healthy and the most likely to cause weight problems, especially if a person eats them all the time. That’s why Whoa foods are once-in-a-while foods. Example: French fries.

Below you’ll find a chart of Go, Slow, and Whoa foods. You can print this article so you can refer to the chart and learn which foods are which.

As you use the chart, you might have questions about what some of the words mean. We’ve provided some definitions below the chart to explain things like “extra-lean,” “trans fats,” and “whole grains.” Be sure to show the chart to your mom and dad, too. Then everyone in the family can learn when to say Go and when to say Whoa!

The Chart

(Almost Anytime) (Sometimes) (Once in a While)
Vegetables Almost all fresh, frozen, and canned vegetables without added fat (such as butter) or sauces All vegetables in added fat and sauces Any vegetable fried in oil, such as French fries or hash browns
Oven-baked fries
Fruits All fresh and frozen fruits 100% fruit juice Fruits canned in heavy syrup
Canned fruits packed in juice Fruits canned in light syrup
Dried fruits
Breads and Cereals Whole-grain breads, pitas, and tortillas White bread and pasta that’s not whole grain Doughnuts, muffins, croissants, and sweet rolls
Whole-grain pasta, brown rice Taco shells Sweetened breakfast cereals
Hot and cold unsweetened whole-grain breakfast cereals French toast, waffles, and pancakes Crackers that have hydrogenated oils (trans fats)
Milk and Milk Products Skim and 1% milk 2% milk Whole milk
Fat-free and low-fat yogurt Processed cheese spreads Full-fat cheese
Part-skim, reduced-fat, and fat-free cheese Cream cheese
Low-fat and fat-free cottage cheese Yogurt made from whole milk
Meats and Other Sources of Protein Beef and pork that has been trimmed of its fat Lean ground beef Beef and pork that hasn’t been trimmed of its fat
Extra-lean ground beef Broiled hamburgers Fried hamburgers
Chicken and turkey without skin Chicken and turkey with the skin Fried chicken
Tuna canned in water Tuna canned in oil Bacon
Fish and shellfish that’s been baked, broiled, steamed, or grilled Ham Fried fish and shellfish
Beans, split peas, and lentils Low-fat hot dogs Chicken nuggets
Tofu Canadian bacon Hot dogs
Egg whites and substitutes Peanut butter Lunch meats
Nuts Sausage
Whole eggs cooked without added fat Ribs
Whole eggs cooked with added fat
Sweets and Snacks* Ice milk bars Cookies, cakes, and pies
Frozen fruit-juice bars Cheesecake
Low-fat frozen yogurt Ice cream
Low-fat ice cream Chocolate candy
Fig bars Chips
Ginger snaps Buttered microwave popcorn
Baked chips
Low-fat microwave popcorn
Butter, Ketchup, and Other Stuff That Goes on Food Ketchup Vegetable oil** Butter
Mustard Olive oil** Stick margarine
Fat-free creamy salad dressing Oil-based salad dressing** Lard
Fat-free mayonnaise Low-fat creamy salad dressing Salt pork
Fat-free sour cream Low-fat mayonnaise Gravy
Vinegar Low-fat sour cream Regular creamy salad dressing
Soft margarine Mayonnaise
Tartar sauce
Sour cream
Cheese sauce
Cream sauce
Cream cheese dips
Drinks Water 2% milk Whole milk
Fat-free and 1% milk 100% fruit juice Regular soda
Diet soda Sports drinks Sweetened iced teas and lemonade
Diet and unsweetened iced teas and lemonade Fruit drinks with less than 100% fruit juice
Source: U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health

*Though some of the foods in this row are lower in fat and calories, all sweets and snacks need to be limited in order to not exceed one’s daily calorie requirements.

**Vegetable and olive oils contain no saturated or trans fats and can be consumed daily, but in limited portions to meet daily calorie needs.

Definitions to Know

Added fats or sauces: You’ll see that vegetables are on the Go list, but only when they’re prepared without added fats or sauces. That means they are steamed, boiled, baked, or grilled without adding butter, other oils, or sauce.

Light syrup and heavy syrup: Fresh and frozen fruits are on the Go list because they don’t contain added sugar. But sometimes canned or packaged fruits are packed in syrup. Light syrup is OK, putting those fruits on the Slow list. But heavy syrup is really sugary, so those kinds of fruits are on the Whoa list.

Whole grains: Whole grains contain more fiber and nutrients than white flour, which is used to make white bread, pasta, and lots of other stuff. Instead, look for foods that contain these ingredients:

  • whole wheat
  • whole-grain corn
  • oatmeal
  • whole oats
  • graham flour
  • brown rice

Trans fats: Hydrogenated oils fall into this category. This kind of oil is used in crackers and snack foods, but it’s been found to be very unhealthy for your heart.

Types of milk: Milk comes in more varieties than just white and chocolate! Skim milk and 1% milk have the least fat, so they’re on the Go list, while 2% milk has a little more fat, so it’s on the Slow list. Whole milk has the most fat, so it’s on the Whoa list.

Extra-lean and lean beef: Your mom or dad probably decides which kind of ground beef to get at the store. Ground beef is used to make hamburgers, meatballs, taco filling, and other foods kids like. But there’s more than one kind of ground beef. Stores sell it with different amounts of fat in it. The healthiest kind — extra-lean — has the least amount of fat, so it’s on the Go list. Lean ground beef has a little more fat, so it’s on the Slow list. Regular ground beef has the highest percentage of fat, so it’s on the Whoa list.

Now that you know the difference between Go, Slow, and Whoa foods, you can smart choices for healthy eating!

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: May 2014