In January, almost half of us set New Year’s Resolutions, with over 21% of people’s resolutions focused on healthy eating –the most common resolution set each year. Yet, over 42% of people fail to meet their resolutions each year.
Some of the top reasons people fail at changing their eating habits? Setting complex or unrealistic goals and going at it alone. But what if there was a simple, sustainable way to eat better that involved the entire family and was fun for your little ones? I know what you’re thinking…”There is NO way my kids are going to be on board with eating healthy – my kids are picky eaters.” Luckily, there is a science-based approach to healthy eating called Traffic Light Eating, developed by America’s favorite Pediatrician, Dr. Sears, which is family friendly and a breath of fresh air compared to the fad diets that confuse us and eventually result in us falling victim to the statistics above.
So what do I mean when I say Traffic Light Eating is simple? You practice Traffic Light Eating by categorizing your foods as “Green Light Foods,” “Yellow Light Foods,” and “Red Light Foods.” Similar to a traffic light:
GREEN means “Go”
YELLOW means “Slow Down”
RED means “Stop”
This is an easy concept for the entire family to understand, as kids learn at a very young age what the colors of a traffic light mean.
GREEN LIGHT FOODS
Green Light Foods are “Go” foods. You can eat as much of them as you want and they are almost impossible to overeat. Green Light Foods include all fruits and vegetables and these foods are grown and not manufactured, low in calories, high in nutrients, very colorful, and can usually be eaten raw.
YELLOW LIGHT FOODS
Yellow Light Foods are “Slow Down” foods. These foods are okay to eat every day, but not too much. These foods have more calories than Green Light Foods and usually have more fat or sugar than Green Light Foods.
Yellow Light Foods include foods such as:
- Pasta, Rice, Bread, Tortillas, Eggs, Lean red meat, chicken/turkey, nuts and seeds, fish, cheese, greek yogurt, soy foods, olive oil
RED LIGHT FOODS
Red Light Foods are “Stop and Think” foods. When you come across a Red Light Food, stop and think about a better choice or choose a smaller portion.
Red Light Foods are lower in nutrients, have more calories, may contain hydrogenated oils/trans fats, are high in fat and sugar, and may contain artificial sweeteners.
Red Light Foods include foods such as:
- Cookies, cake, candy, frozen yogurt, fatty meats, doughnuts/pastries, white bread, chips, sugary beverages, processed meats such as bacon, ham, hot dogs, etc.
Another reason to love this way of healthy eating? Traffic Light Eating focuses more on the quality of the food you are eating than the quantity. (Can I get an “Amen!” from all of you ladies currently measuring your food down to the ounce?)
Now that you understand the concept of Traffic Light Eating, let’s talk about how you can introduce this new healthy eating behavior over time while making it fun for the whole family. Knowing that lifestyle changes like healthy eating are difficult to make overnight (especially with your little ones who may prefer a strict diet of hot dogs and boxed mac & cheese), you can try to slowly make these changes. For example, you may try to incorporate more green light foods by first adding a salad to dinner every night, or even limiting the portion or frequency of those Red Light Foods you like, such as soda or ice cream. To address your children’s potential unwillingness to eat these healthier foods, you can try to slowly introduce green light foods through substitution strategies until their tastes adapt. There is scientific evidence that shows that it can take as many as 10 to 15 tastes before a child will learn to appreciate a new flavor (ie: new food), so you may try employing some of the sneaky substitution strategies below.
- Hide veggies in your kids’ favorite foods (pizza, baked goods, eggs, casseroles, etc.)
- Mix fruits and veggies into a yummy breakfast smoothie
- Mixed up sandwich (one piece of whole wheat bread with one piece of white bread)
- Cover it with sauce
- Fun with food (make fun shapes out of foods, provide dips such as yogurt or hummus and allow your child to “play” with his food by dipping it as he goes, let kids participate in preparing a healthy meal, etc.)
To make this new way of eating fun for the family, there are several ways you can involve your children and make this a learning opportunity that will benefit them for their entire lives:
- At home, place colored stickers (green, yellow, red) on foods in your pantry and fridge so that when your children are looking for a snack, they are more aware of the choices they are making.
- Play a game with your kids while at the grocery store asking them to help you spot green light foods and let them pick their favorite ones.
- At dinner, talk about which foods are green light foods, which foods are yellow light foods, and which foods (if any) are red light foods.
- Make a contest out of which child can eat the most “Green Light Foods” in a given day/week, with a reward at stake.
Ready to try this out with your family? You can download this FREE Traffic Light Eating Grocery List and reference guide to help your family learn and adopt this new approach to healthy eating.