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Publication #FCS8921

Raising Healthy Children: Go, Slow, Whoa1

Rebecca A. Clinton, Jenna Norris, and Karla P. Shelnutt2

Have you ever wished there was an easier way to make healthier food choices? Worry no more! There is a tool called Go, Slow, Whoa, designed to help you and your family learn about which foods are lower in fat and calories (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 2013a). This publication introduces you to the Go, Slow, Whoa concept and helps you identify the types of food that fall into each category so you can make healthier choices.

Figure 1. 
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What Is Go, Slow, Whoa?

In June 2005, the National Institutes of Health launched the We Can! campaign, a national movement designed to give parents, caregivers, and entire communities a way to help children ages 8–13 stay at a healthy weight (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 2013b). The campaign recommended a variety of techniques that families can use to stay healthy—one of which is Go, Slow, Whoa. It is a simple tool that can be used to recognize foods that are the smartest choices (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 2013c). Go, Slow, Whoa sorts foods into one of three groups using the colors of a stoplight to represent each group. This tool complements the moderation message of MyPlate by encouraging children to choose healthier items from each food group (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 2013d). For more information about MyPlate, visit


Foods categorized as Go are the healthiest options and should be eaten the most often. These foods are the lowest in fat, added sugar, and calories compared to Slow and Whoa foods (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 2013c). Go foods are considered “nutrient dense,” which means that they are rich in vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients important for health (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 2013a). Go foods are perfect to use as snacks and as part of family meals.

Figure 2. 

Most fruits and vegetables are examples of Go foods. Go foods are foods you can enjoy the most often.


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Slow foods should only be eaten sometimes, not every day. Foods in this group are higher in fat, added sugar, and/or calories than Go foods (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 2013c). Slow foods should be consumed less often than Go foods because they are not as healthy. Limit consumption of foods in the Slow category to a few times per week (Let’s Go!, 2011).

Figure 3. 

White bread and peanut butter are two examples of Slow foods. Slow foods are ones you can eat sometimes but not every day.


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Whoa foods are the least healthy options and should only be eaten once in a while on special occasions and in small portions. They are very high in fat and/or added sugar and are much higher in calories than Go and Slow foods. In addition, they are often low in nutrients (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 2013a). High calorie levels and added sugar from preparation and processing can lead to weight gain. For these reasons, limit Whoa foods in your diet. Substituting Whoa foods with Go foods is a smart way to help prevent weight gain and health problems.

Figure 4. 

Doughnuts are an example of a Whoa food. Whoa foods are ones you should only eat once in a while or on special occasions.



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Don’t Forget Your Daily Needs!

Go, Slow, Whoa is a great tool for making healthy food choices; however, don’t forget to consider your overall energy and nutrient needs for the day. You can obtain personalized recommendations for calories and recommended amounts for the MyPlate food groups by visiting this website:


Making small changes is a great way to gradually improve your diet. Go, Slow, Whoa is a tool you can use to identify which foods are good choices for meals and snacks. Begin by replacing one Whoa food with a Go food each day. Continue adding Go foods into your diet and limiting Whoa foods. Remember, the goal is to eat more Go than Slow foods, and more Slow than Whoa foods, an approach that can yield positive health benefits!

For more information about Go, Slow, Whoa contact one of the following reliable sources in your county:

  • UF/IFAS Extension Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) educator (look in the blue pages of your telephone book). UF/IFAS Extension offices are listed online at

  • WIC nutritionist at your county Health Department (also in the blue pages of your telephone book).

  • For referral to a registered dietitian (RD) in your area you can call the Florida Dietetic Association at (850) 386-8850.

Recommended Websites

  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute – We Can!: This website contains information about choosing healthy foods for your family based on the Go, Slow, Whoa method.

  • American Heart Association: This association is devoted to helping the public have healthy hearts.

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Fruits and Vegetables: This website provides information about fruits and vegetables, including health information and tips to include more fruits and vegetables in your diet.

  • Nemours Kid’s Health: This website developed by Nemours Children Hospital provides parents and children with useful information about health, nutrition, and physical activity.

  • Whole Grains Council: This website provides consumers with information about whole grains. The site includes background on whole grains, the importance of whole grains, and resources to help consumers purchase whole grain products.

  • USDA – MyPlate: MyPlate provides individuals with recommendations from each of the food groups and other tips to help maintain health and wellness.


National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2013a). Choosing foods for your family. Retrieved from

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2013b). About We Can!, Retrieved from

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2013c). U R what you eat. Retrieved from

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2013d). Eat right. Retrieved from

Let’s Go! (2011). Go foods, slow foods, and whoa foods. Retrieved from

USDA. (n.d.). MyPlate Food Groups. Retrieved from

Go, Slow, Whoa Foods

Listed below are just a few examples of foods that fall into each category of Go, Slow, Whoa. There are many other foods in each of these categories not listed. A more extensive food list can be found at We Can! Choosing Foods for Your Family (


Table 1. 

Go, Slow, and Whoa foods by group.

Food Groups


(Almost Anytime Foods)


(Sometimes Foods)


(Once in a While Foods)


Fruits provide important vitamins and minerals such as folate, potassium, and vitamin C. They also contain fiber (USDA, n.d.).

Fresh fruits

Frozen fruits

Fruits canned in water or juice with no added sugar

100% fruit juice

Fruits canned in light syrup

Dried fruits

Fruits canned in heavy syrup


Whole grains contain many vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins, iron, and magnesium. They also contain fiber (USDA, n.d.).

Whole-grain bread

Whole-grain pasta

Brown rice

Whole-grain cereal

White bread

White rice

French toast




Sweetened breakfast cereals


Foods in the protein group are a great way to get important nutrients, such as iron, magnesium, zinc, and B vitamins (USDA, n.d.).

Chicken and turkey without skin

Extra lean ground beef

Grilled fish

Tuna canned in water



Egg whites

Chicken and turkey with skin

Lean ground beef

Peanut butter

Tuna canned in oil


Whole eggs cooked without fat


Fried chicken

Regular ground beef

Hot dogs

Lunch meats

Fried fish


Whole eggs cooked with fat


Milk provides your body with important nutrients such as calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D (USDA, n.d.).

Fat-free milk

1% milk

Fat-free cheese

Low-fat cottage cheese

2% milk

Processed cheese spread

Whole milk

Colby cheese

Swiss cheese

Cream cheese

Whole-milk yogurt


Vegetables provide important vitamins and minerals such as folate, potassium, vitamin C, and vitamin A. They also contain fiber (USDA, n.d.).

Fresh vegetables

Frozen vegetables

Canned vegetables without added fat, sodium, or sauces

Vegetables with added fat, sodium, or sauces

Oven-baked French fries


French fries

Hash browns

Deep-fried vegetables

Source: Let’s Go!, 2011.

Table 2. 

Common Whoa foods.

Common sweets and snacks that fall under Whoa foods


Creamy salad dressing



Ice cream



Buttered microwave popcorn

Source: Let’s Go!, 2011.



This document is FCS8921, one of a series of the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date: June 2010. Latest revision: October 2013. Visit the EDIS website at


Rebecca A. Clinton, MS, RD, former dietetic intern, Food Science and Human Nutrition Department; Jenna Norris, dietetic intern, Master of Science Dietetic Internship Program, Food Science and Human Nutrition Department; and Karla P. Shelnutt, PhD, RD, assistant professor, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.