Summer 2011
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Whoa! Slow! Go!

Make it Fun, Easy to Choose Healthy Foods


Do you remember playing Red Light, Green Light? In the game, the person who is "it" stands with their back to the group. When they say "green light," the group rushes toward them, until the person says "red light" and the group has to stop.

Teachers are using a similar game of stoplight words to encourage school-age children to make better choices at meal and snack time. By using three simple terms – GO, SLOW and WHOA – students are learning to identify whether a food is a smart, healthy choice. This new language gives kids fun, easy labels for foods they should choose more often and those they should avoid eating frequently.

So what exactly do these terms mean?

  • GO foods consist of those lowest in fat with no added sugar and are less processed than other foods in the same food group. GO foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, fat-free and low-fat dairy products with no added sugar – for example, skim milk or an apple.
  • SLOW foods are higher in fat and sugar and are more processed. SLOW foods include reduced-fat plain milk and dairy products, reduced-fat meats, refined grains and GO foods that are prepared with added fat or sugar. Example: pancakes or waffles.
  • WHOA foods are highest in fat and sugar and are the most processed. WHOA foods include whole milk, fried foods and foods prepared with large amounts of added fat and sugar – for example, French fries or candy bars.

A healthy diet consists of mostly GO foods, fewer SLOW foods and rarely WHOA foods. It's important to note that all foods can be eaten in moderation, and some foods can become a WHOA food if eaten in large quantities.

What about School Lunches?

While school lunches still struggle with a stigma of being the unhealthy choice, the Austin Independent School District (AISD) is doing its part to make healthy meals accessible and desirable to school-age children.

AISD participates in the Eat Smart school nutrition program as part of the Coordinated Approach to Child Health (CATCH), a program developed by researchers at The University of Texas, which focuses on teaching students that the healthy choice is the easy choice. AISD school menus meet the standards of CATCH, with 25 percent of the dietary allowance for breakfast, 33 percent for lunch and no more than 30 percent of calories from saturated fats.

In order to meet these goals, AISD's Nutrition and Food Services team works together to purchase healthier foods, assess nutrition values, develop recipes and plan menus. School entrees are specially purchased and prepared as lower-fat versions of student favorites.

The goal is to make healthy choices easy for students and to help them learn to eat better. They provide students with the opportunity to select mostly GO foods, some SLOW foods and only rarely a WHOA food. Case in point, desserts are rare and only offered for holidays and special celebrations. All flavored milks are skim and the pizza is made from scratch with white whole-wheat crust, reduced-fat cheese and turkey pepperoni.

"Our menu planning strategy is to serve foods that students are familiar with in the healthiest versions possible," said June Hayman, AISD dietician. "If it's not eaten, it's not nutrition."

In 2010, the district introduced a new vegetable – edamame. Rather than place a foreign vegetable on students' plates, they mix it with corn or carrots. By placing the new item with something the students are already familiar with, they are more likely to try it.

Several Austin-area schools will test garden burgers and a bean and cheese burrito made with whole wheat flour tortillas. This year, all bread items will transition to whole grain and the district has eliminated high-fructose corn syrup from the skim chocolate milk.

Did you know that schools do not have fryers? It's true. In fact, French fries have been replaced with oven-baked fries in all secondary schools. This popular menu item is oven-roasted, not pan-fried, and prepared using specialty-cut Russet potatoes lightly coated with canola oil and a seasoning blend that is non-hydrogenated, cholesterol-free and has no saturated fat. Compare for yourself how these fries stack up to the nutritional value of fast-food French fries.

"I have eaten with my son at his elementary school and enjoyed experiencing first-hand the food that AISD serves," said Stephen Pont, MD, MPH, FAAP, medical director of Austin ISD Student Health Services and the Texas Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Childhood Obesity. "The district continues to seek ways to improve healthy food options, and they have been very successful despite challenges to keep prices affordable. In fact, AISD far exceeds state standards."

Additional nutritional information for the AISD school menus is available on AISD's website. For families outside of AISD, check your local district websites for menus and nutritional information.

Four Steps for Building your Child's Healthy Habits

  • Educate yourself on what your child is eating. Join your child for lunch in their school cafeteria, go through the line with them and see what they are offered and what they choose.
  • Ask your child to help you identify food choices as GO, SLOW or WHOA. Talk with them about this while grocery shopping.
  • Try some of the tricks from AISD: alter recipes to make them healthier and introduce new foods along with foods your child already enjoys.
  • Seek out more information from your child's school. The cafeteria manager, school nurse or school health assistant and physical education teacher can offer a wealth of information about their coordinated efforts, including resources for parents.

Through a unique partnership with AISD, Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas, a member of the Seton Family of Hospitals, provides health care for approximately 80,000 public school students. Dell Children's employs all of the AISD school nurses and school health assistants. This upcoming school year marks 16 years of prevention, wellness services, in-school medication, injured child care and management of chronic health conditions. The Student Health Services program was the first of its kind and has been replicated in schools throughout the nation.

It is required by law that each Texas school district hosts a School Health Advisory Council, which provides parent and expert advice to the district regarding health policy, including healthy foods. More than half of the council's members must be parents of students. Check your school district's website for specific meeting times and locations and to learn how to get involved.


*Whoa! Slow! Go! was created from the Eat Smart portion of the CATCH program (Coordinated Approach To Child Health). CATCH covers kids from preschool through eighth grade and has been implemented in thousands of schools and after-school organizations across America and Canada. By teaching children that eating healthy and being physically active every day can be fun, CATCH has proven that establishing healthy habits in childhood can promote behavior changes that can last a lifetime.

Good Health for Kids is produced by Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas.