Teaching kids about healthy food is difficult.  Kids want to know.  My kids ask me all the time –

“Is it healthy”?

And honestly I have a hard time answering the question.  I don’t want to label any food as “bad.”  Guilt and food is just a bad combination and saying “such and such is bad for you” will just cause feelings of regret and guilt when later they indulge. In addition, some foods are healthy if eaten in small quantities – like peanut butter.  It’s a great source of protein and if its the natural variety I don’t consider it a problem food, unless of course you are choosing a peanut butter sandwich everyday, twice a day.  There can be too much of a good thing.

The answer can depend on so many things… it is so subjective…

It depends on who you are – I can’t eat a whole avocado each and every day.  Some days I would love to.  But my kids – who are growing can afford dense calories in their diet  and can eat more than I.  Maybe not a whole one every day, but I wouldn’t think twice about letting them polish off the bowl of guacamole.

Sometimes it comes down to making the better choice. The answer is always determined by the circumstances –  Instant oatmeal, verse plain oats, verses Coco Puffs. Which is the healthier choice? Depends on what else is available.

I’m reading “Push” by Chalene Johnson …. I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit this. I don’t usually fall for these change you life in 30 days kind of books, but this one grabbed my attention. (I think it’s because she is a mom – I can kinda relate.)

PUSH: 30 Days to Turbocharged Habits, a Bangin' Body, and the Life You Deserve!

I’m happy to say it’s better than I expected.  Its full of great tips and strategies for organizing your life in a healthy way – setting goals and defining priorities.  This is not just a diet and fitness book.  And even though my body still refuses to get up at 5:15 am to get a workout in first thing every day (I know it is the best time, I know!), I’ve learned a few things.

In particular, I needed to share this tip – using the Traffic Light System for making food choices.  Green, Yellow, Red.  I’ve been using this concept with my kids and it has generated some awesome conversations about food choices. I feel like I am empowering them to make decisions about what they eat and what they don’t.  It’s amazing.

Green – very healthy, every day food, eat as much as you want, whenever you want, food that should be part of each and every meal  – all fruit and veggies fall into this category.

Yellow – sometimes food, to eat in moderation, maybe as much as one small serving per day, or as little as once per week.  This is food that may be good for you, but you need to be mindful of portion sizes.  Or food that is not really good for you but not really bad for you either.  In this category I would put things like white pasta, white rice, unsweetened or slightly sweetened boxed cereals.

Red – Stop! Not a healthy choice and something to be eaten only occasionally.  For example – Birthday Cake.  It’s fun, but has too much sugar, refined flour and calories to be eaten on a basis other than very occasionally. Also included on the Red food list – anything deep-fried, containing trans fats or full of sugar, artificial sweeteners, unknown chemicals and dyes.  In our house this includes all types of soda, potato chips, most packaged treats, restaurant French fries and fast food sweets.

The real beauty of this concept is that everyone’s Red, Yellow and Green lists are different. Whole wheat pasta and brown rice are in my kids Green list, but on the Yellow list for me since these are really calorie dense foods and I would easily overeat if given an excuse the opportunity.

I’m sharing this because my 5 year-old just asked for more salad because it is a “green light” food and he wants to eat “lots of those to be healthy”.

And think of this – kids ask for a snack and I say “Sure, as long as it is a green light food.”  All of a sudden they are grabbing apples and carrots when a Bear Paw would have been much easier!