Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Myth: It’s hard to get my children to choose healthy snacks.

Answer: BUSTED!

Traffic light signaling green
What does a traffic light have to do with making healthy food choices? A hospital in Massachusetts set up a traffic light menu system in their cafeteria to help guide consumers to pick healthier options. Green circles were ‘go’ items – pick these items often. Yellow circles were OK choices. Red circles indicated foods you should only have occasionally because of their fat, sugar, sodium or calories.

The hospital also made changes in placement of items. For example, healthier items were placed in the front and at eye level for easier access. And salads and water bottles were made easily available around the cafeteria.

The results? The system worked! They found that healthier food choices persisted 2 years after implementation.

Dr. Thorndike, a physician who implemented the system suggests that this approach could be used at home, too. Fill a drawer or box in the pantry and set up an area in the refrigerator with ‘go’ (green) snacks that your children can choose from whenever they want. Need some ideas for your ‘go’ snacks? For the cupboard, include individual portions of canned fruit in fruit juice, baked chips, pretzels, low-fat graham or animal crackers or reduced-fat popcorn. For the refrigerator, have cut-up veggies like carrots, celery, broccoli or cherry tomatoes, low-fat yogurt or sugar-free or fat-free pudding snacks. Go to for more ideas.

Don’t forget that snack placement also plays a role. Use it to your advantage in your home. Make sure healthy ‘go’ snacks are easy to find. Keep a bowl of fruit in the kitchen and put chips and cookies away in high cupboards and at the back of shelves – out of sight, out of mind.

Contributor: Ellen Schuster, M.S., R.D., Associate State Specialist, University of Missouri Extension,, 573-882-1933

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