How To Talk To Kids About Real Food

I have the pleasure of working with some great moms at our elementary school on an upcoming school assembly (for the students) that is all about real food! This is something we’ve never done before at our school, and it supports the initiatives for our new Healthy Child and Earth Committee. When we first started planning out the assembly we were honestly not sure where to start – I mean I talk to adults all day long about real food (you guys!), but a couple hundred kids? Some of which are brand new to the topic? So thankfully another local food blogger, Adri Warrick with The Whole Tulip, shared with us that she uses the red light/green light concept from a kids book called Eat Healthy, Feel Great when she talks to the kids at her school. That bit of information was exactly what we needed to get started, and today I want to share a version of our presentation,  that was inspired by this concept, with you that you can easily share with the kids in your life. :)

Thanks to the team of moms I am working with on our school assembly, here is a kid-friendly transcript about eating “real food” that you can literally sit down and read together with your children:

How To Fuel Your Body

Race Car

Close your eyes and pretend that you are sitting in the coolest, fastest race car you can imagine. Maybe it’s a red race car or a green one or even a car with racing stripes or flames painted down the sides. Now start up that engine, push your foot down on the gas pedal, and start zooming around the race track. Be sure to watch out for other cars – Vroom Vroom!! Wait a second…you are low on gas, which means it is time for a pit stop. What do you think is the best way to fuel your new high-performance machine? Top quality gasoline of course! Only the best quality will give you the best performance. But what would happen if instead you decided to fill your new race car with gloppy, thick mud? Yuck! How do you think that would make your car perform? How fast would it go? I bet it would be slow and feel weighed down. And that’s because – just like with your own body – the fuel that you use is very important to doing your best. Getting exercise along with the food you eat impacts how you feel, think, and perform tasks. Without a balanced and healthy diet – tasks like reading, writing, and even thinking can be harder for your body.  So today we are going to learn how to make healthy food choices so you know how to “fuel” your body so you can feel and do your best.

Traffic Light Foods

To understand what foods are good for your body we are going to use this traffic signal. Green Light Foods are “go” foods that will fuel your body in the best way possible by giving you the energy and nutrients your body and brain need to feel top notch. We will also talk about Yellow Light Foods, which are “sometimes” foods – these are okay to eat sometimes. And lastly we will go over Red Light Foods, which are foods you should avoid and try to not put in your body.

Traffic Light Foods

Green Light FoodsGreen Light

Once again, Green Light Foods make your body feel and work the best. Many Green Light Foods come from plants. These foods can be picked out of a garden, out of a field, or off of trees. These are foods like bananas, carrots, oranges, avocados, apples, grapes, berries, lettuce, spinach, cauliflower, cucumbers, artichokes, broccoli, green beans, peppers, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and more! There are so many healthy fruits and vegetables to choose from – which ones are your favorites?

Some other Green Light Foods that also come from plants are beans, nuts, seeds, and whole-grains. Beans like black beans, pinto beans, lima beans, and kidney beans are all great for fueling your body. There are also many types of nuts including cashews, pecans, peanuts, walnuts, pistachios, and many more. Seeds can come from plants like sunflowers or pumpkins. And when you think about breads and grains – whole grains are the most nutritious because they still have all the important parts intact – and you can see the difference in bread, pasta, and rice that is brown or tan in color. Not white or light yellow.

Lastly, some Green Light Foods can come from healthy animals as well. Think about foods like eggs, milk, and cheese that come from happy animals. And some meat products like fresh fish and also chicken and beef that come from animals that roam on wide open, grassy fields are good for you as well. The best and most nutritious animal products almost always come from small, local and/or organic farmers. So be sure to get those Green Light Foods from the farmers’ market – or look for the word “organic” on the label.

Remember…Green Light Foods are “go” foods that will give your body the fuel it needs. Just be sure to wash down all those healthy Green Light Foods with lots of water!

Green Light Foods
Green Light Foods

Yellow LightYellow Light Foods

Yellow Light Foods are foods that are okay to eat sometimes. Just like the yellow stop light means to slow down, you don’t want to eat too many of these foods. A lot of yellow light foods are made with white flour and sugar. Think about treats you make at home with sugar like cookies that you mix up in a bowl or homemade birthday cake. Also, packaged foods like pretzels, crackers, and white bread are Yellow Light Foods because they are oftentimes made with white flour instead of the healthier whole-wheat flour. Some other yellow light foods are lemonade, chocolate milk, and other sugary drinks. Treats like ice cream as well are yellow light foods, which again means these foods are okay to eat sometimes. But you do have to watch out because some of these foods can also have red light ingredients, which you will learn about next.

So just remember, yellow light means slow down and don’t eat too many of these because they are “sometimes” foods.

Yellow Light Foods
Yellow Light Foods

Red LightRed Light Foods

Red Light Foods are foods you want to avoid as much as possible. Most Red Light Foods are made in factories and come in packages. The best way to know if something is a Red Light Food is to read the ingredients on the back of the package. And that is because Red Light Foods contain Red Light Ingredients. Here are some examples…

Red Light Ingredients To Avoid

More About Red Light Ingredients…

–> Red Light Ingredient #1: Artificial Dyes

  • If a packaged food is bright in color it probably contains artificial dyes.
  • These are bad because they are fake additives made by food scientists from petroleum (the same substance used to make gasoline!) – so they are not good for your health. These chemicals make some kids so hyper they cannot sit still in class.
  • Look on the ingredient label for words like Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Red 40, Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, and Artificial Color – and avoid them.

–> Red Light Ingredient #2: Hydrogenated Oils

  • If a food is made with Hydrogenated Oil that means it contains trans fat – some examples are store-bought frosting, sprinkles and margarine (fake butter).
  • This is bad because eating a lot of trans fat is not good for your organs including your heart, which is part of your body’s engine!
  • Look for the words Hydrogenated or Partially Hydrogenated Oil on the ingredient label – and avoid them.

–> Red Light Ingredient #3: High Fructose Corn Syrup

  • High Fructose Corn Syrup is a sugar made from corn – corn kernels are not bad, but High Fructose Corn Syrup is and it is in a lot of packaged sweet treats like soda, fake syrup, and also things that don’t even look like they are treats, like jelly.
  • Eating too much of any kind of sugar can make you overweight and unhealthy, which can really slow you down.
  • Look for the word High Fructose Corn Syrup on the label and avoid it.

–> Red Light Ingredient #4: Words You Cannot Pronounce or Would Not Cook With At Home

  • Avoid other ingredients that you have never heard of and would not cook with at home.
  • Here are some examples – can you even pronounce these words?
    • Monosodium Glutamate (MSG – a salty additive)
    • Maltodextrin (another highly processed food additive made from corn)
    • Aspartame (fake sugar)
    • Sodium Benzoate (a chemical to make food last longer – what’s also called a preservative)
    • Propylene Glycol (also used as antifreeze in cars and boats!)

Pictured are some foods that contain Red Light Ingredients and are not good for your health – instead focus on eating foods and ingredients that you are familiar with and would cook with at home…like the Green Light Foods we talked about earlier!

Red Light Foods
Red Light Foods – These Foods Contain Red Light Ingredients

One more Red Light Food to watch out for is all “fast food.” Think again of the Green Light Foods, like a pumpkin for example. What would happen if your Halloween pumpkin was still sitting on your front porch? It would be all rotted and nasty. Well believe it or not fast food meals that are even as old as you…6, 7, 8 years old or even older still practically look brand new! That is because the chemical additives that aren’t good for you can make processed food last for what seems like forever. That doesn’t sound like something that would do a good job fueling your body! So remember, red light means stop – so the next time you pick up a packaged food “stop” to see if it contains any red light ingredients.

Be A Label Detective

Now, it is your job to be a label detective so you can figure out if the food you are about to eat is a Green Light Food, Yellow Light Food, or Red Light Food. Even if a food package has a fun cartoon character on the front or you see a commercial about it on TV it or it says “fruit” on the box it can still contain Red Light Ingredients, which is why you have to turn the package over and read the ingredient label. Let’s start by reading a couple labels together.

At first these look like they could possibly be yellow light foods, but read the ingredient label next to it to find all the Red Light Ingredients (items that are hard to pronounce and that you would not cook with at home)!

Red Light Example

Red Light Example

Screen Shot 2013-04-19 at 10.55.44 AM

Remember if a Green Light Food has an ingredient label at all the list will be short (5 or less ingredients) and it will not contain any white flour, sugar, or Red Light Ingredients. But the best Green Light Foods for your body do not even come in a package or have an ingredient list at all!

The Best Green Light Foods Have No Labels
The Best Green Light Foods Have No Labels

It is really important to fuel your body with LOTS of Green Light Foods every single day – especially fruits and veggies – so you can feel good and be healthy! Plus don’t forget to wash down all those Green Light Foods with plenty of water and also be sure to get lots of exercise as well. When you feel your best…you do your best!

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Sponsor Shoutout: Lunchbox Love

lunchbox love

Speaking of kids, one of the ways I make my children’s real food lunches fun is by adding little notes from Lunchbox Love. Yes, I could probably write my own notes on my own paper, but let’s face it – they wouldn’t be nearly as cute or creative or fun and chances are at some point I would probably forget to keep doing it. Having the Lunchbox Love cards with our school lunch supplies is a great reminder for me, and not only do they have a heartfelt message (or a blank spot where you can write your own!), but the other side also has fun facts, jokes or other tidbits. I started sending these cards in my 2nd grader’s lunch at the beginning of the school year and she was so excited about them she said to me, “Mom, can you please buy me a frame to keep all these notes in?” We settled on a little box and sure enough she has quite the collection now that the school year is mostly over. And now that my kindergartener is learning to read we’ve been sending them in her lunch as well…just like big sis. :) So anyway, yes Lunchbox Love is one of sponsors, but I am here to tell you even if they weren’t I’d still be buying and sending these little notes with my girls (who in turn share them with their friends) so you’ll have to take a look at what they offer. Also be sure to check out their “grown up” notes as well that would be great to give with teacher gifts at the end of the year or to moms on Mother’s Day. Just like the name – we love these cards

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139 thoughts on “How To Talk To Kids About Real Food”

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  1. Do you have any suggestions for books to read as a family as we are studying healthy eating habits? And not even just ones with information and facts but maybe stories that would relate to this topic?

  2. How would you classify something like home made pumpkins bread made with honey? I struggle with foods like that which seem not quite green because of the added honey but also not as bad as ice cream…

      1. Hi! I hope it’s okay to chime in here. I’m a Certified Health Coach through the Dr Sears Wellness Institute and traffic light eating is the foundation of what we are taught as coaches. I’m also by the way a HUGE fan of 100 days of real food! One way to look at traffic light eating is as a spectrum. Some foods, particularly in the yellow category, will be closer to the green end and some will fall closer to the red end (btw the curriculum in the coaching course now only includes fruits and veggies in the green light category). The idea is that we can strive to move foods closer to the green end of the spectrum by maybe changing the ingredients to include healthier choices (like swapping white flour for whole wheat flour, or including bigger portions of fruits and veggies) The 100 Days of Real Food website does an amazing job of that — taking “traditional” meals and moving them closer to the green end of the spectrum!

  3. I have been a long time follower of the website before it became so popular and I found it to be a really good resource for ME. Now that educating kids has come into play I see a lot of food shaming here. What is going to happen when one of these kids sits down next to someone who has a red light food in thier lunch? I have been struggling with these posts for some time now and I have to say I have had enough. Lisa, I feel your kids are going to grow up with food issues and judgments of others for the food they eat. Some of the comments you say they make almost rip my heart out. Please go back to educating grown ups about the food they are giving thier kids and let kids be kids. It is good to remind kids fresh fruit and vegetables are best but thier has to be limits.

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi Debbie. Part of it is, of course, teaching our kids to respect the choices of others and keep opinions to themselves-that’s just good manners, but should we not educate as many as possible to make the choices that will best benefit their long term health and the way their brains function? There are plenty of allowances for treats in any given week. As it turns out, our kids today are the unhealthiest generation of kids in terms of obesity and diabetes in our history. That’s not okay. Kids can be kids without pile of sugar and chemical ingredients that make them sick, don’t you think?

      1. I couldn’t agree more with your reply! I use this model to teach my kids, there is also room for treats when it deems ok like other kids birthday parties. We also live by 80-20 rule….20 being the percentage of crossing the line…let’s not be obsessive but aware and mindful of what we are putting into our bodies. A few weeks ago on a school outing the kids were given Beavertails smothered in maple butter and later given a cupcake with pure icing sugar..needless to say both my kids were so sick afterwards, my youngest vomitted everywhere and my oldest had diarrhea. I have nothing against eating treat but they can be made with different ingredients like honey, maple syrup, bananas or dates as a sweetener and whole grain flours. I think many people feel that it is it too expensive or too time consuming to eat healthy but I think some are intimidated and don’t know where to begin. There are some many sources online to guide and help out. It just takes a little organizing and realizing that the food we feed our kids will benefit them well into adulthood…not only that but eating foods located on the outer perimeters of the grocery stores with save you money in the long run. There is far too much information out there to not make the proper choices and it can be done economically. Feeding kids solely packaged, processed food is in my opinion a form of child abuse. And that’s m spiel!

      2. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

        Yep, education is key. When we know better, we should strive to do better…especially for our kids. :)

  4. The natural applesauce I eat says it has “ascorbic acid (vitamin c)” in it. Is this okay? I would never keep that to cook with in my pantry

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Katelyn. You can find applesauce with only apples on the ingredient list but most do contain vitamin c. I would go organic, if possible, since apples hold a high spot on the dirty dozen list. ~Amy

  5. Jennifer Laurinaitis

    I LOVED this article and I LOVE your site. I was wondering if you knew of any documentaries that would be good for kids to watch on this issue of eating healthy and where our food comes from?

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Jennifer. It depends on the age of your kids and what you think they are ready for. There are a bunch of food documentaries that you can stream on Netflix, but I would screen them first to be certain they are appropriate for your kids. This Michael Pollan page is full of great resources: that you can refer to over and over. Also, Jamie Oliver’s Ted Talk is golden for opening eyes regarding standard school cafeteria fare: ~Amy

  6. How do you address students whose parents can only afford the “red and yellow” foods, and can’t afford to shop biweekly for “green light” foods that can go bad in a matter of days?

    This isn’t a jab, but an honest question. At my house, we try very hard to eat healthy and avoid eating too many carbs or too much sugar, but fruits and vegetables can be so expensive, especially if it means multiple trips to the grocery store, and throwing half of your purchases out. (not always, but sometimes.)

    I’m not saying we live off of lunchables, but PB&Js, mac&cheese, etc., are some pretty cheap staples…

    How do you suggest that parents with tight budgets and not very much time because of work address this issue?

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Melissa. This post gives several solid suggestions for keeping costs down and your week running smoothly: For me, the best part of Lisa’s advice has been planning ahead and knowing what you have in your fridge and pantry. If you know something is about to go to waste, like a head of broccoli, either use it or throw it in the freezer. Even if it is something that doesn’t lend itself to freezing well (texture-wise), it could still be used in soups, sauces, etc. Cooking large batches and freezing has also really simplified meal times throughout the week as well as lunch packing. And, those cheap staples you mentioned, can all be made over into healthier, real versions by using real ingredients. Here are a couple examples: and You can find delicious 1 ingredient (the one I buy also has salt) peanut butters with whole fruit spread, too. :) If your kids are old enough, you can involve them in the entire process which can eventually take some pressure off of Mom (or Dad). :) ~Amy

  7. As a Mum who has been a primary school canteen supervisor (where kids are aged 5-12) and is about to start a new job as a high school supervisor (where kids are aged 12-18), I thank you for this post. Here in Australia we use the traffic light system too, and red light foods are not meant to be sold in our school canteens. We don’t have ingredients to determine if it’s a red light food, ours are determined by fat and sugar levels per portion size. Some of them I shake my head at, but to counter this I am pushing for the majority of our foods to be green light – they are fresh and colourful and instantly more appealing than reduced fat pies and sausage rolls that are currently the staple of Australian school canteens!

  8. Why is High Fructose Corn Syrup given such a strict “NEVER EVER EAT THIS EVER!!!” rating, whereas table sugar is only “Eat this in moderation”?

    If you replaced all the high-fructose corn syrup in packaged foods with sugar — like they do in Canada — it wouldn’t make it any better for you.

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hello Roger. We focus on high fructose corn syrup here because it is what is most commonly found in highly processed packaged foods that often end up in children’s lunch boxes. But, we also advise against added sugar, in general. ~Amy

  9. I love love love this. As a mother of 3 littles and a first grade teacher I fully appreciate how useful this article is in teaching children about appropriate foods to eat and when. Just yesterday when grocery shopping my 6 year old daughter questioned why we weren’t going to buy the “strawberry” applesauce and why we chose the reduced sodium black beans over the regular black beans. When I explained to her that the regular has more salt and our body doesn’t need that much salt she said “well why did they put it in there in the first place?” I love that she’s thinking about our food and asking questions about it. We are all learning and educating ourselves. Thank you for the work you do!

  10. It’s actually ethylene glycol is what is in antifreeze. The “P” glycols are often used in liquid medicines and electronic cigarettes.

  11. Fabulous article for children! Love the idea of the traffic easy for kids to relate to! With the obesity rate skyrocketing, raising children’s awareness of healthy eating is absolutely crucial! Hats off to the author!

  12. Thanks SO much for sharing this! I teach 2nd grade and am doing a unit on nutrition next week. I’m not too crazy about some of the info in our science book, so I’m going to use this instead! I’m thinking I can get at least 2 if not 3 lessons out of this post. Thanks!

  13. My understanding of high fructose corn syrup is that it is not a less healthy form of sugar, but that it is in so many foods in such high quantity that we ingest way more sugar than we should. The body doesn’t know if your sweetener is cane sugar, honey, agave nectar or HFC syrup: it is used for energy and the excess stored as fat. Again, the danger with HFC syrup is its utter pervasiveness, not that it is less healthy itself. Too much of any sweetener is a bad thing.

  14. Love Love Love this! Totally summarizes our philosophy too. There are plenty of fun, tasty foods in green and yellow, so why even bother with the red?! If my daughter occasionally is given a red light food outside of the home, I can live with it, knowing that at home she is full of plenty of “green light” stuff. Yellow light foods are our “treats” at home. :)

  15. Love your site! Just wondering why you’d allow a McDonald’s coupon to be shown? Doesn’t that go against everything you’re working toward?

    1. Hi Jen – With our ad networks we categorically block food and pharma ads (as well as the standard controversial categories). We forgo a lot of revenue since food is so aligned with our site, but so be it.

      However, occasionally undesired ads do slip through the filters. For example, an ad may be listed as “Target” but be showcasing junk food they sell. Coupons are harder to police as well. Also note that different ads are served to different people, so we may never see the ad you are seeing unless you tell us about it.

      With our premium ad network we actually review every single ad prior to it running, and of course we take great care in selecting the sponsors we work with directly to ensure we select companies that will be of value to our readers.

      Anyway, all that is to say that if you see a ‘bad’ add, by all means tell us (email info{at}100daysofrealfood{dot}com and include a screenshot). That way I know to look for it and can block it. We don’t want them running any more than you do. Thanks!

  16. This is so perfect. Somehow I want to get this message to all the parents and children at my school…One of the kids in my class thinks a fruit roll up is fruit….because it says Fruit on the label…. We have a long way to go to undo what the junk food industry has done to us….Thank you thank you

  17. Granny Midwife

    I raised 4 kids to become very healthy adults! I began in the late 70’s with making my own baby food from pureed steamed organic veggies. I poured them into ice trays and froze them. I’d pop 1-3 veggie cubes into a small pan & heat till melted & tepid. I saved some baby food jars & would pop a couple of cubes in before we left for a few hrs. it was easy! As they could eat more solid food, I ground up at the dinner table some food from our plates & so on. I made mostly organic meals unless we went out for pizza as a treat. When they were tweens & teens I didn’t buy anything I didn’t want them to eat/drink. they were home or with me (at their sports events, gymnastics, etc) 90 % 0f the time, so I could still monitor what they ate and was fond of saying, No, I’m not going to buy a cup of carbonated water with some sugar syrup with artificial flavors & colors for $2.50! I just didn’t do it! I later said, no, I’m not spending my money on toxic waste! and Red #40 is against my religion! LOL
    I did not eat/ drink any of these red-light things myself. And when they spent the night at a friends, grandma’s, etc. I gave instructions that they have ‘allergies’ to sugar, MSG, food colorings, etc. Other parents would say, how do you do it? Or – good, I don’t want my kids eating that crap either, so we can take a break also!
    When they get to be teens & young adults, it’s out of your hands, but I’m glad I laid a healthy foundation…. They are all incredibly healthy as are my Grandchildren. It is worth it, trust me – you will not regret sticking to your values about food/drink when they are young and you’ll be amazed how many other parents want to change their kids diets also.

  18. lunch box love cards? “R”efuse, the paper that is wasted on creating these cards, the trash that is used in shipping them. buy a few stamps, or markers, and get creative people!

  19. Thank you so much for posting this!! I have recently started homeschooling my 1st grade son and this is how we live, so he is very familiar with many of the terms. I’m just so glad this is all organized so nicely and I like the green, yellow and red light idea! I’m so excited! It makes it easier for my children to make good choices when I am not with them.

  20. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

    Hi Katie. Even baby steps move you forward. The best you can do is plug away at educating parents, administrators, food services, and children on why real food nutrition is so important. Children who are fed better learn better! This wonderful website provides a full curriculum that can be implemented school wide: If parents demand change, it will eventually happen. Good luck. ~Amy

  21. This is so cool because my best friend’s son must go to your children’s school. He was just explaining to me and his mom all about red light, yellow light and green light foods and I immediately knew where he got that. Your message definitely got through!

  22. This is great, I have eaten healthy most of my life, and I started off with feeding my girls whole foods mostly. But lately I’m getting a lot of complaining from the kids about wanting to eat the food their friends eat. We’ve always parented where we teach the girls that every family does their own thing and our life and our house has it’s own rules and standards. But the girls are growing more frustrated in this subject. It would be sooooooo nice to be able to direct them to a role model, maybe another kid they can look up to. If there are any online organic kid groups we could get involved with maybe it would help my girls not feel so alone on this.

  23. Great information! We have been following the Feingold program and have cut out everything on your Red Light list (yay!). For those who said it’s too confusing for kids – I disagree. Sure, the kids aren’t going to be shopping and reading labels but a child who can read can certainly scan over an ingredient list and identify key words with some practice. When I mention something that has artificial color in it, my 3 year old will say “dye isn’t good for our bodies”. This stuff is quite simple as long as you’re talking to your kids about it.

  24. My 3rd grader has to do a weekly report on something she’s read. I had her read this article aloud and complete her report. It was eye-opening for her to learn more about the red light ingredients we talk about at home. This was the best investment of time for a reading assignment!

  25. I saw your post on Facebook about the “real food assembly” that you did at an elementary school? I’ve been reading your blog for awhile, but don’t remember ever seeing anything about that before? Do you have more information anywhere about how you did that? How the assembly was structured, etc? Sounded like you had characters/costumes? This sounds like something I would LOVE to do at my daughter’s school! She’s in 6th grade this year, so this is the last year I would have the chance to make something like this happen and this year is almost over! Thanks :-)

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Kimberly. You are welcome to use all the information that is contained in the post. It is formatted pretty much as it was presented in the assembly. We had people performing their individual parts such as as a green light presenter, a yellow light presenter, and a red light presenter, etc. You could bring in examples of each category as well. Be sure to consider the age of your audience and adapt accordingly. Also, this website has an incredible curriculum and graphics: Please be sure to abide by our terms of use: We love when people share our information and spread the word about the power of real food!! Best of luck. ~Amy

  26. Not eating correctly or as you say ‘real’ foods is at the core of many of our health issues. Maybe you are aware of the British chef Jamie Oliver and his TV series on preparing lunches for a group of schools. If not he is worth checking out because he too was trying to improve the quality of school lunches and their canteen methods.

    Some of his encounters with youngsters reluctant to eat anything different were quite enlightening. I can still see his horror talking about ‘Turkey Twisters’- a totally processed food that was a regular item for some places.

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Ian. Yes, Jamie Oliver is a great resource. I have my kids watch his Ted Talk any time they fall off the real food wagon. :) ~Amy

  27. There are a lot of parents out there that are not educated in nutrition and how to feed their families. I think elementary/ Middle school aged kids need to be taught this info so that they take it into thier homes and become the educators to their families. I have had some experience in nutrition education with these age groups and they are so eager to learn about how to fuel their bodies its exciting. I think this presentation is great. If we educate our kids in what a food label is they will begin to understand it.

  28. I don’t think she’s suggesting that our kids be trained to read labels and understand what ingredients are red light ingredients. It’s our responsibility, as parents, to do that (unless they are old enough to handle that responsibility) and then keep those red light foods out of our homes. Will our kids be offered those foods elsewhere (school, friend’s houses, etc.), probably. But, if we keep our own pantries and refrigerators stocked with green and yellow light foods then we have built the foundation of a healthy lifestyle. As stated, red light food should be avoided “as much as possible”. You only have control over what food enters your own home. So make sure that food is in your kids’ best interest rather than expecting them to choose an apple over a candy bar.

  29. Besides food dyes, the one ingredient I absolutely cannot stand is BHT. It was not listed, nor talked about anywhere in this story. BHT is a jet fuel derivative used for preservation of packaging.

  30. This is EXCELLENT! Just shared it on my Train Up the Child Facebook page. Thank you so much for such an informative and interesting way to teach about healthy eating. I just read it to my 4 y ear old grandson and he was quite engaged with it.

  31. I agree with the post above – you need to be careful how to address the red light list as many children and their families don’t have a choice to avoid some of these items due to income, working parent(s), etc. My child goes to a Title I school where many kids are on free and reduced lunch and some don’t eat a meal unless they are at school. That said, kids can also be powerful influences on their parents so there is a fine line here. Your red light list may scare kids if they recognize things they eat but feel they have no control over the food presented to them. I wonder if you could just focus on what healthy eating is (green light only) and leave it at that? Show them how to make healthy choices like the post above mentions – water over soda, fruit over a candy bar, etc. I think a discussion about wants versus needs also fits here -and maybe having kids sort food that we need versus food we don’t need. Kids like sorting activities – this would help make your presentation interactive as well – they could yell out “want” or “need.”

  32. Critical Reader

    As a feedback from someone, who is not talking about ingredient labels with kids. The traffic light system I find very good, the introduction also. The green light section is good, the yellow light section also, the red light section is too complicated, too long and overall unnecessary. The elementary-school age kids in my family would not understand a single word. Those kids don’t even know what an ingredient list is, let alone expressions like “additive”, “food dye”, “preservative”, “trans fat”, etc.

    I’m not sure if reading food labels is really an important skill for elementary school kids. They are not the ones buying the food and frequently won’t even see the boxes of the food that is served to them. It might be better to focus on issues kids are actually able to make a decision on, like drinking water instead of soda or picking an apple instead of a cookie as a snack or not stuffing themselves with candies instead of eating real food. Sounds all boring, but in my experience that are the things most parents are struggling with most.

    Be careful about getting political. You are going to talk in front of a diverse crowd, to families with different income levels and to families from different cultural backgrounds. Not everybody has the budget, time and/or believe to shop at farmers markets or buy organic. Small farms are not per se better than large farms, etc. As others have already mentioned MSG is for some cultures a regular spice and might therefore not be the best choice for the naughty list.

    1. I read labels when I was in elementary school, primarily because I helped shop and cook for the family. Why not teach kids how to read food labels at a young age?

      1. Critical Reader

        Anelie, I just have a different approach. I do not teach my kids at a young age about food labels, because I consider it as not necessary and in some ways even harmful. I love to cook and food is for me primarily about enjoying a good meal and conversation. I want my kids to enjoy their food and not be scared of it. The majority of their food they eat at home where I have control over it. I don’t care what they eat at other people’s places or in restaurants. If they are offered the classical colorful supermarket-birthday cake I want them to enjoy every single bite without them worrying about potential food dyes. I don’t want them to become food detectives.

        I don’t have any forbidden items and give my kids only a rough understanding of healthy/un-healthy, reducing candies, not stuffing themselves with sweets before a meal, etc. I am also not scared of GMOs and most food additives. They are safe to eat – I just prefer home-made food, but don’t consider everything made from scratch as necessarily healthy. For instance, home-made Mac and Cheese, home-made Granola, and peanut butter are on my junk list and I serve them in small quantities only.

  33. For the few here that didn’t think Lisa should be pushing her views….well here’s some sobering statistics….

    In 2007, the Kaiser Family Foundation released the largest study ever done on children and advertising.

    Tweens and Teens see 17-21 food ads per day. That’s 7600 food ads per year!
    50% of all ads featured during children’s shows are for food.
    34% of food ads were for candy and snacks, 29% for cereal, 10% for beverages, 10% for fast food.
    Nearly one in five food ads makes a health claim. 42% of all cereal ads include a health claim. The most frequent health claim in food ads is: “provides essential nutrients”.
    Of the 8,854 food ads reviewed in the study, not one ad was for fruits or vegetables.

    The study states: “Because children 8–12 watch so much television, and therefore see so many food ads, they may be the group most affected by food marketing….they have more time away from their parents, have their own money, and have more opportunity to make their own food choices.”

    So…if parents and educators don’t teach kids about good nutrition they are simply letting the greedy manufacturers do it.

    That said…I’m a big fan of everything you blog but I have a teensy issue with your yellow light foods. The lemonade. I make fresh lemonade for my family everyday. Lemons and limes are very low in natural sugar and are a great detoxifier. We do use stevia to sweeten it.

  34. I never comment but feel compelled to make a few personal points. We are not perfect “real food” eaters but are trying one day at a time!(1)I am appalled at most of the lunches the kids bring from home. I pack my 14 yo daughter’s lunch everyday (at her request)…homemade wraps and “lunchables” packed in cute containers and her friends think her lunches are cool. (2) After a hospitalization for an acute asthma attack, I became more serious about cutting out the preservatives and additives that are linked to asthma attacks, so it is a very personal and potentially life saving mission and (3)MSG is used in Chinese homes but when “over” used in salad bars etc in can and does cause gastro issues and headaches in many people. Most Chinese restaurants in my area do NOT use MSG in most dishes but I am still leery. Every person and family has to make their own decision and chose to change (or not) based on the facts as they perceive them.

  35. This is wonderful, thank you! My husband and I do not have children yet, but will eventually and I always wonder how I am going to explain the way we eat (compared to food they will most likely get at school and other kid’s houses).

  36. Thank you for this Lisa and for everything on your blog! As a grade 1 teacher, I cannot wait to share with my students. Their lunches are terrible and it breaks my heart:( The school meal program (so gross) and weekly bake sales don’t help either.

  37. This is awesome.. I work in a school and the lunches parents send are nothing more than garbage…Oreos and doritos? with a “juice box” C-mon parents
    Love this can I put a link to this on our school newsletter?

  38. Our family has been in the process of moving to a real food way of life for the past few months. I have 3 boys and 1 girl all under 10, with a few very picky boys, so this transition has not been easy! My oldest is a label detective already, which really helps! We just read through this and will be implementing it in our home. The boys will have to determine if what they are choosing to eat is a red, green or yellow light food! Thank you so much for this awesome website!!!

  39. I would love to have this info on one page to print out or send to mom friends and hang up in our kitchen as a daily reminder about food choices for my whole family. Is something like that available on your website or elsewhere? Thank you for all the great recipes and info. Your granola has revolutionized our snacking habits — that is not overstating it at all!

  40. I also plan to homeschool but would use this in my curriculum! Part of a very well-rounded education, for sure! Maybe if I would have gone to an assembly about this when I was a kid, I wouldn’t have dumped my mom’s healthy lunch in the trash and use my milk money for an oatmeal pie. And- maybe I wouldn’t have eaten all those nasty lean cuisines when I was in college while trying to get fit! Good job!

  41. This is great! We actually use a stoplight color coding at our corporate cafeteria to show healthier options for employees. Even tongs on the salad bar are colored so people are mindful about the choices they are making. Every day there are two $5 “right choice” offerings which are healthy fresh foods – cheaper than most other meals there, and part of a “buy 10, get the 11th free” promotion. Love this idea for kids!!!

  42. This is great work, but I have to second what someone else said about MSG. It is as common as salt and pepper in some homes, easily found at Asian markets in the US, and just not correct to say it would not be used in someone’s home kitchen. Just a word of caution so you don’t turn off an entire group of people.

    1. Kate – As I responded to the other commenter (and as stated above) Red Light Ingredients are ingredients you cannot pronounce OR that you would not cook with at home. I personally think Monosodium Glutamate is hard to pronounce – not to mention it isn’t good for you.

  43. Yesterday at the grocery store I heard a young kid begging his dad for baby carrots. He even had his own little mini shopping cart! Unfortunately the dad had to decline since they had just bought carrots, but there is hope for the younger generation yet :) Made me smile!

    1. Yesterday 2 fifth grade were fighting over the last few carrots I had brought as a snsck for my after school club. .. it made my day (and I let them know it too).

  44. Gross. Yet another reason I’m glad my kids are homeschooled. Maybe if schools actually spent more time teaching basic math and reading skills instead of promoting personal convictions our educational system would not be such an embarrassing joke. Do you really think kids don’t know that eating chips and soda is not healthy and apples and carrots are? They eat it because it tastes good and their parents aren’t bothered by it. And guess what, they’re allowed to make that choice. I’d like to know if the kids were allowed the choice to get up a and walk out if they disagreed with you or just weren’t interested. Or were they forced to be subjected to your personal crusade. I have been eating unprocessed foods exclusively way before it was trendy but I have yet to approach a child and tell him not to eat the food his parents serve him. I also don’t presume to know the budgetary constraints of other families that might effect the decisions they make at the grocery store.

    1. Maybe if our schools taught more about health and taking care of our bodies more than 1/3 of the youth in America wouldn’t be obese or overweight. And I honestly do think that some kids don’t know an alternative to junk food because they aren’t given an opportunity to choose healthier food. It doesn’t have to be all organic to be better for you. And she’s not forcing anybody to change anything, just suggesting ways for kids to be healthier. I don’t understand why anyone would have such a problem with that.

    2. Well Nancy when parents are not intelligent enough or too lazy to teach kids how to eat right, someone else has got to do it. Kids deserve to be taught why good foods are good for their bodies. I wish I would have learned a lot sooner than now!!

    3. I knew they were unhealthy when I was younger, but as a child I looked up to the adults in the assemblies, especially when they made the presentation in a way I could understand it. The way Lisa puts it here, a child could easily understand it, and it might not convince ALL of the children to start eating better, but maybe more of them will ask for fruits and vegetables. It always made it more personal to me when someone came to my school to talk to us about things, instead of just seeing it on television. Also, I think with the kids seeing it at school, they could take it home with them and teach their parents something as well :)

    4. We have to start somewhere! The younger generation needs to be better educated about healthy eating since it’s obvious our generation has fallen into the processed food trap. As the saying goes; it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks…well if the parents aren’t going to change we need to teach the young pups about the importance of whole foods so they will be the leaders of change for a healthier society in the future!

    5. We have to start somewhere! It’s obvious something has gone wrong with our generation and the way we eat when you look at the obesity rates and diet related health issues that have been on the rise over the last several decades…along with the popularity of processed foods. Since the parents have fallen into the processed food trap we have to try to educate the younger generation and the best way to do that is in school. It’s like the saying goes “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”…if the parents aren’t going to make the change toward healthier eating then we have to teach the young pups and hope that future generations will get back into eating whole foods.

  45. This is an amazing article. I’ve been on an overwhelming journey to find healthier choices for my family, including a toddler. This is a great way to share valuable information with kids of all ages (even sometimes the parents that don’t think “we eat all that bad”. Thank you so much for putting this together!

  46. Will you be sharing the slides so we can use this as a resource for our schools? I’d be willing to pay!

    1. I appreciate that Lora, but when I created the PowerPoint I didn’t exactly go through the proper channels when obtaining the clip art (I was thinking it was just for the school and not the web) so unfortunately it’s not something I can share publicly! I went and purchased the clip art above before writing this post.

  47. Even though this is aimed at kids, it has inspired me to go juice instead of take a nap…I am OBVIOUSLY out of fuel…nap would be lovely, but so would some SAHM productivity! THANKS!!!!

  48. I have always heard that fully hydrogenated oil is not the same as partially hydrogenated and therefore is not considered trans fat. Only the partially is. Fully hydrogenated is still not great for you, but is not considered trans fat.

  49. I am trying to put together some information about real foods for the Parent Council at my kids’ school and this stuff is great. Would you mind if I copied the info to hand out to them (I would definitely give your website credit)?

    1. Leatn to cook, either at home or through school then cook healthy recipes for your parents. My daughter has always been a healthier cook than me. She taught me a lot, because parents love to cook meals that are healthy and make their kids happy.

    2. Hi Edward,

      Funny you should say that. I just printed it out in 2 copies for both of my parents, leaving off the intro and the title. My parents have grown up in a very different era – in communism, I am from Hungary – where the notion of food was very different from what are on shelves today. So not only are they uneducated about food choices, they are also unfamiliar with processed foods, and believe any label that says “healthy” or else, without thinking critically (or at all). Now that I kindof grew up, started to cook for myself, try to make wise food choices, I am doing my best to talk sense into them, but it is a challenge. I am fully on whole foods, and my mom is starting a diet with meal replacer shakes next week. I am not saying they should eat like me, but I am worried, sad, and angry at the world about it sometimes…


      1. If you have Netflix, watch the movie: Hungry for Change. (with your parents. Companies do this just to make a profit. Meal-replacer shakes are definitely not good. I shared some links with you below for more information.


        Also, to let you know what aspartame is. Aspartame comes from the fecal matter of ecoli. Just thought you should know. Good Luck!

  50. I love this article and I would like to share it with my classroom next school year. Is there a way I can access it again in September? Thank you for making such a kid-friendly message!!!

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Elly. The article will remain on the blog. Just use the search bar when you need to pull it back up again. :) ~Amy

  51. Some racial bias here. I have MSG sitting in my spice cabinet. It is used frequently in the Chinese home. I personally don’t use it often.

    1. Cathy – As stated above Red Light Ingredients are ingredients you cannot pronounce OR that you would not cook with at home. I personally think Monosodium Glutamate is hard to pronounce – not to mention it isn’t good for you.

      1. Really? It’s harder than Sodium Chloride (salt), or tumeric or cinnamon (had to even look up how to spell that one). It’s hard for you because you didn’t grow up with it. There’s a lot of research showing that it’s not as bad as all the lay press makes it out to be and for the few who react it’s pretty immediate, not insidious, kind of like how some Asians react to alcohol. The thing is most packaged foods in the US with MSG have a bunch of other junk too.

      2. Cathy – Your comments are getting a little off-topic from the post here. Yes, I think it’s hard to pronounce and so do my children. That’s all there is to it.

      3. MSG causes me and my grandmother both to have migraines that last at least 24 hours and usually around 2 days.
        I also think that it is unnecessary to put “flavor enhancers” in food. MSG is not a spice, it’s a processed additive. I think the “if you can’t pronounce it” rule is cute, but really the point is that these kinds of ingredients were made in a laboratory and are used as a means of making low quality food have more flavor and addictive qualities.
        Have you looked up what MSG does to the brain? It is an excitotoxin which basically overstimulates your nerve cells to death. Wow, so delicious! and then dead brain cells.

      4. Where do you get your info? MSG originally came from seaweed, so very natural. Now it’s made in a fermintation process similiar to vinegar. I’m sorry MSG gives you migraines. Lots of folks gets migraines with cheeses or red wine. That doesn’t make them bad foods for everyone, just something you are sensitive to and should avoid. In my book MSG is no worse than salt, small amouts are acceptable. There’s a great deal of history about the MSG hysteria and much has to do for ethnicity. I have learned lots from this site, but maybe I’ll have to find one with a wider world view.

      5. I agree with MSG and headaches. My husband found that cutting out MSG really helped to shield from headaches (and refined salts – yay for Celtic sea salt and Himalayan salts!:))

      1. Sorry I should have said ethnocentric. You didn’t grow up with Monosodium glutamate because you aren’t Chinese. If you had it might be as common to you as salt and yes your Grandparents would have probably cooked with it too.

  52. Love this, I’ll be using it with my 5 year old for sure! I hope some parents are in attendance, too! Good luck, Lisa!

  53. This really helpful. Thank you. I talk to my kids about this all the time, but it will be nice to just say red light food sometimes. I was wondering what you say to your kids about how other people eat. This comes up in our house sometimes. My 5 year old will tell people why they shouldn’t eat certain foods or fast food and I feel like people get offended.

  54. Thanks so much for this. My kids (4 and 6) are very much on board with healthy eating and we talk about “sometimes” foods vs. “always” foods that are good for our bodies. The difficulty I am having is that I am trying to launch a wellness committee at our school where the majority of students receive free or discounted school lunch and there is a “free breakfast in the classroom” program available to all. If I were to approach school leadership about adopting the light system for healthy eating guidelines, the majority of the breakfast items and a lot of the lunch items would be red light foods. The food is provided by a food service company and while I would like to see changes made to improve what is offered, it will be a slow process. Any suggestions in the meantime?

    Because me

  55. This is great! When will you be doing the assembly? My 7 year old daughter goes to the same school so I’m very excited for her to hear what you have to say. We just moved here last summer and it took a friend of mine across the country to make me aware of your blog and how ironic you are in our own backyard. You do fantastic work and I thank you for the wonderful information you provide!

  56. This is awesome! I have been trying to talk more about real foods with my 8 year-old son and this will be a great way to teach him more. Thank you for teaching ME and helping me pass on this to my son (and husband!). I wish schools would include nutrition and fitness just like math and reading.

  57. Hi. Love following your stuff. Can this be put onto a pdf so we can download and use for homeschool. If not, I can just read off the computer. keep up the good work!

  58. Research is clear that it’s the adults in a child’s world that need this info. In a better world, adults (at every level: government, teachers, parents, etc) would be watching out for kids so their “exposure” to things they shouldn’t eat would be limited. While kids can get an “A” on a test of healthy eating, that doesn’t mean that they have the sophistication to actually choose the right foods…that’s the adult’s job. In my work with eating disorders, I see a lot of guilt and conflict related in part to getting a message “I shouldn’t WANT that Oreo.” Please shield your kids from too much information!

    1. I can see that perspective too, but I’m a bit worried about my daughter getting treased next year for eating only or mostly real foods at school when she starts kinder. I would think there would be less likelyhood of that happening if her classmates knew some of this info. I hope a handout is prepared for the parents too see after the assembly as well because the parents really do have most of the control.

      1. Rachel, I can assure you there is no teasing about real food in Kinder. My boys, in fact, come home telling me stories about lunch time and how other kids wish they could have healthy food packed also! It’s only been positive! :)

  59. This is immensely helpful. My 6 year old hears it from me to which I recieve many eye rolls. Any chance your older child could make a video hitting on these?? I’ve learned they’re much more convinced if they hear something from someone closer to their age (like Birke Baehr). Love these ideas. Thank you for sharing!

    1. I second Kati’s idea. It would be great for the kids to hear this from a kid if you’re oldest is willing and able to lend a helping hand. Either way. .. thank you Lisa.

  60. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I talk to my kids all the time about ingredients and good food, but this is such a clear explanation. I will certainly share it with them. Thank you!!!

  61. This should be done in EVERY school! What a great way for kids to learn about healthy eating. I especially love the idea of being a label detective to help make kids aware of what’s really in the foods they are eating.

  62. There’s a great discussion like this in several chapters of Dr. Sears’ book “The Healthiest Kid in the neighborhood”. Even with younger kids, you can have them look at food labels and count how many ingredients. More than 5 ingredients, or some that reading-age kids can’t pronounce is usually not a good thing. I’d be curious about the response you receive, too.

  63. I absolutely love this idea! I have a typical 6 year old who loves white bread, chicken fingers & cakes. In the past few years I’ve gained a new perspective on nutrition & fitness and have since then adapted a much healthier life style for myself and my children, cutting out things like white bread, chicken fingers & cakes, so my son wasn’t started early on understanding the benefits of healthy food. (I got my 2 year old daughter hooked from the start.) This will be a great thing for him and I to sit down and read together, especially since they use the traffic light concept in school to teach behavior. I will definitely be sharing this with followers on my own facebook page! :)

  64. Great Post! Loved that you put a picture of Kraft mac & cheese under the red light section, nice dig, Ha,Ha! I’m going to pass it on to my children’s school guidance consular. The school is working on an overall healthy child initiative, physical, emotional, nutritional, etc.

  65. I would like to start baking and cooking with lard. So far the only thing I can find is a brand that says lard and hydrogenated lard. I know hydrogenated isn’t good but wouldn’t this be better compared to vegetable shortening?

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Lisa. Depending on where you live, you might have to order it online but you can definitely purchase non-hydrogenated lard. Any hydrogenated fat is not good for you. Hope that helps. ~Amy

  66. Great idea for older kids! Maybe a little too complicated (reading labels) and ‘too much information’ for younger ones! I think my kindergartener would tune out a lot of the red food explanation! We use the wolf and three pigs analogy with brick food, stick food, and straw food, and that has made a lasting impression on my kid!

    Kudos to you for taking on this challenge at school!

  67. Excellent excellent job! Love it – great school presentation for kids and wonderful pictures to help apply the teaching points!!!

  68. Awesome post! I’ve been trying to talk to my 5-year-old about it, but I knew I needed to go deeper into the subject with her. Thank you so much for a great tool for doing that.

  69. Love this concept and I’d love for you to do a follow up on how the kids respond and how their parents respond. It seems that there are two very distinct camps on Real Food and some of those who are blissfully ignorant REALLY don’t want to know. Kinda like when I was a kid and hearing all of the anti-smoking info and then I’d run home and lecture my Dad about smoking. I wonder if you will have any parents who are less than thrilled to have their children suddenly informed and interested in Real Food! I hope it’s all positive, but either way, I’d love to hear how it all goes! Thanks for your work, when my kids get to Elementary school I’ll be looking back at these posts for inspiration. :)

    1. My thoughts exactly, Sara. I’m a 2nd grade teacher and we do a healthy eating unit later in the year. in the past, it’s focused on fresh fruits and veg and avoiding fatty and sugary foods. I’d like to switch the focus to something exactly like this, but fear the parent feedback. So I’d also really love to know how they responded.

  70. My oldest daughter is only 3 so I don’t know if she will understand all of this quite yet, but I LOVE the approach of red/yellow/green light foods. It really simplifies the concept for kids and makes it easy for them to understand and hopefully teach their peers as well!