Stop, Steady, Go!: The Traffic Light System for Healthy Eating

The Traffic Light System reminds parents which foods to avoid, which foods to go light on, and which foods are best for a healthy snack.


During the summer, families have more time to learn new recipes and try new snacks—a great way to combat the dehydration and hunger that comes with playing outside and enjoying the sun. For many parents, navigating which snacks are good for your child can be a confusing process. Nutritional information isn’t as easy to digest as it used to be! To help parents understand which ingredients in snacks are healthy and which ones to avoid, Registered Dietitian and Professional Chef, Julie Bednarski, created a Red Light, Yellow Light, and Green Light System.

As you dive into the summer, focus on these tips from Bednarski and always remember: fresh is best.

Red Light Snacks

Artificial flavours. Artificial colours. These ingredients are those that we want to avoid as much as possible. Artificial dyes and flavours are added to foods to enhance their colour and taste, making them more “kid friendly.” There is no nutritional benefit to these ingredients. Artificial flavours and dyes have been linked to behaviour issues and can cause negative health effects in humans. The European Union requires all foods with artificial dyes to come with warning labels and has banned many of these dyes still found in foods in North America. It is always advised to read food labels to ensure your family is not consuming these ingredients. You might be surprised to find out how many of your family’s favourite packaged foods contain artificial flavours or colours!

Yellow Light Snacks

Natural flavours. Natural colours. “Natural flavour” and “natural colour” are catch terms used on food packages for preservatives or colours that come from natural sources. A natural flavour or colour is not necessarily healthier than an artificial one, nor does it need to match what’s on the label. Combining chemicals derived from a natural source results in a natural flavour or colour. Limiting the amount your family consumes of natural flavours and colours is best, as these are still considered preservatives that can affect our health.

Added sugars. High added sugars have been linked to everything from dental cavities to obesity, to Type 2 Diabetes, and to heart disease. Minimizing your family’s sugar intake may be a priority, but it may not be as simple as you think. Hidden added sugars are now found in foods you would not expect: fruit juice, flavored yogurt, pasta sauce, bread, baby food, salad dressing, granola bars, and even frozen foods. On an ingredient label, sugar can be used under many names—there are more than 50 names for sugar. But at the end of the day, sugar is sugar. It doesn’t matter if it’s honey, cane juice, corn syrup, glucose-fructose, agave nectar, maple syrup, or brown rice sugar. Sugar is sugar, and we want to limit the amount of added sugar we consume, especially for our children.

Green Light Snacks

Fresh is always best. When you make your own snacks from starch, you will not only save money, but you will also know what’s in the foods your family is consuming. Making meals and snacks at home is best, as you can foster healthy eating habits for your children. Green light foods and snacks are those that are made with real food ingredients. If you can read all the ingredients on the package, then you know you have found a good snack. Look for snacks that are high in fiber, contain protein and whole-grains, and are a source of vegetables and fruits. Green light foods are those that your family can enjoy, knowing that they will keep you energized and feeling great! Fruits and vegetables are always number one for snacks.

It’s important to set healthy habits for your child and it all starts with you, the parents. If you want your child to eat less unhealthy snacks, buy less of them (or don’t buy them at all.) Here are some examples of nutrient-rich and hydrating snacks for your family this summer.

Fresh fruits. Nothing beats sliced fruits including apples, watermelon, honeydew melons, pineapples, oranges, kiwis, mangos, and peaches. Fresh fruit is high in water and will help keep your children stay hydrated during hot and active summer days.

Trail mix. Store bought trail mix can contain added sugars and oils. Make your own trail mix using ingredients your children enjoy including almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, brazil nuts, walnuts, goji berries, mulberries, roasted chickpeas, hemp seeds, and raw cacao nibs.

Homemade granola bars. Store bought granola bars are loaded with added sugars and processed oil. Making your own granola bars at home is fun and you can customize the way your children enjoy them.

Energy balls with dried fruit. Dried dates, prunes, and figs make a great binder when you are making your own energy balls.

Chia pudding. Chia pudding is a great option for children that love pudding. Chia seeds are high in omega-3 fats that are needed for brain health and development. You can make chia pudding the night before and add your child’s favourite sliced fruits to top.

Fruit smoothie. Smoothies are always a hit with children as they are sweet and refreshing. Smoothies are also a great way to “hide” healthy foods from your child. Add spinach, avocado, and even kale to increase the nutrition in your child’s snack.  

Frozen smoothie pops. What child doesn’t like frozen pops, especially in the summer?  Blend fresh fruit or use leftover smoothie to freeze in popsicle containers. Your children will never know they are eating fruits and vegetables while enjoying a popsicle.

Kale chips. Kale chips are a great snack for children to enjoy, especially as kale is known as the “Queen of all Greens.” Kale is a superfood and jam-packed with vitamin A, K, calcium, iron, and fiber. Kale chips are a great on-the-go snack that are full of flavour and crunch. Dehydrated kale chips from The Healthy Crunch Company are free of all major food allergens including being peanut-free, tree-nut-free, and gluten-free, making them safe for school. Your children will never know they are eating kale.

More in Food, Guides
3 Unique Ideas for Topping the Ultimate Hotdog

The weather's warming up, so let's heat up the grill!...