Traffic light eating

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 17, 2021

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What is traffic light eating?  Have you ever heard of that phrase before?  Well, if you have not, I will tell you what traffic light eating is.

The traffic light eating plan makes it easier to choose healthy foods. This method encourages us to choose foods that are nutrient-dense and low in saturated fats, sodium and added sugars.  The traffic light method helps us follow a diet that focuses on balance, variety and moderation.  Following this eating method will help you make healthy choices when in the grocery store, organizing your kitchen or planning meals for your family.

The traffic light eating consists of Green, Yellow and Red lights.  We know that Green means “Go.” These foods are “anytime” foods and are often nutrient-rich and are low in calories, saturated fats, added sugars and sodium. Yellow means “slow down” and are called “sometime foods.” We can enjoy these foods in smaller amounts.  Red means “stop” because these foods are high in calories, sodium, saturated fats or added sugars and often lower in healthy nutrients.  If you are going to eat these foods, limit to “special occasions” or once a week.

Here are a few examples of each traffic light eating sample menu for the five food groups.

Grains – Traffic Light Tip: Make at least half of your grains whole grains.

Green Light Grains – Whole wheat waffle or pancake

Yellow Light Grains – Plain waffle or pancake

Red Light Grains – Flavored waffle or pancake


Fruits – Traffic Light Tip: Focus on whole fruits

Green Light Fruits – Canned fruit in water or in its own juice

Yellow Light Fruits – Canned fruit in light syrup

Red Light Fruits – Canned fruit in heavy syrup


Vegetables – Traffic Light Tip: Vary your vegetables

Green Light Vegetables – Oven-baked potato wedges (homemade)

Yellow Light Vegetables – Oven-baked fries (frozen)

Red Light Vegetables – French fries, tater tots, hash browns, sweet potato fries, onion rings


Proteins – Traffic Light Tip: Vary your protein routine

Green Light Protein – Pork tenderloin

Yellow Light Protein – Turkey bacon, turkey sausage, pork chops, pork shoulder, ham

Red Light Protein – Bacon sausage, pork belly, crackling, fried pork chops,


Dairy – Traffic Light Tip: Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy

Green Light Dairy – 1% milk, skim milk, 1% or skim lactose-free milk

Yellow Light Dairy – 2% milk, 1% chocolate milk, 2% lactose-free milk

Red Light Dairy – Whole milk, chocolate milk, whole lactose-free milk


Extras – Traffic Light Tips

Green Light – Fat-free mayonnaise

Yellow Light – Low-fat mayonnaise

Red Light – Mayonnaise


Beverages – Traffic Light Tip

Green Light Drinks – Zero-calorie soda, water, 0-5 calorie packet-flavored water

Yellow Light Drinks – Diet soda, reduced-sugar beverages

Red Light Drinks – Soda, energy drinks, slushies, lemonade


I hope this traffic light eating guide will help you to better choose healthy foods when meal planning for you and your family.

Happy shopping and menu planning!


Cynthia Clifton is a nutrition extension agent for the LSU AgCenter. If interested in learning more about traffic light eating, a class is being offered on Friday, July 23, 2021 at 11 a.m. at the Homer Joseph Building, 366 NW Second Street Reserve, LA 70084.  To register call 985-536-4955. Seating is limited.