Traffic Light Food Guide

A food classification system

Using our Traffic Light Food Guide it’s easy to make a well-informed healthy choice and create a well-balanced tasty lunch box. Why don't you get your children to sit down with you and have a go…

Our recommendation is that most of your choices should come from the Green category. However, items from the Orange section are okay too. Red items should really only be a once a week treat!

Each of our categories has a number of items for you to choose from. Although we have limited the Red items, we’ve not taken them away completely, after all - it’s still your choice!

(You can print our Traffic Light Food Guide and our Common Foods List to use at home too, learn more here.)

These are the most nutritious and healthiest items. These items are often eaten with little or no change from the way they naturally occur and can be eaten as part of every meal, every day.

Green foods are:

  • An important source of vitamins and minerals.
  • Naturally low in saturated fat, sugar &/or salt.
  • Higher in fiber.
  • Lower in energy density (nutritional value compared to energy (kj) value)

These foods make up our Green menu items:

  • High fibre and wholegrain breads, pasta, rice and natural cereals.
  • All plain fruit & vegetables.
  • Fresh, plain meat, fish and poultry.
  • Low fat dairy products & alternatives.
  • Eggs, legumes, raw or roasted unsalted nuts & seeds.
  • Water and freshly made juices.


While Orange items have some nutritional value, if consumed too often they can contribute to health problems. Eat Orange items as part of some meals, but not every meal.

Orange foods have

  • Some vitamins & minerals:
  • Moderate levels of saturated fat, added sugar &/or salt.
  • Moderate levels of fibre.
  • Moderate levels of energy density.

These foods make up our Orange menu items:

  • Refined white breads & processed breakfast cereals.
  • Full fat dairy products like tasty cheese & custard.
  • Processed meats like pastrami, ham or bacon.
  • Some processed or home made cakes, biscuits, slices or pies with reduced fat or sugar or salt.
  • Reduced fat flavoured milk based drinks and reduced sugar fruit juices.


Red foods are full of energy but have little or no nutritional value. These are the troublemakers! They are hard for the body to digest and if eaten too often and in large amounts, contribute to poor health.

Red foods are:

  • Low in vitamins & minerals.
  • High in saturated fat, added sugar &/or salt.
  • Low in fibre.
  • High in energy density.

These foods make up Red menu items:

  • All shallow & deep fried foods.
  • Processed meats like salami, luncheon and sausage.
  • Processed commercial foods like cream buns, donuts, pastries & pies.
  • Processed snack foods like potato chips, muesli bars & fancy biscuits.
  • Cakes, scones & muffins.
  • Confectionary, chocolate, & icecream.

The Traffic Light Food Guide is a guideline only and is not meant to replace nutritional advice sort from a qualified authority.

Reviewed & endorsed by Kate Syers, Dietician (NZ Registered), 2012.

Copyright; The Lunch Box Club, 2012.