Healthy Children - September 2016

ExceleRate Illinois in partnership with the Illinois Department of Human Services is providing information on healthy choices. The Healthy Children, Healthy Families Project will communicate to parents, child care practitioners, and others who visit the website, the seriousness of obesity in young children and to link them to current research on the issue.

Helpful suggestions for meal planning, recipes and healthy physical activities are presented on this site for children and the health of the entire family.

New ideas are listed every month. Each month a new column on this issue of national concern is posted. It answers questions you have regarding children and healthy lifestyles -- be sure to check it out.

For more information contact the Illinois Department of Human Services at (217) 785-9336 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. You can also contact your local Illinois Child Care Resource and Referral Agency.

The consumer health information on childhood obesity provided by the Illinois Network of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies on the site or by any links to other sites is for information purposes only and should not be interpreted as a recommendation for a specific treatment plan, product or course of action. This web site generally links to other sites that are informational in nature and does not link to commercial sites that are primarily intended for the sale of products or services. Use of this site or any links to other sites does not replace medical consultations with a qualified health or medical professional to meet the health and medical needs of you or a loved one. You should promptly seek professional care if you have any concern about the health of you or a loved one and you should always consult your physician before you or a loved one starts a fitness regimen. 

Back to School Mealtime Tips

Summer is ending, and school is just around the corner. Adjusting to busier school year schedules can be a challenge for families with young children, especially when it comes to finding time to eat meals together. Family mealtimes offer many benefits including: more open communication, improved academic performance, and overall better nutrition for the whole family. Below are 10 ways to make family mealtime a positive experience even with a busy schedule.

Involve everyone in the planning: Have a weekly conversation where everyone can contribute their ideas for the menu.

Shop with a grocery list: Cooking food at home stretches the budget, but make sure to focus your purchases on the planned menu, minimizing impulse buys that may not be as healthy.

Prepping ahead: Once you get home from the store, washing and cutting cup fruits and veggies will save time later in the week.

Everyone pitches in: Divide the work of prepping ingredients, measuring, and cooking dinner, as well as setting the table, and cleaning up.

Cook with more leftover: Plan meals so that extra portions are set aside for meals for the next day. Items such as soups, casseroles, and even main dishes can be refrigerated and reheated for quick prep time later in the week.

Keep talking: Give everyone a chance to talk about their day. What happened at school? What is happening later this week?

Describe your dinner: Share how each family member helped with dinner. Have younger children describe colors and numbers of foods. Is there a story behind a family recipe someone wants to share?

Two-bite club: Adults and older siblings can model trying new fruits and vegetables for younger family members. We all need to try something a few times to decide what we like, so just taking a bit or two of new food is good start.

Be flexible: If family mealtime is a new thing for you, start small with a couple days a week. Depending the family, time may be breakfast on a weekend instead of dinner every week night.

Have fun: Remember that mealtime is more than just a meal. It is time to appreciate each member of the family and enjoy together.

Written by Sherri Ann Ambrose, Educator
University of Illinois Extension
Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program
Chicago, IL 

My Favorite Class is Lunch

By: Janell Goodwin, Technical Information Specialist, Food Safety and Inspection Service. USDA

Tick tock. Tick tock.
I’m counting the minutes down.
My tummy is a-rumbling.
With a loud and angry sound
And then finally I hear it.
That beautiful, ringing chime.
I run to the cafeteria
To join friends for lunchtime.
But then I stop to remember
The first step of lunchtime plans.
I need to go to the bathroom
So that I can wash my hands.
Soap and warm water
Get rid of germs and disease;
I count to twenty when I scrub
Or I sing the ABC’s
I know my hands are clean
When they’re covered in soapy suds.
Then I rinse and dry my hands, and rush to meet my buds.
I open up my lunch box,
Chicken sandwich – I’m thrilled!
And Mom threw in an ice pack
To keep all my food chilled
After lunch, my tummy’s full.
I’m ready to go out and play
But before going to the playground.
I throw my leftover food away.
I feel my nose start to tickle
When I’m playing with Jack and Sue.
I put my elbow to my mouth
And let out a big ACHOO!
I wash my hands again
Before heading back inside.
I can’t really see the germs.
But I know they like to hide.
Keeping my hands clean
During the day at school
Helps to keep me healthy
And being healthy is super cool!

Healthy Tips for Picky Eaters

Do any of the statements below remind you of your child?

“Ebony will only eat peanut butter sandwiches!”
“Michael won’t eat anything green, just because of the color.”
“Bananas used to be Matt’s favorite food, now he won’t even touch them!”

Your child may eat only a certain type of food or refuse foods based on a certain color or texture. They may also play at the table and may not want to eat. Don’t worry if your child is a picky eater. Picky eating behavior is common for many children from the age of 2 to 5 years. As long as your child has plenty of energy and is growing, he or she is most likely eating enough to be healthy. If you have concerns about your child’s growth or eating behavior, talk to your child’s doctor.

How to cope with picky eating

Your child’s picky eating is temporary. If you don’t make it, it will usually end before school age. Try the following tips to help you deal with your child’s picky eating behavior in a positive way.

Let your kids be “produce pickers.” Let them pick out fruits and veggies at the store.

Have your child help you prepare meals. Children learn about food and get excited about tasting food when they help make meals. Let them add ingredients, scrub veggies, or help stir food.

Offer choices. Rather than asking, “Do you want broccoli for dinner?” ask “Which would you like for dinner, broccoli or cauliflower?”
Enjoy each other while eating family meals together. Talk about fun and happy things. If meals are times for family arguments, your child may learn unhealthy attitudes toward food.

Offer the same foods for the whole family. Don’t be a “short-order cook,” making a different meal for your child. Your child will be okay even if he or she does not eat a meal now and then.

U.S. Department of Agriculture  

Handling a "Choosy" Eater

  • Sara Mei will not eat anything green – she even refuses a whole meal if one green pea appears on her plate.
  • Santiago is interested in everything at the table but eating.
  • Dillon Gets upset when one food on his plate touches another.
  • Mariffa will not eat anything but an orange or a banana; two days ago she would only eat peanut butter sandwiches.

“Choosy” eating is a child-size step toward growing up and showing independence. In fact what seems like a challenge to you may be an early step toward making food choices. A child’s “No” does not always mean no. What seems “choosy” may just be your child’s awkward first steps in learning to make decisions.

What appears to be “choosy” eating may instead be a smaller appetite. Preschool-age children grow and develop at a slower rate than toddlers do. If left alone, most children become hearty eaters again when their body’s growth pattern requires more food for energy.

The best advice for you: Relax and be patient! Learning how to handle eating challenges and how to avoid conflict. That way, your child will not learn to use food as a way to exert control.

Ten effective ways to handle a “choosy” eater:

  1. Treat food jags casually since food jags do not last long anyway.
  2. Consider what a child eats over several days, not just at each meal. Most kids eat more food variety than a parent thinks.
  3. Trust your child’s appetite rather than force a child to eat everything on the plate. Forcing a child to eat more encourages overeating.
  4. Set reasonable time limits for the start and end of a meal then remove the plate quietly. What is reasonable depends on each child.
  5. Stay positive and avoid criticizing or calling any child a “picky eater.” Children believe what you say!
  6. Serve food plain, and respect the “no foods touching” rule if that’s important to your child. This will pass.
  7. Avoid being a short-order cook by offering the same food for the whole family. Plan at least one food everyone will eat.
  8. Substitute a similar food – if a child does not like a certain food; instead of squash offer potatoes.
  9. Provide just two or three choices not a huge array of food. Then let your child decide.
  10. Focus on your child’s positive eating behavior not on the food.


Eating Foods Away from Home

10 MyPlate tips for eating out

Restaurants, convenience and grocery stores, or fast-food places offer a variety of options when eating out. But larger portions can make it easy to eat or drink too many calories. Larger helpings can also increase your intake of saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars. Think about ways to make healthier choices when eating food away from home. 

  1. Consider your drink – Choose water, fat-free milk, unsweetened tea, and other drinks without added sugars to complement your meal.
  2. Savor a salad – Start your meal with a salad packed with vegetables to help you feel satisfied sooner. Ask for dressing on the side and use a small amount of it.
  3. Share a main dish – Divide a main entrée between family and friends. Ask for small plates for everyone at the table.
  4. Select from the sides- Order a side dish or an appetizer-sized portion instead of a regular entrée. They’re usually served on smaller plates and in smaller amounts.
  5. Pack your snack- Pack fruit, sliced vegetables, low-fat string cheese, or unsalted nuts to eat during road trips or long commutes. No need to stop for other food when these snacks are ready-to-eat.
  6. Fill your plate with vegetables and fruit- Stir-fries, kabobs, or vegetarian menu items usually have more vegetables. Select fruits as a side dish or dessert.
  7. Compare the calories, fat and sodium- Many menus now include nutrition information. Look for items that are lower in calories, saturated fat, and sodium. Check with your server if you don’t see them on the menu. For more information, check the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) website.
  8. Pass on the buffet- Have an item from the menu and avoid the “all-you-can-eat” buffet. Steamed, grilled, or broiled dishes have fewer calories than foods that are fried in oil or cooked in butter.
  9. Get your whole grains- Request 100% whole-wheat breads, rolls, and pasta when choosing sandwiches, burgers, or main dishes.
  10. Quit the “clean your plate” club- Decide to save some for another meal. Take leftovers home in a container and chill in the refrigerator right away.

Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion  Go to for more information


4 Ways to Feed Your Family on a Budget

Feeding your family healthy, whole foods can help give children a good start in life and doesn’t have to break the bank. It may be tempting to turn to packaged foods or to the drive-thru when life gets busy. However, not only are those foods low in nutrients and high in sodium, unhealthy trans fats and added sugars, they often cost more than healthy whole foods. If you want to save money and keep your family on the right dietary track, take the following steps:

Make a plan- “If you want to get a healthy meal on the table and save money doing it, you’re going to have to plan,” says Tara Todd, RD, LD, a dietitian with St. Louis Children’s Hospital and mother of two. “Sit down, look at the calendar and work out meals ahead of time.”

Keep it whole- A 2012 study from the US Department of Agriculture found that, per serving, vegetables, fruits, grains and dairy products cost less than meats and packaged or pre-made foods. It’s a common misconception that it’s more expensive to eat healthy foods than it is to eat unhealthy foods,” says Christian Miller, executive chef at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and father of three. “If you’re smart about it, you can find really good deals at small markets – it just takes a little more time and effort.” Buy fruits and vegetables in season when they cost less or buy frozen versions, which last longer and require less time to prepare.

Limit the meat – Plan a few meatless meals per week, and use your savings to buy organic or pastured meats, which are higher in healthy omega-3 fatty acids and certain vitamins. You can find them at your local farmers markets or at most major grocery stores.

Get creative – introduce healthier options into meals, such as mashed cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes or dark leafy greens instead of iceberg lettuce. Rather than spending a lot on sugary fruit juices, buy whole fruits instead, and stick with drinking water – after all, it’s virtually free!

For more help with healthy eating, download our “Nutrition and Healthy Habits” brochure at the following link:

Family Health:  Smart Sleep

Benefits of Sleep:

  1. The body restores itself during sleep.
  2. Sleep increases brain’s ability to focus, learn, and think clearly.
  3. Sleep helps boost immune system which helps fight sickness.
  4. Active period of bodily growth and repair occurs while sleeping.

Develop a family bedtime routine!

The following are tasks to include in your nightly checklist:

take a warm bath,

brush teeth,

place a cup of water by the bed,

share the best part of the day,

read a story together,

turn on the night-light,

sing a lullaby,

give a hug or kiss goodnight, or

give a backrub.

Help children sleep better by maintaining a consistent bedtime routine.

Increasing daily physical activities helps all family members sleep better.

Turn off the TV and read a book together in bed.