Healthy Children - July 2017

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. 

Cut Back on Your Kid's Sweet Treats

Set your kids on a path for lifelong healthy eating by limiting the amount of added sugars they eat. Sweet treats and sugary drinks have lots of calories but few nutrients. Most added sugars come from sodas; sports, energy, and fruit drinks; cakes; cookies; ice cream; candy; and other desserts.

  1. Serve small portions: Show kids that a small amount of treats can go a long way. Use smaller bowls and plates for these foods and serve them in bite-size portions.
  2. Sip smarter: Soda and other sugar-sweetened drinks contain a lot of sugar and are high in calories. Offer water when kids are thirsty. 
  3. Use the checkout lane that does not display candy: Most grocery stores will have a candy-free check lane to help avoid temptation. Waiting in a regular checkout lane tempts children to ask for candy that is right in front of them.
  4. Choose not to offer sweets as rewards: By offering food as a reward for good behavior, children learn to think that some foods are better than other foods. Reward your child with kind words and comforting hugs, or give them non-food items, like stickers, to make them feel special.
  5. Make fruit the first choice: Offer a variety of fruits in different ways. Make fruit kabobs using cantaloupe, bananas, and strawberries or offer whole fruits such as pears, clementines, or apples.
  6. Make food fun: Sugary foods that are marketed to kids are advertised as “fun foods.” Make nutritious foods fun by preparing them with your child’s help and being creative together. Create a smiley face with sliced bananas and raisins. Cut fruit into fun and easy shapes with cookie cutters.
  7. Encourage kids to invent new snacks: Make your own snack mixes from dry whole-grain cereal, dried fruit, and unsalted nuts or seeds. Let school-age kids choose the ingredients to create their own snack.
  8. Play detective in the grocery aisle: Show kids how to find the amount of total sugars on the Nutrition Facts label in various cereals, yogurts, and other products. Challenge them to compare products they like and select the one with the lowest amount of sugar.
  9. Make treats “treats,” not everyday foods:  Treats are okay once in a while. Just don’t make treat foods an everyday thing. Limit sweet treats to special occasions.
  10. If kids don’t eat their meal, they don’t need sweet “extras:” Keep in mind that candy or cookies should not replace foods that are not eaten at meal time.

Making Breakfast After the Bell Work in Middle and High Schools

An estimated 6.8 million young people ages 10 -17 struggle with having enough to eat, including 2.9 million who experience very low food security. School nutrition programs can help ensure that these youth have access to the food they need to learn and thrive. School breakfast programs have a positive lasting impact on kids, including contributing to higher test scores, improved attendance, and fewer behavior problems. Despite the benefits of breakfast, for a variety of reasons, many kids are not able to eat a healthy breakfast at home.

One of the most effective ways to boost school breakfast participation is to make it a part of the school day. Traditional school breakfast programs that offer breakfast in the cafeteria before the start of the school day often operate too early for students to participate, particularly if bus or carpool schedules do not allow them to get here on time. Some middle or high school students end up skipping breakfast because they are not hungry first thing in the morning; or, socializing with friends is more appealing then eating breakfast in the cafeteria before school Breakfast After the Bell serving models can overcome these barriers. Initially more common in elementary schools, an increasing number of secondary schools across the country are implementing successful Breakfast after the Bell Programs.

Choose a Breakfast after the Bell Model that Works for Your School

  • Allow Grab and Go to the classroom. Students pick up convenient pre-packaged breakfasts from mobile carts in high traffic areas, such as hallways, entryways or cafeterias. No Kid Hungry research indicates that when middle and high school students take those breakfasts back to their classrooms, participation is 15 percentage points higher than when they eat in common areas.
  • Deliver Breakfast to the Classroom. Schools that implement Breakfast in the Classroom, where breakfast is delivered to the classroom and eaten during the very beginning of the school day, have the highest participation rates of any breakfast serving model. On average, middle and high schools that implement Breakfast in the Classroom models, participation is 20 percentage points higher than effective grab and go models.
  • Consider offering Second Chance Breakfast. Students eat breakfast during a break in the morning, often between first and second period; or, midway between breakfast and lunch. Second Chance Breakfast is a great way to reach students who are not hungry first thing in the morning. Schools can serve breakfast in the same manner as they would with Breakfast in the Classroom, Grab and Go to the Classroom, or can they re-open the cafeteria to serve breakfast and allow students time to eat.

Success in Action – El Monte Union High School District in El Monte, CA implemented second chance breakfast between first and second period, called Nutrition Breaks, using carts, vending machines, and cafeteria lines. As a result, they saw a 33 percent increase in breakfast participation in their district.

Make Students a Part of the Conversation

  • Engage students in the planning process and solicit their feedback. Bring students into the breakfast conversation to gain buy-in and empower them to help shape the breakfast program based around their needs. Students can help distribute surveys to their peers to inquire about student perceptions of the breakfast program. Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom created a Breakfast in the Classroom student survey guide, which details how to conduct student satisfaction survey to gather useful feedback, and gives instruction on how to conduct student focus groups.
  • Include students in the menu planning process. This enables students to express their dietary interests and makes them more likely to participate in the program because they have some ownership in it. Schools can organize taste tests, survey students about menu items, or allow them to rate items on menu websites.
  • Utilize peer influence to promote school breakfast. Student Volunteers or Ambassadors can give a nudge to their peers to eat breakfast. Breakfast Nudges are subtle acts of positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions that try to influence a student’s behavior.

Brand your Breakfast
Middle and high school meal programs are often competing with the nearby coffee shop or fast food restaurant. It is important to recognize that students are your customers and their preferences matter. Offer breakfast items that resemble popular commercial items, and market them with enthusiasm. Showing students that school breakfast can be just as appealing as breakfast at the nearby café, but cost less and be more nutritious, can be a win-win for schools and students.

Nature-Deficit Disorder

Kids in the U.S. watch more TV than any place else in the world. TV, video games, and computers have replaced outdoor play. American children have lost contact with nature. This broken bond between kids and nature is called nature-deficit disorder. It is a health threat, and our children are at-risk.

Studies show that kids who spend time outdoors are happier, healthier and smarter. Being outside nourishes the spirit. It reduces stress and anxiety. It combats depression. Studies show that kids with ADHS have fewer symptoms in nature. They focus better and have less behavior problems.

Nature is a “big school room.” Kids learn by using their senses. They see, hear, touch, smell and even taste their world. Watching birds build a nest or twigs float down a stream encourages them to think and question. Kids experience wonder and awe as they look up at the stars. They feel a connection to life – something bigger than their home or school.

Outdoor play promotes movement and exercise. With obesity and childhood diabetes on the rise, kids need to be moving, not sitting. Climbing a tree or building a sandcastle increases a child’s self-esteem. It promotes a feeling of success.

Being outdoors, in nature, is more than playing on an asphalt playground or in organized sports. Playing freely and roaming through nature simulates the creative side of the brain. Mud, leaves, trees and water are “the tools” of pretend play.

Help your child connect with nature.

  • Take him/her outside to play – everyday
  • Take daily walks together
  • Schedule outdoor family outings
  • Limit TV, video games and computer time to 1-2 hours per day
  • Go to the library - find nature books or story books about nature
  • Plant a garden
  • Experience, observe and talk about the seasons
  • Enroll in nature camps
  • Form playgroups - take turns watching kids outdoors or in a park

Improve your brain function and mental health - enjoy time with your child outdoors

Make Water Available Throughout the Day

When children are thirsty between meals and snacks, water is the best beverage choice. The amount of water needed will vary among young children, and increase on hot summer days, during physical activity, and on dry winter days. You can help by making safe drinking water freely accessible to children throughout the day. Drinking water can:

  • Keep children hydrated and healthy
  • Help build and maintain strong teeth, if water includes fluoride
  • Help rinse food from teeth and reduce acid in the mouth, both of which contribute to dental cavities
  • Help children develop a habit of drinking water that they will keep for life

How and When Should Water Be Made Available?

  • CACFP standards require providers to make water freely accessible* throughout the day. Water must also be available to drink upon children’s request.
  • Make water available during meals and snack time. While drinking water must be made available to children during mealtimes, it does not have to be served alongside the meal. Water is not part of the reimbursable meal and may not be served instead of fluid milk.
  • Some children who drink too much liquid right before a meal may feel too full to eat. If children drink normal amounts of water before meals, it likely will not affect her appetite and hunger levels. You should keep this in mind when deciding how much water to offer a child right before meals.
  • Replace other high-calorie, sweetened beverages that are served outside of meal times with plain, unflavored, noncarbonated water.
  • Serve fluoridated tap water. Many community tap water supplies contain fluoride. Most bottled water is not fluoridated. Bottled water is not necessarily safer than regular tap water, and it’s more expensive.

*Freely accessible can mean allowing children to access water from a water fountain whenever they are thirsty. Or, you can make clean, small pitchers of water and single-use paper cups available in the classrooms and on the playgrounds, or make paper cups available next to the kitchen sink.

Allow children to serve themselves water when they are thirsty, or provide water to a child when he or she requests it. Water is an excellent beverage choice at snack time, along with your two other reimbursable meal components.

How can I offer more water and fewer sweetened drinks?

Most children 2 years and older drink beverages with too many added sugars. These extra calories from added sugars make it harder for children to maintain healthy weight as they grow.

Water is calorie free, so drinking water during the day can reduce the total number of calories consumed. Water also satisfies thirst and keeps children well-hydrated. Try these simple tips:

  • Serve plain, unflavored, non-carbonated water instead of fruit-flavored drinks, soda, fruit nectars, sports drinks, or other sweetened drinks.
  • Be sure to have water available when children are playing outdoors or doing other physical activity.
  • Let water be the only choice when children are thirsty outside of meal and snack times.

How can I help encourage kids to drink water instead of sweetened drinks?

When children taste sugar and sweet flavors often, they learn to prefer these sweet flavors more and more. Offering beverages without added sugars can help children learn to like foods and beverages that are not as sweet. Here are some ways to get kids excited about drinking water:

  • Prepare pitchers of water together. Children learn about drinking water when they help. Young children can help bring paper cups to the table, and children 4 years and older can pour water into pitchers.
  • Drink water and kids will too. They learn from watching you.
  • Encourage good dental hygiene. Explain that when sugar is in contact with teeth, it can contribute to cavities. To reduce sugar in the mouth and lower cavity risk, have children drink fluoridated water and floss and bush teeth with fluoride toothpaste. If children do not brush their teeth after eating, they should be offered water to drink to help rinse food from their mouth.
  • Send the message home. Share the Nibbles for Health take-home newsletter for parents on keeping their child’s healthy smile.

How can I keep drinking water safe?

  • Keep drinking fountains clean, sanitized, and maintained to provide adequate drainage.  Teach children to drink water from a cup and to drink from a fountain without putting their mouths to the spout.
  • Provide single-use paper cups by the kitchen sink or a water pitcher for children to use when they feel thirsty.
  • Purchasing water for children may be considered a reasonable and allowable cost for CACFP programs only if safe drinking water is not available for the facility.
  • Ice cubes pose a choking hazard to children under 4 years old.