Healthy Children - August 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.

Easy Ways to Encourage Your Kids to Get Active

Physical activity is good for children’s bodies. At least 60 minutes of activity a day helps children grow strong bones and muscles, build endurance and maintain a healthy weight. There’s mounting evidence that moderate to rigorous physical activity also helps boost children’s critical thinking skills, grade point averages and standardized test scores.
Plan time in schedule for your children to engage in 60 minutes of physical activity each day, which can accumulate with shorter chunks (as least 10 minutes at a time) throughout the day. Remember to praise, reward and encourage your kids’ physical activity by providing the equipment and inspiration they need.

Physical Education - For healthy lifestyles, children need both free play and specific instruction on physical skills. The ideal place for physical education is as part of the school day – at least 30 minutes every day. In addition to supporting daily physical education in schools, take advantage of classes in your community, such as swimming or dance lessons. The best physical education is age appropriate and fun.

Organized Activities - Adults or kids can organize active play. There are active indoor games such as Simon Says or Twister, and dozens of games to play outside – hopscotch, jump rope, doge ball, Frisbee golf, badminton and volleyball. Depending on the season, plan trips to a local bowling alley, swimming pool or skating rink. Look into the options provided at your local park district or school for other organized activities.

Competitive Athletics- Different children excel at and enjoy different types of activities. Experiment with team and individual sports and activities alike – from baseball and soccer to ice skating and martial arts – to see which types of activity interest your child.

Make Fitness Part of Your Child’s Day - If your children can walk or bike to and from school, they will get all the physical and mental benefits of being active, while you save on trips to the gas station. Walk or bike with your kids when you can, and organize a neighborhood walking, or bicycle-pool for days when you are not able to go with them.

Make Screen Time an Active Time - When going to play outside isn't an option, your children can play interactive video games that require physical activity like tennis, bowling or baseball.  You can also use dance DVDs and active video games for some physical-active television time. 

Get Help with Household Chores - Encourage your children to participate in active outdoor chores such as raking leaves, pulling weeds, watering plants, sweeping the walks or cleaning the garage. Make the chores feel fun with upbeat music and be sure to join in to get them done as a family.

Be an Active Role Model - Present physical activity as an important time to take care of your body and health, rather than a chore. Find activates you enjoy and be active for at least 30 minutes five days a week. When your children see that you are enjoying time being active, they will be more likely to model you behavior.

Shop Smart to Fill Your Cart: Fruits & Vegetables

Find fruits and vegetables in the produce section, frozen foods and in the canned and pantry food aisles. Compare prices to find the best buys.

  • Buy “in season” produce. They are usually less expensive and are at their peak flavor. Buy only what you can use before it spoils. For more info check out “What’s in Season this Season?” from SNAP-ED Connection at
  • Try buying canned. Choose fruit canned in 100% fruit juice and vegetables with “low-sodium” or “no salt added” on the label. These products are just as nutritious as fresh, and often cost less.
  • If you have the freezer space, buy frozen vegetables without added sauces or butter. They are as good for you as fresh and may cost less.
  • Canned and frozen fruits and vegetables last much longer than fresh and it’s a quick way to add fruits and vegetables to your meal.

10 Tips to Improve Your Meals with Vegetables and Fruits

Discover the many benefits of adding vegetables and fruits to your meals. They are low in fat and calories, while providing fiber and other key nutrients. Most Americans should eat more than 3 cups – and for some, up to 6 cups – of vegetables and fruits each day. Vegetables and fruits don’t just add nutrition to meals. They can also add color, flavor, and texture. Explore these creative ways to bring healthy foods to your table.

  1. Fire up the Grill – Use the grill to cook vegetables and fruits. Try grilling mushrooms, carrots, peppers, or potatoes on a kabob skewer. Bush with oil to keep them from drying out. Grilled fruits like peaches, pineapple, or mangos add great flavor to a cookout. 
  2. Expand the Flavor of your casseroles – Mix vegetables such as sautéed onions, peas, pinto beans, or tomatoes into your favorite dish for that extra flavor.
  3. Planning Something Italian? – Add extra vegetables to your pasta dish. Slip some peppers, spinach, red beans, onions, or cherry tomatoes into your traditional tomato sauce. Vegetables provide texture and low-calorie bulk that satisfies.
  4. Get Creative with Your Salad – Toss in shredded carrots, strawberries, spinach, watercress, orange segments, or sweet peas for a flavorful, fun salad.
  5. Salad Bars Aren’t Just for Salads – Try eating sliced fruit from the salad bar as your dessert when dining out. This will help you avoid any baked desserts that are high in calories.
  6. Get in on the Stir-frying– try something new! Stir-fry veggies – like broccoli, carrots, sugar snap peas, mushrooms, or green beans – for a quick- and- easy addition to any meal.
  7. Add them to your Sandwiches – Whether it is a sandwich or wrap, vegetables make great additions to both. Try sliced tomatoes, romaine lettuce, or avocado on your everyday sandwich or wrap for extra flavor.
  8. Be Creative with your Baked Goods – Add apples, bananas, blueberries, or pears to your favorite muffin recipe for a treat.
  9. Make a Tasty Fruit Smoothie – For a dessert, blend strawberries, blueberries, or raspberries, with frozen bananas and 100% fruit juice for a delicious frozen fruit smoothie.
  10. Liven up an Omelet – Boost the color and flavor of your morning omelet with vegetables. Simply chop, sauté, and add them to the egg as it cooks. Try combining different vegetables, such as mushrooms, spinach, onions, or bell peppers.

Pack a Family Picnic

Looking for a great place to picnic? Try these indoor/outdoor options!

  • City or County Park
  • Local Fair
  • Relative’s home
  • Community garden
  • Playground
  • Your yard
  • Parade route
  • Zoo
  • Beach, pool, riverside
  • Community center
  • Pick-your-own farm
  • Family idea: _____________


What’s in Your Picnic Basket?

No-chill Foods:

  • Whole fruit
  • Dried fruit (raisins, apples, apricots), juice boxes, canned fruit
  • Tortillas, bagels, pocket bread, pretzels, crackers, bread, and buns (Remember to choose more often those brands that list whole wheat as the first ingredient.)
  • Nuts, peanut butter, unopened canned meat

Cooler Foods:

  • Cooked and uncooked chicken, meat, shrimp, fish; hard-cooked eggs; deli meat
  • Salads that contain cut-up meats, or vegetables, or fruits
  • Low-fat or fat-free cheese, string cheese, yogurt, milk
  • Single-serving pudding

Warm-Up Foods:
(In an insulated container with the cover closed)

  • Soup, hot cocoa with milk
  • Baked beans, hot dishes (eat within 1 hour)

Keep Family Picnics Safe at the Plate:

  • Bring water and soap to wash hands, surfaces, cutting boards.
  • Bring food thermometer. Use it to grill to safe internal temperature: 160*F for burgers; a minimum internal temperature of 165*F for chicken.
  • Store chilled foods in a cooler with ice or ice packs.
  • Store uncooked meat, poultry, or fish for grilling in a well-sealed container. Pack it in the bottom of the cooler so juices will not leak onto other foods.
  • Put grilled foods on a clean plate, not the plate used for uncooked foods, Disposable paper plates are great!
  • Keep coolers in the car as you drive, not a hot trunk. At the picnic, keep them in shade under a tree or bench.
  • Return chilled foods to the cooler right after serving.
  • Discard leftover meat, chicken, fish, eggs, and foods made with them if left out for 1 hour or more in temperatures over 90*F

Turn Family Picnics into Active Family Fun

  • Explore with a nature scavenger hunt
  • Walk or ride bikes on a nature trail
  • Sled or ice skate on a winter picnic
  • Play water catch at the beach or pool
  • Bring a rubber ball, Frisbee, or jump rope
  • Take a city “walk around” to explore
  • Kids like to dance. Ask your child to pick music CD’s bring along a player!

Enjoy a Pretend Picnic!
Young children like to play “pretend.” Make an everyday meal into an indoor pretend picnic. Let your child pick the menu and set the table with colorful napkins, plastic utensils, and paper plates. Let your child invite a teddy bear, too.


Batido Smoothies

Prep time: 10 minutes
Makes: 4 Servings
2 cups papaya chunks (fresh or frozen)
2 cups bananas (overripe, sliced)
1 cup plain low-fat yogurt
1 cup ice cubes

Put all the ingredients in the blender.
Put the lid on tightly. Turn the blender to a medium setting and blend until the ice is chopped and the mixture is smooth, about 1 minute.
Serve right away or cover and refrigerate up to 4 hours.

One cup of low-fat milk, soy, rice, almond or coconut milk can be used instead of yogurt.
Strawberries, blueberries, or raspberries can be used in addition to or instead of papaya.
Freeze banana slices and add while blending to chill the drink even more!

Improving Child Participation and Retention in Illinois WIC

The Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) WIC Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants, and Children (Illinois WIC), is partnering with faculty at University of Illinois at Chicago, Department of Kinesiology and Nutrition (UIC-KN) to launch a new program call “WIC to 5”.


  • Illinois WIC is a nutrition program that provides supplemental food, nutrition education, and health care referrals to low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and post-partum women, infants, and children up to the age of five.
  • Half of all infants and one fourth of all children in the United States, aged 1-4 years, participate in WIC.
  • As the third largest food and nutrition assistance program, WIC’s positive contribution to the health of participating infants and children has been well established.
  • Despite these positive effects, there are many WIC-eligible children who do not participate on the program. Similar to rates nationally, in Illinois an estimated 45% of WIC eligible children between the ages of 1 and 4 years never enroll or terminate participation prior to their first birthday.
  • Similar to rates nationally, in Illinois an estimated 45% of WIC eligible children between the ages of 1 and 4 years never enroll or terminate participation prior to their first birthday.

Description of the program

  • The purpose of “WIC to 5” is to increase WIC participation and retention among eligible children in Illinois
  • Interviews and surveys were conducted with over 100 WIC clients, WIC staff, child care providers, and health care providers to identify the major barriers and facilitators related to WIC participation and to inform the development of the program.
  • The “Wic to 5” initiative will include a social marketing campaign, WIC staff training and outreach, and strategic partnerships with health care providers and child care providers, as well as other community partners that serve low-income women and children across the state.
  • Partners include the Illinois Chapter of American Academy of Pediatrics and Illinois Academy of Family Physicians.
  • The program is being piloted with four WIC agencies including McLean County WIC, Vermilion County WIC, Macon County WIC, and Roseland Hospital WIC program
  • After evaluation the pilot program, “WIC to 5” will be disseminated throughout Illinois in 2014.

For more information, please contact Angela Odoms-Young, PhD, Assistant Professor, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 312-355-0383.