Healthy Children - October 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.

Rethink Your Drink

Soda pop, sports drinks, fruit drinks and energy drinks are all common beverage choices for many Americans, especially our children.  Studies have proven that many consume their extra calories through the beverage choices made throughout the day.  We know that extra calories mean extra pounds, which in turn means negative health effects, including childhood obesity.
The research concerning beverages have caused many cities and counties to establish policies that will help the general public decease the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages.  There are even fast food restaurants who have completely removed their XL beverage options in hopes to help Americans.  The truth of the matter is that everyone has the right to choose what he or she drinks, but sometimes we need a little motivation to make those necessary choices.  Policies and tases may help adults, but to children this carries little to no weight.
How can you help your children get accustomed to less sugar in their diet?  Let’s do what other policy makers are doing: Rethink Their Drinks.  Since milk and water are the most beneficial choices for children, think of low sugar ways to make these beverages more enjoyable.  For example, perhaps you can add real strawberries to your low-fat milk.

Try this Low Sugar, Dairy Filled Recipe with your children:
Sweet Summer Smoothie
1C Vanilla Yogurt
½ C Frozen Strawberries
½ C Frozen Peach Slices
½ Banana
½ C Low-fat Milk

Antonia Mercer, MS
Early Childhood Intervention Coordinator
UIC Chicago Partnership for Health Promotion
Chicago, IL

Eat Seafood Twice a Week

10 tips to help you eat more seafood

Twice a week, make seafood – fish and shellfish – the main protein food on your plate. Seafood contains a range of nutrients, including healthy omega=3 fats.  According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, eating about 8 ounces per week (less for young children) of a variety of seafood can help prevent heart disease.

  1. Eat a variety of seafood - include some that are higher in omega-3s and lower in mercury, such as salmon, trout, oysters, Atlantic and Pacific mackerel, herring, and sardines.
  2. Keep it lean and flavorful - try grilling, broiling, roasting, or baking—they don’t add extra fat.  Avoid breading or frying seafood and creamy sauces, which add calories and fat.  Using spices or herbs, such as dill, chili powder, paprika, or cumin, and lemon or lime juice, can add flavor without adding salt.
  3. Shellfish counts too - oysters, mussels, clams, and calamari (squid) all supply healthy omega-3s.  Try mussels marinara, oyster stew, steamed clams, or pasta with calamari.
  4. Keep seafood on hand - canned seafood, such as canned salmon, tuna, or sardines, is quick and easy to use.  Canned white tuna is higher in omega-3s, but canned “light” tuna is lower in mercury.
  5. Cook it safely - check oysters, mussels, and clams before cooking.  If shells don’t clamp shut when you tap them, throw them away.  After cooking, also toss any that didn’t open.  This means that they may not be safe to eat.  Cook shrimp, lobster, and scallops until they are opaque (milky white).  Cook fish to 145◦F, until it flakes with a fork.
  6. Get creative with seafood - think beyond the fish fillet.  Try salmon patties, a shrimp stir-fry, grilled fish tacos, or clams with whole-wheat pasta.  Add variety by trying a new fish such as grilled Atlantic or Pacific mackerel, herring on a salad, or oven baked Pollock.
  7. Put it on a salad or in a sandwich - top a salad with grilled scallops, shrimp, or crab in place of steak or chicken.  Use canned tuna or salmon for sandwiches in place of deli meats, which are often higher in sodium.
  8. Shop smart - eating more seafood does not have to be expensive.  Whiting, tilapia, sardines, canned tuna, and some frozen seafood are usually lower cost options.  Check the local newspaper, on line, and at the store for sales, coupons, and specials to help save money on seafood.
  9. Grow up healthy with seafood - Omega-3 fats from seafood can help improve nervous system development in infants and children.
  10. Know your seafood portions - to get 8 oz. of seafood a week, use these as guides: A drained can of tuna is about 3 to 4 oz., a salmon steak ranges from 4 to 6 oz., and 1 small trout is about 3 oz.

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.


When & How to Wash Your Hands

Keeping hands clean through improved hand hygiene is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others.  Many diseases and conditions are spread by not washing hands with soap and clean, running water.  If clean, running water is not accessible, as in common in many parts of the world, use soap and available water.   If soap and water are unavailable use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that containes at least 60% alcohol to clean hands.

When should you wash your hands?

  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • Before eating food
  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After using the toilet
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
  • After handling pet food or pet treats
  • After touching garbage

How should you wash your hands?

  • Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  • Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  • Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer?  Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  • Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them


The Right Tool to Balance Your Diet

 You probably already use the Nutrition Facts label in some way – maybe to check calories, fat or sodium content.  But, the more familiar you are with the information, the more you’ll want to use it daily to ensure you’re eating a healthy, balanced diet.

 Use the label when you shop as you plan your meals, and as you cook each day.  The label makes it easy to determine the amounts of nutrients you’re getting and to compare one product to another.

 Strive for a diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products.  Include lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, and nuts.  Choose foods that are low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt, and added sugar.

 Regular physical activity is important for your overall health and fitness.  It also helps you control body weight by balancing the calories you take in from food with the calories you expend each day.  For more information, visit


How to Use Fruits and Vegetables to Help Manage Your Weight

  • Fruits and vegetables are part of a well-balanced and healthy eating plan. There are many different ways to lose or maintain a healthy weight.  Using more fruits and vegetables along with whole grains and lean meats, nuts, and beans is a safe and healthy one.  Helping control your weight is not the only benefit of eating more fruits and vegetables.  Diets rich in fruits and vegetables also provide essential vitamins and minerals, fiber, and other substances that are important for good health.
  • To lose weight, you must eat fewer calories than your body uses. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to eat less food.  You can create lower-calorie versions of some of your favorite dishes by substituting low-calorie fruits and vegetables in place of higher-calorie ingredients.  The water and fiber in fruits and vegetables will add volume to your dishes, so you can eat the same amount of food with fewer calories.  Most fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories and are filling.

Here are some simple ways to cut calories and eat fruits and vegetables throughout your day:

Breakfast: Start the Day Right

  • Substitute some spinach, onions, or mushrooms for one of the eggs or half of the cheese in your morning omelet. The vegetables will add volume and flavor to the dish with fewer calories than the egg or cheese.
  • Cut back on the amount of cereal in your bowl to make room for some cut-up bananas, peaches, or strawberries. You can still eat a full bowl, but with fewer calories.

Lighten Up your Lunch:

  • Substitute vegetables such as lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, or onions for 2 oz. of the cheese and 2 oz. of the meat in your sandwich, wrap, or burrito. The new version will fill you up with fewer calories than the original.
  • Add a cup of chopped vegetables, such as broccoli, carrots, beans, or red peppers, in place of 2 oz. of meat or 1 cup of noodles in your favorite broth-based soup. The vegetables will help fill you up, so you won’t miss those extra calories.
  • Add in a cup of chopped vegetables such as broccoli, tomatoes, squash, onions, or peppers while removing 1 cup of the rice or pasta in your favorite dish. The dish with the vegetables will be just as satisfying but have fewer calories than the same amount of the original version.
  • Take a good look at your dinner plate. Vegetables, fruits, and whole grains should take up the largest portion of your plate.  If they do not, replace some of the meat, cheese, white pasta, or rice with legumes, steamed broccoli, asparagus, greens, or another favorite vegetable.  This will reduce the total calories in your meal without reducing the amount of food you eat.  BUT remember to use a normal-or small-size plate – not a platter.  The total numbers of calories that you eat counts, even if a good proportion of them come from fruits and vegetables.

Smart Snacks

  • Most healthy eating plans allow for one or two small snacks a day. Choosing most fruits and vegetables will allow you to eat a snack with only 100 calories.

About 100 Calories or Less

  • A medium-size apple (72 calories)
  • A medium-size banana (105 calories)
  • 1 cup steamed green beans (44 calories)
  • 1 cup blueberries (83 calories)
  • 1 cup grapes (100 calories)
  • 1 cup carrots (45 calories), broccoli (30 calories), or bell peppers (30 calories) with 2 tbsp. hummus (46 calories)


Keep Food and Water Safe After a Disaster or Emergency

If you are in a disaster or emergency, it’s important that you take steps to prevent illness from unsafe food and water.

After A Disaster:

Food: Throw away food that may have come in contact with flood or storm water; perishable foods that have not been refrigerated properly due to power outages; and those with an unusual order, color, or texture.  Unsafe food can make you sick even if it looks, smells, and tastes normal.  When in doubt, throw it out.

Water: Do not use water you suspect or have been told is contaminated to wash dishes, brush your teeth, wash and prepare food, wash your hands, make ice, or make baby formula.  Safe water for drinking, cooking, and personal hygiene includes bottled, boiled, or recommendations for boiling or treating water in your area.



Identify and throw away food that may not be safe to eat

Do the following with food and containers that may have had contact with flood or storm water.

Throw away the following foods:

  • Food that has an unusual order, color, or texture. When in doubt, throw it out.
  • Perishable foods (including meat, poultry, fish, eggs and leftovers) in your refrigerator when the power has been off for 4 hours or more.
  • Food not in packages or cans.
  • Canned foods or food containers that are bulging, opened, or damaged. Throw away the food if the container spurts liquid or foam when you open it or the food inside is discolored, is moldy, or smells bad.
  • Packaged food: Throw away food containers with screw-caps, snap-lids, crimped caps, twist caps, flip tops, and snap-open, and home-canned foods because they cannot be disinfected. Throw away food in cardboard containers, including juice/milk/baby formula boxes.

How to reuse commercially prepared cans and retort pouches (like flexible, shelf-stable juice and seafood packages):

  • Remove labels if they are removable.
  • Brush or wipe away dirt or silt.
  • Wash cans and pouches with soap and water, using hot water if available.
  • Rinse cans and pouches with water that is safe for drinking, if available.
  • Sanitize cans and pouches in one of two ways. 1.) Place them in a solution of 1 cup (8 oz./250 mL) of unscented household bleach in 5 gallons of water for 15 minutes. OR 2.) Submerge in pot of water, bring to a boil, and continue boiling for 2 minutes.
  • Re-label cans or pouches with a marker and include expiration date.
  • Use food in reconditioned cans or pouches as soon as possible

Thaw food that contains ice crystals can be refrozen or cooked.  Freezers, if left unopened and full during a power outage, will keep food safe for 48 hours (24 hours if half full).

Store food safely

  • While the power is out, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible.