Healthy Children - February 2018

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.

 Healthy Eating at Home

The Importance of Family Meals

  • Family meals improve dietary quality and promote healthy weight
    • Increase intake of fruits, vegetables, grains, calcium-rich foods, protein, iron, fiber, and Vitamins A, C, E, B-6 and folate
    • Lower intake of soft drinks and snack foods
  • Family meals lower risk-taking behaviors
    • Kids who eat dinner with their families 5 times a week or more are least likely to take drugs, feel depressed, or get in trouble
  • Family meals improve family relationships and emotional health
    • Emotionally content and positive peer relationships
    • Work harder in school
    • Improved family communication and stronger family ties
  • Family meals improve academic performance
    • Improved vocabularies and reading skills
    • Improved achievement test scores
    • Higher grades

The research has shown that those who regularly have meals with their parents eat more fruits, vegetables and calcium-rich foods, ingest more vitamins and nutrients, and consume less junk food. Some of the research has shown that kids who regularly sit down to a family meal are at a lower risk for behaviors like smoking and drug and alcohol use, have a stronger family relationship and improved academic performance.

Common Objections to Cooking at Home

What are some barriers you think parents face to cooking at home?

Ask participants to share what objections they expect to hear from parents.

Possible objections/barriers:

  • “I don’t have time”
  • “I never have what I need”
  • “My family doesn’t like what I fix”
  • “It’s too expensive”
  • “I don’t know how to cook”

"I don't have time"

A healthy, balanced meal can be prepared at home in about the same amount of time that it takes to order a pizza or go through a drive-through.

A common objection to cooking at home is that busy parents don’t have time to cook. With a little planning, a healthy, balanced meals can be prepared at home in about the same amount of time that it takes to order a pizza or go through a drive through, and it will be much healthier for the whole family.

 "I never have what I need"

Plan Ahead!

Planning meals ahead of time is essential for stress free meal preparation on weeknights.

  • You can plan ahead for a few days, 1 week, 2 weeks, or whatever works for you.
  • Let your family be involved in planning meals, allowing them to choose some of the foods that will be prepared.
  • With planning, you can prepare twice as much food as you need for one night, then save or freeze the rest for a quick dinner in the future.
  • Keep a list of foods/recipes that worked well that the enjoyed, keep the recipes handy for future use.

"My family doesn't like what I fix"

  • Include everyone in meal planning
  • Let children help with meal preparation
  • Try healthier versions of fast-food favorites
  • Keep lists of recipes that have worked well for your family

Again, let each family member suggest something he/she would like to try for dinner, then post the menu for the week on the fridge.

Give children age-appropriate tasks for meal preparation: Children can wash and tear up lettuce, get dressing out and put it on the table, add ingredients you give them, etc.

If they love chicken fingers, make breaded baked chicken strips at home – far less fattening, but have similar taste to appeal to picky eaters. If they love cheeseburgers, make burgers at home with 96% lean beef, whole wheat buns, and reduced fat cheese.

For those recipes that worked great for family, keep those recipes close at hand. Ask other parents for ideas. Perhaps create a recipe sway at your facility encouraging healthy modifications to old favorites like macaroni and cheese and chicken nuggets.

"It's too expensive"

  • You can save a lot of money cooking at home!
  • Watch for store sales, stock up on frozen foods.
  • If you eat fast food several times a week, you will PAY with your health!!

A meal prepared at home can actually cost less than a similar meals form a fast food restaurant.

Frozen foods often go on sale in grocery stores, so stock up on frozen chicken and meat, vegetables, and other items when they are on sale – look for “buy one, get one free” specials, and you will already have the main ingredients of a future dinner on hand.

With planning, you can actually save a lot of money preparing dinners at home.

If you eat fast food every night, you will PAY with your health! Typical fast food meals contain nearly all or more than the recommended daily amounts of saturated fat and calories.

"I don't know how to cook"

  • Anyone can do it!
  • Start simple, it doesn’t have to be gourmet
  • Find a few easy recipes to build your confidence, then get more creative

Cooking can be really simple, anyone can do it!

Fine a few simple recipes to build your confidence.

Start simple: Many grocery store items are sold nearly meal-ready, so you can just add water and heat, for example. You can also find simple stir fry mixes in the frozen foods section, so all you have to do is put them in a skillet. You will gradually gain confidence making a variety of healthy meals for your family.

Key Messages

  • Plan ahead!
  • Involve the whole family
  • Meal time should be a happy time, enjoyed TOGETHER as a family
  • Leave the TV off!

The most important overall messages to send parents about healthy eating a home include:

  • The importance of planning ahead
  • Involving the whole family in menu planning and preparation
  • Keeping family meals as a happy, stress-free time for a whole family to spend together
  • Keeping the TV off so that the family can enjoy this quality time together.