Healthy Children - May 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.


 10 Tips: Eating Better on a Budget

Get the most for your food budget! There are many ways to save money on the foods that you eat. The three main steps are planning before you shop, purchasing the items at the best price, and preparing meals that stretch your food dollars.

  1. Plan, plan, plan!
    • Before you head to the grocery store, plan your meals for the week. Included meals like stews, casseroles, or stir-fries, which “stretch” expensive items into more portions. Check to see what foods you already have and make a list for what you need to buy.
  2. Get the best price.
    • Check the local paper, online, and at the store for sales and coupons. Ask about a loyalty card for extra savings at stores where you shop. Look for specials or sales on meat and seafood – often the most expensive items on your list.
  3. Compare and contrast.
    • Locate the “Unit Price” on the shelf directly below the product. Use it to compare different brands and different sizes of the same brand to determine which is more economical.
  4. Buy in bulk.
    • It is almost always cheaper to buy foods in bulk. Smart choices are family packs of chicken, steak, or fish and larger bags of potatoes and frozen vegetables. Before you shop, remember to check if you have enough freezer space.
  5. Buy in season.
    • Buying fruits and vegetables in season can lower the cost and add to the freshness! If you are not going to use them all right away, buy some that still need to ripen.
  6. Convenience costs…go back to the basics.
    • Convenience foods like frozen dinners, pre-cut vegetables, ad instants rice, oatmeal, or grits will cost more that if you were to make them from scratch. Take the time to prepare your own – and save!
  7. Easy on your wallet.
    • Certain foods are typically low-cost options all year round. Try beans for a less expensive protein food. For vegetables, buy carrots, greens, or potatoes. As for fruits, apples and bananas are good choices.
  8. Cook once…eat all week.
    • Prepare a large batch of favorite recipes on your day off (double or triple the recipe). Freeze in individual containers. Use them throughout the week and you won’t have to spend money on take-out meals.
  9. Get your creative juices flowing!
    • Spice up your leftovers – use them in new ways. For example, try leftover chick in a stir-fry or over a garden salad, or to make chicken chili. Remember, throwing away foods is throwing away your money!
  10. Eating out.
    • Restaurants can be expensive. Save money by getting the early bird special, going out for lunch instead of dinners, or looking for “2 for 1” deals. Stick to water instead of ordering other beverages, which add to the bill.

10 tips for making Healthy Foods more fun for Children

Encourage children to eat vegetables and fruits by making it fun. Provide healthy ingredients and let kids help with preparation, based on their age and skills. Kids may try foods they avoided in the past if they helped make them.

  1. Smoothie Creations
    • Blend fat-free or low-fat yogurt or milk with fruit pieces and crushed ice. Use fresh, frozen, canned, and even overripe fruits. Try bananas, berries, peaches, and or pineapple. If you freeze fruit first, you can even skip the ice!
  2. Delicious Dippers
    • Kids love to dip their foods. Whip up a quick dip for veggies with yogurt and seasonings such as herbs or garlic. Serve with raw vegetables like broccoli, carrots, or cauliflower. Fruit chunks go great with a yogurt and cinnamon or vanilla dip.
  3. Caterpillar Kabobs
    • Assemble chunks of melon, apple, orange, and pear on skewers for a fruity kabob. For a raw veggie version, use vegetables like zucchini, cucumber, squash, sweet peppers, or tomatoes.
  4. Personalized Pizzas
    • Set up a pizza-making station in the kitchen. Use whole-wheat English muffins, bagels, or pita bread as the crust. Have tomato sauce, low-fat cheese, and cut-up vegetables or fruit for toppings. Let kids choose their own favorites. Then pop the pizzas into the oven to warm.
  5. Fruity Peanut Butterfly
    • Start with carrot sticks or celery for the body. Attach wings made of thinly sliced apples with peanut butter and decorate with halved grapes or dried fruit.
  6. Frosty Fruits
    • Frozen treats are bound to be popular in the warm months. Just put fresh fruits such as melon chunks in the freezer (rinse first). Make “popsicles” by inserting sticks into peeled bananas and freezing.
  7. Bugs on a Log
    • Use celery, cucumber, or carrot sticks as the log and add peanut butter. Top with dried fruit such as raisins, cranberries, or cherries, depending on what bugs you want!
  8. Homemade Trail Mix
    • Skip the pre-made trail mix and make your own. Use your favorite nuts and dried fruits, such as unsalted peanuts, cashews, walnuts, or sunflower seeds mixed with dried apples, pineapples, cherries, apricots, or raisins. Add whole-grain cereals to the mix, too.
  9. Potato Person
    • Decorate a half a baked potato. Use sliced cherry tomatoes, peas, and low-fat cheese on the potato to make a funny face.
  10. Put Kids in Chare
    • Ask your child to name new veggie or fruit creations. Let them arrange raw veggies or fruits into a fun shape or design.

MyPlate, MyWins Tips: Make your Takeout Healthier

  • Look for Veggies
    • Pick dishes that highlight veggies, like chicken and broccoli or a vegetable stir-fry. Be mindful of the type and amount of sauce used.
  • Try Steamed Foods
    • Many foods can be steamed rather than fried. Steamed dumplings and rice are lower in saturated fats than fried versions.
  • Adjust your Order
    • Most restaurants are happy to accommodate your requests. Ask that your food be cooked with less oil or half the sauce.
  • Add Sauces Sparingly
    • Sodium in soy sauce and calories from added sugars in duck and teriyaki sauces can add up quickly, so be mindful of how much you use.
  • Use Chopsticks
    • Unless you’re an expert, eating with chopsticks can help you slow down and recognize when you’re full so you don’t overeat.

MyPlate Snack Tips for Kids

  1. Create a Yogurt Sundae
    • Top plain, low-fat or fat-free yogurt with fresh, frozen, or canned fruit, like bananas, strawberries, or peaches. Sprinkle whole-grain cereal on top for crunch.
  2. Make Pita Pockets
    • Stuff a small whole-wheat pita with sliced bell peppers, salsa, and a slice of low-fat cheese. Melt in the microwave for 15-20 seconds.
  3. Jazz up your Favorite Cereal
    • Make a trail mix! Stir ¼ cup of unsalted nuts, ¼ cup of dried raisins or cranberries, and ¼ cup of whole-grain cereal together.
  4. Make a fruit sandwich
    • Cut an apple into thin slices. Spread peanut butter or almond butter between two slices to create “apple sandwiches.”
  5. Dip your Veggies
    • Create veggie treats by dipping slices of cucumbers, peppers, and carrots in low-fat salad dressing or hummus.
  6. Pack an Afterschool Snack
    • For a healthy afterschool snack, keep a fruit cup packed in 100% juice or water in a bag. Some fresh fruit, like bananas and oranges, are also easy to pack and eat any time.
  7. Try a piece of Cheesy Toast
    • Toast a slice of whole-wheat bread and top with a slice of your favorite low-fat cheese.
  8. Freeze your Fruit
    • For a frozen treat on hot days, try freezing grapes or bananas! Don’t forget to peel bananas and pull grapes from the stem before freezing.
  9. Power up with ‘Roll-Ups’
    • Roll a slice of low-salt deli turkey or ham an apple wedge or around a slice of low-fat cheese.
  10. Build a Fruit Salad
    • Mix your favorite sliced fruits such as pineapple, grapes, and melon.

MyPlate, MyWins for Families

MyPlate, MyWins is all about finding a healthy eating style that works for your family and fits your everyday life. The MyPlate icon is a reminder to make healthy choices from each of the five food groups, and there are small changes you can make that add up to big success over time. Her you’ll find fun, practical tips and tools that have worked for other families. Give some a try, and discover “wins” for your own family.

Not sure where to start? Here are resources your family can use for ideas:

  1. Videos Featuring Real Families
    • Hear from real families who are making healthy eating a reality in these videos. For example, follow Shelley and her two-year-old as she sets her family up for success by making little changes to her son’s diet, or see how Rocio teacher her four boys about the value of nutrition.
  2. Family-Friendly Recipe Ideas
    • Check out the What’s Cooking? USDA Mixing Bowl for healthy, budget-friendly recipes you can prepare with your family.
  3. Information about Local Foods
    • Learn more about the foods grown in your state, and get kids excited about trying hometown flavors.
  4. Healthy Eating on a Budget
    • Use these tips and materials to make healthy choices while staying within our budget.
  5. Learn More about School Meals
    • Schools today are focusing on offering a variety of fruit and vegetables and serving healthy recipes. Check out these resources to learn more about why school meals are a great choice: MyPlate Guide to School Breakfast and MyPlate Guide to School Lunch.
  6. Let’s Talk Trash
    • Want to learn more about food loss and waste? Let’s Talk Trash includes consumer-friendly resources to help audiences think about the amount of food wasted at home.

How can Families help their Children and Teens Eat Healthy at School?

  • Try new foods at home. Kids need many opportunities to taste a new food to “get used to it.”
  • Eat lunch at school with your child. Learn more about what’s offered and meet school nutrition staff.
  • Encourage your child or teen to join in taste-testing events or surveys about school lunch, when available.
  • Talk with your child about what’s on the menu. Make sure they know about all the foods that are included in their school lunch.
  • And during the summer, USDA’S Summer Food Service Program ensures that low-income children continue to receive nutritious meals when school in not in session.

Activities to do with Kids

Are you looking for fun ways to teach kids about healthy eating? Try these activities, with free pintables, to get the whole family on board with making healthier choices.

Preschool and Elementary-Aged Kids

  • Food Critic
    • Kids are much more likely to try new foods when they get to take the lead. In this fun game, kids get to pick a new food at the grocery store, taste it, and rate it like a food critic.
  • Grocery Store Bingo
    • Make your weekly errand an opportunity for your kids to learn about new foods and healthy eating choices with this printable bingo card.
  • Food Art
    • Show kids that healthy foods can be beautiful and appetizing. Check out these foods art examples to inspire your creativity.
  • MyPlate Printable Activities and Coloring Sheets
    • Print these activity sheets for kids to learn more about healthy eating, including a coloring page, word scramble, crossword puzzle and more.
  • Blast Off Game
    • In this online game, kids must fuel up their MyPlate spaceship with smart food choices and physical activity to fly to Planet Power.

Tweens and Teens

  • Kid’s Restaurant
    • Let the kids be the chef. Kids get to plan out the meal, design a menu for you, and prepare the dish.
  • MyPlate Checklist Calculator
    • Enter your age, sex, height, weight, and physical activity level to get a personalized food plan showing what and how much to eat within your calorie allowance.
  • Grow a Garden
    • Get tweens and teens involved in family meals with gardening. You can start small, with a window herb box in your kitchen or a garden in your yard.
  • Learn Where your Food Comes From
    • Helping kids learn about the source of their food and the people who produce it may motivate them to make healthy choices. Attend a local farmer’s market or farm stand as a family and gather ingredients for a meal to cook together. Fin a market near you!
  • Tip Sheets for Teens
    • Young people experience many changes during their tween and teen years. Building healthy food and physical activity habits will help them now and as they enter adulthood. These tips can help make them take charge and learn to make their own choices.
      • 10 tips for Girls: Eat Smart and Be Active as You Grow
      • 10 tips for Boys: Choose the Foods You need to Grow
  • Summer Food, Summer Moves Activity Guilds for Families
    • These guides provide tons of great ideas to help families be active and maintain healthy eating patterns while school is out.

Making Family Mealtimes Fun

Sitting down together for a meal whenever you can is a great way to connect with your family. Keeping it relaxed is key to making sure you are getting the most out of this time together, including talking, laughing and choosing healthy foods. Here are some tips from families for making meals more relaxed in your home:

  • Remove distractions
    • Turn off the television and put away phones and tablets, so that your attention is on each other.
  • Talk to each other
    • Focus conversation on what family members did during the day, for example, what made you laugh or what you did for fun. Other conversation starters include:
      • Give each family member a spotlight to share their highlight, lowlight, and “funnylight” from the day or week.
      • If our family lived in a zoo, what animals would we be and why?
      • If you could have one super power, what would it be and why?
      • If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have one food to eat, what would it be and why?
  • Pass on traditions
    • Tell children about the “good old days” such as foods grandmas make that your loved to eat.
  • Let kids make choices
    • Set a healthy table and let everyone, including the kids, make choices about what they want and how much to eat.
  • Let everyone help
    • Kids learn by doing. The little ones might get the napkins and older kids help with fixing foods and clean up.
  • Make-your-own-dishes
    • Like tacos, mini pizzas, and yogurt parfaits get everyone involved in meal time.
  • On nice days, opt for a change of scenery
    • For example, go to a nearby park for a dinner picnic.
  • Reserve a special plate
    • Rotate the plate between family members, for example on birthdays, when someone gets a good grade, or any other occasion you’d like to recognize.

10 Tips: Eating Foods Away from Home

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 or low-fat 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 Side
    • Order a side dish or an appetized-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 a 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.
  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.