Healthy Children - November 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 Snacks with Smiles

At child care centers, we offer a variety of healthy snacks for your child. Think of snacks as mini-meals. They help provide the nutrition and energy your child needs to grow, play, and learn.

Your child is offered at least two of the following types of foods at each snack:

  • Milk (½ cup)
    • Examples: ½ cup low-fat (1%), ½ cup fat-free, skim milk
  • Meat or Meat Alternate (½ ounce equivalent)
    • Examples: ¼ of a large egg, ½ ounce of cheddar cheese
  • Vegetables (½ cup)
    • Examples: ½ cup of cucumber slices, ½ ounce of bell pepper strips
  • Fruits (½ cup)
    • Examples: ½ cup of berries, ½ cup of peaches
  • Grains (½ serving)
    • Examples: 4 whole-wheat crackers, ½ slice of whole-wheat bread

Fun Snacks

There are many easy ways to make healthy snacks fun. Try these ideas at home.

  • Fruity Faces
    • Create smiley faces with pieces of fruit.
  • Dippin’ Vegetables
    • Thin strips of bell pepper and low-fat dressing or hummus (bean dip) make a great snack.
  • Smart Drinks
    • Plain water and low-fat milk make great beverage choices for snack time.
  • Snacks-to-Go
    • Decorate sandwich bags or fruit cups with markers or stickers. Healthy snacks can also come in fun packaging.
  • Super Shapes
    • Use cookie cutters to cut fun shapes out of sliced whole-grain bread, watermelon, low-fat cheese, and more.

Colorful Fruits

At child care centers, we include a variety of fruits at meals and snacks. We serve fruits because:

  • Add color, texture, and flavor to meals and snacks.
  • Provide vitamins and minerals for your child’s growth and play.
  • Provide fiber to help prevent constipation.
  • Help your child learn healthy eating habits.

Recipe: Baked Sweet Potatoes and Apples

Baking apples and sweet potatoes together create a tasty side dish that both kids and adults enjoy. Braeburn, Gala, Honey Crisp, Jonagold, or Jonathan apples work well in this recipe.

Makes: 6 servings (½ cup)
Preparation time: 7 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes


  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon, ground
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups sweet potatoes, peeled, ½ inch cubed
  • 3 cups apples, peeled, cored, ½ inch cubed
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • ¼ cup orange juice
  • Nonstick cooking spray


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Lightly coat a medium baking dish (8-inch x 8-inch) with nonstick cooking spray.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt.
  4. Toss sweet potatoes, apples, oil, and orange juice in the cinnamon-sugar mixture.
  5. Place the sweet potato and apple mixture in the baking dish.
  6. Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes, or until the sweet potatoes are tender.
  7. Serve ½ cup.

Rainbow of Fruits

Encourage your child to try fruits of all different colors. There are fruits for every color of the rainbow.


  • Strawberries
  • Cherries
  • Raspberries
  • Apples


  • Oranges
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Cantaloupe


  • Bananas
  • Pineapples


  • Kiwi
  • Grapes
  • Apples

Blue and Purple

  • Blueberries
  • Plums
  • Grapes

Water: It’s a Great Choice

At child care centers, we offer water to your preschoolers throughout the day. This is a great drink choice for kids because it doesn’t contain added sugars or caffeine.

  • Water helps to hydrate your child’s body.
  • Drinking tap water with fluoride (also known as fluoridated tap water) can help prevent cavities.
  • Drinking water between meals and snacks help rinse food from teeth.

Preschoolers need extra water to drink when they are physically active or when it is hot outside. At child care centers, we have regular water breaks before and during active play.

What you can do at home:

  • Offer water between meals and snacks.
  • Encourage your child to drink water by being a role model and drinking water yourself.
  • Keep child-sized cups by the sink where your child can reach them.  

Portions for Preschoolers

At child care centers, the amount of food served at meals and snacks depends on the age of the child. A reasonable portion for preschoolers is smaller than teens for adults.

The chart below shows how portions compare for adults and preschoolers. It may not look like a lot, but the amounts shown below are just right for preschoolers’ small stomachs and energy needs.





- 1/2 cup breakfast cereal
- ½ cup sliced strawberries
- ¾ cup low-fat (1%) milk

- 1-cup breakfast cereal flakes
- 1 slice of whole-wheat bread
- 1 cup low-fat (1%) milk 


- 1 ½ ounce oven-baked chicken
- ¼ cup baked sweet potatoes
- ¼ cup cooked brown rice
- ¼ cup fruit salad
- ¾ cup low-fat (1%) milk

- 2 ounces oven-baked chicken
- ½ cup baked sweet potatoes
- ½ cup cooked brown rice
- ½ cup fruit salad
- 1 dinner roll
- 1-cup low-fat (1%) milk 

Teaching Healthy Eating Habits

Offer preschool-sized portions. This helps your child learn to pay attention to whether he or she feels hungry or full. Smaller amounts help your child only eat what his or her body needs. If your child is still hungry, he or she will ask for more. When your child is served smaller amounts, less food is wasted.

Helpful Tips for feeding your preschooler:

  • Use smaller bowls, plates, and cups for smaller portions
  • Let your child practice serving himself or herself smaller portions.
  • Do not force your child to finish everything on his or her plate

Sample portion sizes by types of foods

At home, you can use the chart below as a general guide for the amount of particular food to serve at meals. Children’s appetites vary from day-to-day. Some days they may eat less than these portion amounts; other days they may want more.

Preschool Portions


  • ¾ cup milk
  • ¾ cup yogurt
  • 1 ½ ounce of cheese


  • ¼ to ½ cup vegetables
  • ½ to 1 cup raw, leafy green vegetables (such as a salad)


  • ¼ to ½ cup fruits
  • 1/8 to ¼ cup dried fruit


  • ¼ cup cooked rice or pasta
  • ½ slice of bread
  • ¼ cup of cooked breakfast cereal

Protein Foods

  • ½ to 1 ½ ounce lean meat, poultry, or fish
  • ½ to 1 ½ ounce of tofu
  • 1/8 to 3/8 cup cooked beans
  • 1 to 3 tablespoons peanut butter (spread thinly to prevent choking)
  • ¼ to ¾ of a large egg

Nutrients and Health Benefits

Why is it important to make lean or low-fat choices from the Protein Foods Group?

Foods in the meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, and seed group provide nutrients that are vital for health and maintenance of your body. However, choosing foods from this group that are high in saturated fat and cholesterol may have health implications.

The chart below lists specific amounts that count as 1 ounce equivalent in the Protein Foods Group towards your daily-recommended intake:


The amount that counts as 1 ounce equivalent in the Protein Foods Group

Common portions and ounce equivalents


-1 ounce cooked lean beef
-1 ounce cooked lean pork or ham

-1 small steak (filet) = 3/12 to 4 ounce equivalents

-1 small lean hamburger = 2 to 3-ounce equivalents


-1 ounce cooked chicken or turkey, without skin

-1 sandwich slice of turkey

-1 small chicken breast = 3-ounce equivalent


-1 ounce cooked fish or shellfish

-1 can of tuna, drained = 3 to 4 ounces
-1 salmon steak = 4 to 6 ounces
-1 small trout = 3 ounces


-1 egg

-3 egg whites = 2 ounces
-3 egg yolks = 1 ounce

Nuts & Seeds

-½ ounce of nuts (12 almonds, 24 pistachios, 7 walnut halves)
-½ ounce of seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, or squash seeds, hulled, roasted)
-1 tablespoon of peanut butter or almond butter

-1 ounce of nuts or seeds = 2-ounce equivalents

Beans & Peas

-¼ cup of cooked beans (black, kidney, pinto, or white beans)
-¼ cup of cooked peas (chickpeas, cowpeas, lentils, or split peas)
-¼ cup of baked beans, refried beans
-¼ cup of tofu
-1 ox. Tempeh, cooked
-¼ cup roasted soybeans, 1 falafel patty (4oz)
-2 tablespoons hummus

-1 cup split pea soup = 2 ounces
-1 cup lentil soup = 2 ounces
-1 cup bean soup = 2 ounces
-1 soy or bean burger patty = 2 ounces


  • Diets that are high in saturated fats raise “bad” cholesterol levels in the blood. The “bad” cholesterol is called LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. High LDL cholesterol, in turn, increases the risk of coronary heart disease. Some food choices in this group are high in saturated fat. These include fatty cuts or beef, pork, and lamb; regular (75% to 85% lean) ground beef; regular sausages; hot dogs, and bacon; some luncheon meats such as regular bologna and salami; and some poultry such as duck. To keep blood cholesterol levels healthy, limit the amount of these foods you eat.
  • Diets that are high in cholesterol can raise LDL cholesterol levels in the blood. Cholesterol is only found in foods from animal sources. Some foods from this group are high in cholesterol. These include egg yolks (egg whites are cholesterol-free) and organ meats such as liver and giblets. To help keep blood cholesterol levels healthy, limit the amount of these foods you eat.
  • A high intake of fats makes it difficult to avoid consuming more calories than are needed.

Why is it important to eat 8 ounces of seafood per week?

  • Seafood contains a range of nutrients, notably omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA. Eating about 8 ounces per week of a variety of seafood contributes to the prevention of heart disease. Smaller amounts of seafood are recommended for young children.