Healthy Children - February 2019

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: To be a Healthy Role Model for Children

You are the most important influence on your child. You can do many things to help your children n develop healthy eating habits for life. Offering a variety of foods helps children get the nutrients they need from every food group. They will also be more likely to try new foods and to like more foods. When children develop a taste for many types of foods, it’s easier to plan family meals. Cook together, talk together, and make mealtime a family time!

  1. Show by example: eat vegetables, fruits, and whole grains with meals or as snacks. Let your child see that you like to munch on raw vegetables.
  2. Go food shopping together: grocery shopping can teach your child about food and nutrition. Discuss where vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, and protein foods come from. Let your children make healthy choices.
  3. Get creative in the kitchen: cut food into fun and easy shapes with cookie cutters. Name a food your child helps make. Serve “Janie’s Salad” or “Jackie’s Sweet Potatoes” for dinner. Encourage your child to invent new snacks. Make your own trail mixes from dry whole-grain, low-sugar cereal, and dried fruit.
  4. Offer the same foods for everyone: stop being a “short-order cook” by making different dishes to please children. It’s easier to plan family meals when everyone eats the same foods.
  5. Reward with attention, not food: show your love with hugs and kisses. Comfort with hugs and talks. Choose not to offer sweets as rewards. It lets your child think sweets or dessert foods are better than other foods. When meals are not eaten, kids do not need “extras” – such as candy or cookies – as replacement foods.
  6. Focus on each other at the table: talk about fun and happy things at mealtime. Turn off the television. Take phone calls later. Try to make eating meals a stress-free time.
  7. Listen to your child: if your child says he or she is hungry, offer a small, healthy snack – even if it is not a scheduled time to eat. Offer choices. Ask “ Which would you like for dinner: broccoli or cauliflower?” instead of “Do you want broccoli for dinner?”
  8. Limit screen time: allow no more than 2 hours a day of screen time like TV and computer games. Get up and move during commercials to get some physical activity.
  9. Encourage physical activity: make physical activity fun for the whole family. Involve your children in the planning. Walk, run, and play with your child – instead of sitting on the sidelines. Set an example by being physically active and using safety gear, like bike helmets.
  10. Be a good food role model: try new foods yourself. Describe its taste, texture, and smell. Offer one new food at a time. Serve something your child likes along with the new food. Offer new foods at the beginning of a meal, when your child is very hungry. Avoid lecturing or forcing your child to eat.

10 Tips: Physical Activity at Home, Work and Play

Adding activity into your day is possible. Choose activities that you enjoy. Adults should aim for at least 2 ½ hours or 150 minutes of physical activity each week. Every little bit adds up, and doing something is better than doing nothing. Most important – have fun while being active!

  1. Take 10: do at least 10 minutes of activity at a time to reach your weekly goal. Walk the dog for 10 minutes before and after work and add a 10-minute at lunchtime.
  2. Mix it up: start the week with a swim in the pool, take a yoga class during a weekday lunch, lift weights in the evening, and end the week by working in the garden.
  3. Be ready anytime: keep comfortable clothes and walking or running shoes in the car and at the office.
  4. Find ways to move: take a brisk walk around the parking lot, jog to the bus stop, or ride your bike to the subway station. If you have an infant or toddler, take a long walk using the stroller and everyone gets some fresh air.
  5. Work out during TV time: watch a movie while you jog on a treadmill or download a video on your phone and watch while you ride a stationary bike.
  6. Be an active parent: instead of standing on the sidelines, walk up and down the soccer, football, or softball field while the kids play their games.
  7. Find support: join a walking group, play wheelchair sports, practice martial arts, or sign up for an exercise class in your community. Recruit family or friends for support.
  8. Enjoy the great outdoors: tumble in the leaves, build a snowman with your kids, or ski cross-country. Visit a county or national park and spend time hiking, canoeing, or boating.
  9. Look for wellness at work: find a softball basketball or volleyball team at your job. You can also take the lead by starting a wellness or exercise group in your office.
  10. The chores count, too: clean the house, wash the car, or mow the lawn with a push mower. Know that these activities count toward your goal of at least 150 minutes each week.

10 Tips: Be Active Adults

Tips to help adults include physical activity into their lifestyle.

Being physically active is important for your health. Adults who are physically active are less likely to develop some chronic diseases than adults who are inactive. Physical activity is any form of exercise or movement of the body that uses energy. People of all ages, shapes, sizes, and abilities can benefit from a physically active lifestyle.

  1. Start activities slowly and build up over time: if you are just starting physical activity, build up slowly. This will help prevent injury. After a few weeks, increase how often and how long you are active.
  2. Get your heart pumping: for health benefits, do at least 2 ½ hours each week of physical activity that requires moderate effort. A few examples include brisk walking, biking, swimming, and skating. Spread activities over the week, but do them at least 10 minutes at a time.
  3. Strength-train for healthy muscles and bones: do-strengthening activities twice a week. Activities that build strength include lifting weights, doing push-ups and sit-ups, working with resistance bands, or heavy gardening.
  4. Make active choices throughout the day: every little bit of activity can add up and doing something is better than nothing. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, go for a 10-minute walk on your lunch break, or park further away from work and walk.
  5. Be active your way: mix it up – there are endless ways to be active. They include walking, biking, dancing, martial arts, gardening, and playing ball. Try out different activities to see what you like best and to add variety.
  6. Use the buddy system: activities with friends or family are more enjoyable than doing them alone. Join a walking group, attend fitness classes at a gym, or play with the kids outside. Build a support network – your buddies will encourage you to keep being active.
  7. Set goals and track progress: plan your physical activity ahead of time and keep records. It ‘s a great way to meet your goals. Track your physical activities with the SuperTracker. Use the My Journal feature to record what you enjoyed so you can build a plan that is right for you.
  8. Add on to your active time: once you get used to regular physical activity, try to increase your weekly active time. The more time you spend being physically active, the more health benefits you will receive.
  9. Increase your effort: add more intense activities once you have been moderately active for a while. You can do this by turning a brisk walk into a jog, swimming or biking faster, playing soccer, and participating in aerobic dance.
  10. Have fun: physical activity shouldn’t be a chore. It can help you feel better about yourself and the way you live your life. Choose activities that you enjoy and that fit your lifestyle.

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 your dressing on the side and use a small amount of it.
  3. Share a main dish: divide the main entrée between family and friends. Ask for small plates for everyone at the table.
  4. Select from the sides: order a side dish or an appetizer-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 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. For more information, check the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) website.
  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 loaves of bread, 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.

“Big Bad Wolf” Vegetable Soup

12 Servings


  • 1 tbsp Olive Oil
  • 1 cup Chopped Onion
  • 1 ½ cups Chopped Red Bell Pepper
  • 1 Clove Garlic
  • 1 tbsp Chili Powder
  • 2 cups Butternut Squash, peeled and diced
  • 4 cups Pinto Beans, canned, drained and rinsed
  • 1 ½ cups Water
  • 2 cups Whole-kernel Corn, frozen
  • 1 cup Stewed Tomatoes


  1. Heat oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add onions, bell peppers, and garlic. Cover and cook for 5 minutes.
  2. Add chili powder. Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.
  3. Place onion and pepper mixture in slow cooker. Add squash, beans, water, corn, and tomatoes. Cover and cook on LOW for 8 hours or until soup is thick.

10 Tips: Build a Healthy Meal

Each meal is a building block in your healthy eating style. Make sure to include all the food groups throughout the day. Make fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, and protein foods part of your daily meals and snacks. Also, limit added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium. Use the MyPlate Daily Checklist and the tips below to meet your needs throughout the day.

  1. Make half your plate veggies and fruits: vegetables and fruits are full of nutrients that support good health. Choose fruits and red, orange, and dark green vegetables such as tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and broccoli.
  2. Include whole grains: aim to make at least half your grains whole grains. Look for the words “100% whole grain” or “100% whole wheat” on the food label. Whole grains provide more nutrients, like fiber than refined grains.
  3. Don’t forget the dairy: Complete your meal with a cup of fat-free or low-fat milk. You will get the same amount of calcium and other essential nutrients as whole milk but fewer calories. Don’t drink milk? Try a soy beverage (soymilk) as your drink or include low-fat yogurt in your meal or snack.
  4. Add lean protein: choose protein foods such as lean beef, pork, chicken, or turkey, and eggs, nuts, beans, and tofu. Twice a week, make seafood the protein on your plate.
  5. Avoid extra fat: using heavy gravies or sauces will add fat and calories to otherwise healthy choices. Try steamed broccoli with a sprinkling or low-fat Parmesan cheese or a squeeze of lemon.
  6. Get creative in the Kitchen: Whether you are making a sandwich, a stir-fry, or a casserole, find ways to make them healthier. Try using less meat and cheese, which can be higher in saturated fat and sodium, and adding in more veggies that add new flavors and textures to your meals.
  7. Take control of your food: eat at home more often so you know exactly what you are eating. If you eat out, check and compare the nutrition information. Choose options that are lower in calories, saturated fat, and sodium.
  8. Try new foods: keep it interesting by picking out new foods you’ve never tried before, like mango, lentils, quinoa, kale, or sardines. You may find a new favorite! Trade fun and tasty recipes with friends or find them online.
  9. Satisfy your sweet tooth in a healthy way: indulge in a naturally sweet dessert dish – fruit! Serve fresh fruit salad or a fruit parfait made with yogurt. For a hot dessert, baked apples and top with cinnamon.
  10. Everything you eat and drink matters: the right mixes of foods in your meals and snacks can help you be healthier now and into the future. Turn small changes in how you eat into you MyPlate, MyWins.