Healthy Children - April 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: Eat Smart and Be Active as You Grow

Healthy Tips for Teen Girls

Young girls, ages 10 to 19, have a lot of changes going on in their bodies. Building healthier habits will help you – now as a growing teen – and later in life. Growing up means you are in charge of the foods you eat and the time you spend being physically active every day.

  1. Build strong bones: a good diet and regular physical activity can build strong bones throughout your life. Choose fat-free or low-fat milk, cheeses, and yogurt to get the vitamin D and calcium your growing bones need. Strengthen your bones three times a week doing activities such as running, gymnastics, and skating.
  2. Cut back on sweets: cut back on sugary drinks. Many 12-ounce cans of soda have 10 teaspoons of sugar in them. Drink water when you are thirsty. Sipping water and cutting back on cakes, candies and sweets help to maintain a healthy weight.
  3. Power up with whole grain: fuel your body with nutrient-packed whole-grain foods. Make sure that at least half your grain foods are whole grains such as brown rice, whole-wheat bread, and popcorn.
  4. Choose vegetables rich in color: brighten your plate with vegetables that are red, orange, or dark green. Try squash, cherry tomatoes, or sweet potatoes. Spinach and beans also provide vitamins like foliate and minerals like potassium that are essential for healthy growth.
  5. Check Nutrition Facts labels for iron: read nutrition facts labels to find foods containing iron. Most protein foods like meat, poultry, eggs, and beans have iron, and so do fortified breakfast cereals and bread.
  6. Be a healthy role model: encourage your friends to practice healthier habits. Share what you do to work through challenges. Keep your computer and TV time to less than 2 hours a day (unless it’s school work.)
  7. Try something new: Keep healthy eating fun by picking out new foods you’ve never tried before like lentils, mango, quinoa, or kale.
  8. Make moving part of every event: being active makes everyone feel good. Aim for 60 minutes of physical activity each day. Move your body often. Dancing, playing active games, walking to school with friends, swimming, biking are only a few fun ways to be active. Also, try activities that target the muscles in your arms and legs.
  9. Include all food groups daily: use MyPlate as your guide to include all food groups each day.
  10. Everyone has different needs: get nutrition information based on your age, gender, height, weight, and physical activity level.

Children’s Cereal

Children’s cereal, it’s everywhere! Kids get it from home, from daycare, from school and so on. It makes sense – cereal is easy to serve and to eat, it’s popular with the kids, and it’s healthy, right? Well, that depends. Cereals that are rich in whole grains and low in sugar can be a great choice. But, not all cereals make the cut.

Cereals can be a major source of added sugars in children’s diets. According to a 2014 report, a child who eats an average amount of typical children’s cereal every day would eat more than 10 pounds of sugar per year! That’s from the cereal alone, it doesn’t include the soft drinks, desserts and other sweet things kids may like to eat.

But what’s the problem with sugar, anyway? Added sugars, which are sugars that are added to foods rather than occurring naturally, add calories to kids’ diets without adding any of the healthy nutrients their bodies, need to grow and thrive. Plus, added sugar can increase kids’ risk for obesity, type two diabetes, high cholesterol, and dental cavities.

You may be thinking – parents, daycare facilities, and schools shouldn’t feed kids sugary cereals. That would be great, but it isn’t the whole story. Advertising has a role to play. A 2019 study found that advertising for sugary cereals directed at children increased consumption of those sugary cereals amount preschoolers. Companies know that advertising to kids will encourage those kids to ask their parents for the products they are trying to sell. If advertising to kids didn’t work, companies wouldn’t spend so much money on it. In just one year (2009), companies spent $173 million advertising breakfast cereals to children ages 2-11 years!

What can YOU do?

  • Choose cereals that are high in whole grains, and low in sugar.
    • You can use the Nutrition Facts label on the back of cereal boxes to figure out which ones are the best options. Look for options that have “whole grains (like whole wheat) as the first item in the ingredients list. Another strategy is checking the fiber. If a cereal has at least 20% Daily Value of fiber, chances are it has plenty of whole grains.
    • The American Heart Association recommends children over age two consume no more than six teaspoons (or 24 grams) of added sugars per day, from all sources (not just cereal). How much (or little) sugar to look for in cereal depends on the serving size of that cereal. But, if the serving size is about 28 grams (1 ounce), make sure it has no more than 6 grams of sugar in it.
  • Make sure childcare facilities are serving healthy cereal.
    • If a childcare facility is receiving federal funds through the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), the cereals they serve must have no more than 6 grams of sugar per ounce of dry cereal (½ cup to 1 cup, depending on the cereal).
  • Be an advocate!
    • If you’re a parent, try to reduce the amount of advertising for unhealthy foods your child is exposed to. You can do this in your own home by 
    • reducing screen time online and from the television, and ask your childcare providers to do it, too.
    • If you’re a childcare provider, reduce the number of advertising children are exposed to in your institution. Think about all the sources they may receive this advertising from – printed messages, television, online and more!

Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie

Makes: 2 servings


  • 2 small bananas (ripe, frozen)
  • 1 cup skim milk
  • 1 ½ tablespoon creamy peanut butter
  • ½ tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ½ cup low-fat vanilla yogurt
  • 1 ½ cups ice


  1. Peel bananas, chop into small pieces and place in freezer until hard.
  2. Gather all ingredients and put all ingredients in a blender.
  3. Blend on high until smooth.
  4. Pour into 2 glasses. Serve right away.

Kitchen Timesavers

Try these kitchen timesavers to cut back on time and make less work for you. By taking the stress and hassle out of cooking, you’ll have more time to enjoy it and to spend with your loved ones.

  1. Organize your kitchen. Keep frequently used items such as cooking oils/sprays, spatulas, cutting boards, and spices within easy reach. This will save you from having to search for them later.
  2. Clear the clutter. Before you start cooking, clear off your counters. This allows more room for prep space.
  3. Chop extra. When chopping up veggies for a meal, chop more than you need. Take the extra, place in a reusable container and freeze. Then next time you need it, you can skip a step.
  4. Having everything in place. Grab all ingredients needed for your meal – chopped vegetables, measure spices, and thawed meats, it will be easier to spot missing items and avoid skipping steps.
  5. Double your recipe. For your next casserole or stew, try doubling the recipe and freezing the extra. You’ll save time and make cooking next week’s dinner a snap!
  6. Clean as you go. Fill up the sink with soapy water and wash the dishes as you cook. It’ll make clean up go much smoother!
  7. Save some for later. Freeze leftover soups, sauces, or gravies in small reusable containers.

MyPlate, MyWins Tips: Make your takeout healthier

With smart choices and small changes, these tips can help make your favorite Asian-inspired meals work for you.

  • 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 rather than fried. Steamed dumplings and rice are lower in saturated fat than the fried versions.
  • Adjust your order. Most restaurants are happy to accommodate your requests. Ask that your food is 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 expert, eating with chopsticks can help you slow down and recognize when you’re full so you don’t overeat.

How to Cool Food Safely

It is important to let food you have just cooked cool before eating it to avoid the risk of burns. Be sure to talk about safety, including waiting until food cools off before eating it and putting hot kitchen tools somewhere safe. Your child may need help removing the pan from the stovetop, putting the hot pancakes onto a plate, and putting kitchen tools somewhere safe to cool off.

  1. Ask an adult to remove hot food and kitchen tools from the stove so they can cool faster.
  2. Use potholders or oven mitts to move hot dishes so that you do not burn yourself.

Safety Tip: Put hot kitchen tools on a trivet or cooling rack so that they do not damage the countertop.

How to Set a Table:

While your child is still learning, he or she might get the place setting a little confused and need some help. Set up a sample place setting for your child to follow. After showing the correct place setting, give your child the necessary supplies and have him or her set the table.

  1. Put the napkin and fork on the left side of the plate. The fork should lie on top of the napkin.
  2. Place the knife next to the plate on the right side. The blade should face the plate.
  3. The spoon belongs on the right side of the knife.
  4. The cup goes above the knife and spoon.

How to Serve Family Style

Food is usually not cooked in individual servings. Instead, most dishes are made in a large batch and then divided into portions when served. When a large serving dish is passed around the table from which diners can help themselves, this is called “family style.”

When serving family style:

  • Make sure to use clean serving utensils that no one has eaten from or cooked with.
  • Remind your child that he or she should eat from his or her own plate, and never directly from the serving dish, to avoid spreading germs. No one should touch the food with his or her fingers when serving or holding the serving dish.
  • Everyone will have his or her own plate and eating utensil.
  • Uneaten food should never get returned to the serving dish.

How to use a Cooktop Safely

Teach your children how to use a cooktop safely by talking about the points below:

  • Different cooktops have different ways to turn on the heat.
  • If the cooktop uses gas, you will have to turn the knob to light the burner before choosing the temperature.
  • On a gas stove, you will see the flame on the burner.
  • With electric and induction cooktops, turn the knob directly on the temperature you want. You will not see a flame on the burner.
  • We strongly recommend that you or another adult be the one to turn on the cooktop. You can explain and describe each step to your child.
  • Make sure the handle of your pot or pan is turned inward, toward the center of the cooktop. Otherwise, you could accidentally knock the pot off the stove, causing serious burns.
  • Never walk away from food cooking on the cooktop or leave it unattended.
  • When moving any hot skillet, pan, or lid, use potholders, not towels, which can catch fire.
  • Keep your cooking area neat. Do not keep flammable items, like dishtowels, papers, or cardboard packages, neat the stove.