Healthy Children - March 2012

INCCRRA in partnership with the Illinois Department of Human Services is providing information on childhood obesity through its website. The intent is to communicate to child care practitioners, parents 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 not just for overweight children but 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 heavy 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.



Adding Up Your Whole Grains!

You may have heard about whole grains and that we need more in our diet. Whole grain logos are popping up on food packages everywhere! When making your children breakfast, you even notice the number of “whole grain servings” on the box. So what does this mean and why do we need them?

What are whole grains?

Foods that are considered “whole grain” include all three parts of the grain. These three parts are: the bran, germ, and endosperm. In white bread and pasta, the germ and bran have been taken out.

What foods have whole grains in them?

There are a number of foods that are considered a “whole grain”. First look at a food’s ingredient list and the word “whole” must be the first word in order for the food to be considered “whole grain”. For example, if you are trying to pick out a type of bread that is considered a “whole grain”, look for “whole wheat flour” or “whole grain” as the first ingredients on the ingredient list. Here is a list of the common whole grain foods:

  • Whole wheat bread
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Whole wheat cereal
  • Whole grain pita bread
  • Whole grain orzo
  • Oatmeal
  • Popcorn
  • Brown rice
  • Kasha
  • Couscous
  • Quinoa
  • Barley
  • Amaranth


Why do we need whole grains?

Most whole grains are full of fiber. Fiber is important to our bodies and helps our digestive tract stay healthy. Fiber leaves us feeling fuller longer so we will not need to snack on unhealthy foods during the day. Whole grains also contain many vitamins and minerals important for disease and prevention. Whole grains play an important role in keeping you healthy and reducing your risk for coronary heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Whole grains also help you keep a healthy body weight. You should try to have at least three servings of whole grains each day. A serving can be one slice of whole wheat bread, of ½ cup cooked brown rice, cooked pasta, or cooked cereal.



Eat a Variety of Fruits and Vegetables Every Day


Use these easy, fun tips to help you eat a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables every day!

Stir low-fat or fat-free granola into a bowl of low-fat or fat-free yogurt. Top with sliced apples or berries.
Have fruit as a mid-morning snack.
Add strawberries, blueberries, or bananas to your waffles, pancakes, cereal, oatmeal, or toast.
Top toasted whole-grain bread with peanut butter and sliced bananas.
Add vegetables like bell peppers, broccoli, spinach, mushrooms or tomatoes to your egg or egg white omelet.
Canned, dried, and frozen fruits and vegetables are also good options. Look for fruit without added sugar or syrups and vegetables without added salt, butter, or cream sauces.
Lunch and Dinner
Place a box of raisins in your child's backpack and pack one for yourself, too.
Ask for more vegetable toppings (like mushrooms, peppers, and onions) and less cheese on your pizza.
Add some cooked dry beans to your salad. Or, if you have a sweet tooth, add chopped apples, pears, or raisins.
Add broccoli, green beans, corn, or peas to a casserole or pasta.
Have soup. You can stick with the basics like tomato or vegetable soup or mix up some minestrone or veggie chili to cut winter's chill. When possible, choose soups with less sodium.
Add lettuce, tomato, onion, and cucumber to sandwiches.
Order salads, vegetable soups, or stir-fried vegetables when eating out.
Choose beans, corn on the cob, or a side salad with low-calorie salad dressing instead of French fries.
Try eating at least 2 vegetables with dinner.
Canned, dried, and frozen fruits and vegetables are also good options. Look for fruit without added sugar or syrups and vegetables without added salt, butter, or cream sauces.

For more ideas, see our Recipes section at



Food Mood

Politely Accepting or Refusing New Foods
Preparation Time
5 min
Activity Time
15 min
3 varieties of TLCs* (tasty little crackers):
  • multi-grain
  • ranch
  • cheese
drinking water
*If TLC crackers are not available, substitute a low-fat whole-grain alternative.
Small plates
Small cups
Preparation Prior to Class
Refrigerate a pitcher of water.
1. Ask the children to wash their hands.
2. Explain to the children that you will give each of them three different kinds of crackers that they may not have tasted before.
3. Tell them that when you direct them to taste a cracker, they may feel and smell it before deciding whether or not they wish to bite it.
4. Tell them that they do not have to taste any of the crackers if they do not wish to; however, request that they refrain from making any bad comments about the crackers.
5. Tell them and demonstrate that if they do not wish to taste a cracker, they should politely say, “No, thank you” or “I don’t care to try it,” and place it back on their plate.
6. Tell them and demonstrate that if they take a bite and do not care for the cracker, they need to quietly remove the cracker from their mouth and put it into their napkin without making any bad comments about the taste.
7. Ask if they understand the rules for tasting. Then, pass one napkin and a plate with three crackers to each child. Pour a glass of water for each child.
8. Begin as outlined above with the multi-grain cracker. Give each child time to taste the cracker or decide they do not wish to taste the cracker. Remind the children how to politely refuse this new food or remove it from their mouth if they do not like it.
9. Repeat this process with the ranch cracker.
10. Repeat this process with the cheese cracker.
11. Ask for a show of hands for those who liked the:
  1. multi-grain cracker best.
  2. ranch cracker best.
  3. cheese cracker best.
12. Explain that different people like different foods and that over time as they try new foods, they will enjoy more and more foods.
13. Distribute additional crackers and small cups of water to the children who desire them.
Additional Discussion During the Activity
Discuss highlights from the lesson plan:
  • All foods were once new to you.
  • Eating a variety of foods can help you be healthy.
  • As you try more foods, you will like more foods.
  • It is good to be polite in accepting and refusing foods.



Physical Activity Facts

  • Regular physical activity in childhood and adolescence improves strength and endurance, helps build healthy bones and muscles, helps control weight, reduces anxiety and stress, increases self-esteem, and may improve blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that young people aged 6–17 years participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily.
  • In 2009, only 18% of high school students had participated in at least 60 minutes per day of physical activity, and only 33% attended physical education class daily.
  • Schools can promote physical activity through comprehensive school physical activity programs, including recess, classroom-based physical activity, intramural physical activity clubs, interscholastic sports, and physical education.
  • Schools should ensure that physical education is provided to all students in all grades and is taught by qualified teachers.
  • Schools can also work with community organizations to provide out-of-school-time physical activity programs and share physical activity facilities.


Benefits of Regular Physical Activity

  • Helps build and maintain healthy bones and muscles. Helps reduce the risk of developing obesity and chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and colon cancer.
  • Reduces feelings of depression and anxiety and promotes psychological well-being.
  • May help improve students’ academic performance, including:
    • Academic achievement and grades
    • Academic behavior, such as time on task
    • Factors that influence academic achievement, such as concentration and attentiveness in the classroom.


Long-Term Consequences of Physical Inactivity

  • Overweight and obesity, which are influenced by physical inactivity and poor diet, can increase one’s risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma, arthritis, and poor health status.
  • Physical inactivity increases one’s risk for dying prematurely, dying of heart disease, and developing diabetes, colon cancer, and high blood pressure.


Participation in Physical Activity by Young People

  • In a nationally representative survey, 77% of children aged 9–13 years reported participating in free-time physical activity during the previous 7 days.
  • In 2009, only 18% percent of high school students surveyed had participated in at least 60 minutes per day of physical activity on each of the 7 days before the survey.
  • Twenty-three percent of high school students surveyed had not participated in 60 or more minutes of any kind of physical activity on any day during the 7 days before the survey.
  • Participation in physical activity declines as young people age.


Percentage of High School Students Participating in Physical Activity and Physical Education, by Sex, 2009

Type of ActivityGirlsBoys
At least 60 minutes/day of physical activitya 11.4% 24.8%
Attended physical education class dailyb 31.9% 34.6%

a: Any kind of physical activity that increased heart rate and made them breathe hard some of the time for at least 60 minutes per day on each of the 7 days before the survey.

b: Attended physical education classes 5 days in an average week when they were in school.

Participation in Physical Education Classes

  • In 2009, over half (56%) of high school students (72% of 9th-grade students but only 44% of 12th-grade students) attended physical education classes in an average week.
  • The percentage of high school students who attended physical education classes daily decreased from 42% in 1991 to 25% in 1995 and remained stable at that level until 2009 (33%).
  • In 2009, 47% of 9th-grade students but only 22% of 12th-grade students attended physical education class daily.


Key Resources
School Health Guidelines to Promote Healthy Eating and Physical Activity

Physical Education Curriculum Analysis Tool

Youth Physical Activity Guidelines Toolkit

The Association Between School-Based Physical Activity, Physical Education, and Academic Performance
(Full report)
(Executive Summary)



Snack Smarter to Keep Your Kids Leaner

As a child, you may have had one or two overweight kids in your class. Yet today, about one in three of your child’s classmates is likely to be overweight as childhood obesity rates in America have tripled in the past 30 years.

This is a dangerous trend that can lead to multiple health problems later, including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer and asthma. In addition, an overweight child is at risk of low self-esteem from being teased.

At the root of the childhood obesity problem are the amounts and types of foods kids eat that add up to an excessive amount of calories, says Tara Todd, a registered dietitian at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “Kids today take in a lot of empty calories such as crackers, chips, soda and large amounts of juices. It’s a big problem,” she says.

Empty calories aren’t a new way of saying zero calories. Rather, they come from foods that provide lots of calories with very few nutrients. They essentially just take up space in your child’s stomach.

“Empty-calorie foods tend to replace fruits and vegetables,” Todd says. “Yet we know if kids eat enough fruits and vegetables in a day, their calorie intake is just about right. If they don’t, they usually gain weight.”

Compounding the problem is that one in five school-age kids has up to six snacks a day, which piles on the pounds.

“For kids under age 5 who eat appropriate quantities at meals, a small, healthy snack is OK,” she says. “But after age 5, kids often don’t need a snack between breakfast and lunch. Many kids now eat so many calories at meals that it’s hard to build in room for snack calories.”

When Hunger Strikes

What if your child comes home from school saying he’s hungry? Find healthier, lower-calorie snack options, Todd advises.

“The idea behind eating snacks isn’t to feel stuffed,” she says. “You just want to give your child enough to get his or her mind off food. If children watch TV instead of going out to play, they’ll likely end up back in the kitchen eating again.”

Todd says snacks such as granola bars and 100-calorie snacks aren’t usually a good snack option.

“If you’re using the controlled calorie packs as primary snack foods or if they take the place of fruits or vegetables, they’re still empty calories with little nutritional value,” she says. “However, if you’re trying to help your child make changes by using the 100-calorie packs to satisfy a sweet tooth, these can be useful.”

Smart Snacking Tips

If your child takes a snack to school, Todd recommends sending fruit such as an apple. It packs nutrients into a low-calorie, crunchy, filling snack. You may also try fiber-filled popcorn.

After school, combine a carbohydrate and protein to keep your child satisfied until dinner.

“When eating carbs, it’s important to add protein to help your child feel satisfied longer,” Todd says. “Eating sweets creates a vicious cycle of wanting more sweets because you get hungry faster.”

Try these satisfying snack options for your kids:

  • a cup of cereal with milk
  • Greek yogurt and fruit
  • half a sandwich with turkey and cheese
  • bananas, apples or celery with peanut butter
  • cheese cubes and an apple
  • pretzel sticks with peanut butter
  • hummus and pita bread
  • popcorn


Make Changes One Step at a Time

Todd recommends that the first change in every family’s eating plan should be substituting the empty-calorie foods in your pantry for fruits and vegetables. Then eliminate sugary drinks and decrease portion sizes. Subtle changes, such as switching to whole-wheat pasta, are easy to make, too.

“Take it one step at a time,” she says. “If you suddenly turn your family’s life upside down, the healthy changes won’t last. It takes time to create habits.”

Todd suggests making dietary changes for the whole family behind the scenes.”

“Helping your family eat more healthfully is squarely on the parents’ shoulders, but don’t say anyone is going on a diet,” she advises. “Instead, talk about positive additions you’re all making, such as eating more fruits and vegetables. Never direct the changes at the child or say the child needs to lose weight.”

For more information, download our Nutrition and Healthy Habits brochure at