Healthy Children - September 2015

ExceleRate Illinois in partnership with the Illinois Department of Human Services is providing information on healthy choices and 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 for all 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 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.


Physical Activity at Home, Work, and Play

10 tips to make physical activity a regular part of the day

Adding activity into your day is possible. Choose activities that you enjoy. Adults should aim for at least 2½ hoursor 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 walk at lunchtime.

2 mix it up
Start the week with a swim at 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 game.

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.

Teaching Kids to Eat Good Food

When her three children were in elementary school, my friend, Cindy Davis of Springfield, had a great solution for getting them to try new foods. Cindy would go through the coupons, take them to the grocery store on Sunday afternoons and each one would get to pick out a fruit or vegetable that was new to them. Later that evening, Cindy would include it in the week’s meal plan.

“I’d pick an aisle at the grocery store and tell them they could choose anything they wanted – as long as they hadn’t eaten it before,” said Davis. “Sometimes it would be something fresh, sometimes it would be canned.”

When the night came for one of the children’s new food, each one would have to count and eat the number of their age.

“If they were seven, they’d have to eat seven peas, even if they didn’t like them,” said Davis. “When they turned a year older, they’d have to eat eight.”
It worked. Her children, now ages 34, 32 and 28, will eat nearly any fruit or vegetable, from beets to mushrooms.

“Even Alexis [her youngest], who was the least likely to be a cook, is now cooking up a storm. Christmas this year, we were all together, and we cooked the entire day. We made Dover Sole, a cheese soufflé was wonderful. Chris [her oldest son] always loved to chop and stir and season from a young age. Now, he frowns on using recipes; he loves to experiment.”

Davis did her part – planning family meals, including her children and giving them “ownership” of a meal, and teaching them to enjoy the experience of trying new foods.

Today, they still have a love for new foods.

Davis also made family meals a priority – even with school activities and work schedules.

Why is it so important to eat together as a family? According to The Family Dinner Project, researchers have been looking into the benefits of eating together as a family for more than 15 years and have confirmed that sharing a family meal is good for the spirit, the brain and the health of all family members. In fact, regular family dinners are associated with lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression, as well as higher grade-point averages and better self-esteem – not to mention lower rates of obesity and eating disorders in children and adolescents.

With all the reasons why we should eat together, still many American families are challenged with meeting this goal. Time is an issue as well as budget. Here are some simple strategies to help make family meals together a success.

  1. Put your family first – Look at your schedules and try to plan several meals together as a family for the week. Remember that meals don’t necessarily have to be the dinner meal. If breakfast is the best time to eat together as a family, that is perfectly ine.
  2. Make it simple – Meals do not need to be difficult to prepare. Planning ahead is key. Take inventory of your pantry and fridge and see what you already have on hand. Check your local grocery store ads to see if there are additional food items you can purchase on sale to complement the items you already have on hand to complete your family meals. This will help save you time and money. Write your meal plan in your calendar or on a chalkboard to display for the family so everyone knows what is being served throughout the week.
  3. Make it fun – Mealtime together as a family can be stressful – but if you keep in mind eating together as a family can be fun and a way for the family to reconnect, the stress will melt away and your family will learn to enjoy mealtime together.
  4. Get the kids involved in choosing menu options and with meal preparation. They can even get involved in the grocery shopping.
  5. Come up with a menu theme for the week such as “Mexican Week” or “Grilling Week.”
  6. Have a friendly cooking challenge between members of the family to see who is the better family chef.
  7. Play a game or tell a story that relates to the food items you prepared for meal.
  8. Explore a mystery food of the week and incorporate that food into several dinner dishes.
  9. Pretend your dining room is a restaurant. You can even use special dinnerware and tablecloths to add to the ambiance of the room to make it an extra-special meal. Have the kids pretend they are waiters/waitresses.They can take orders and help serve dinner.


Parmesan-crusted chicken tenders

Serves 4. Active time: 10 minutes | Total: 30 minutes
• Canola or olive oil cooking spray
• 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
• 2 large eggs
• 1/2 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
• 1 cup coarse dry breadcrumbs, preferably whole-wheat
• 1 pound 100 percent natural fresh chicken tenders
• 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
• 1 teaspoon garlic powder
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1 cup marinara sauce, heated

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place a large wire rack on a baking sheet and coat with cooking spray.
  2. Place flour in a shallow dish.
    Lightly beat eggs in another shallow dish. Combine Parmesan and breadcrumbs in a third shallow dish. Toss tenders with Italian seasoning, garlic powder and salt in a medium bowl. Coat each tender in lour, shaking off any excess. Dip in egg and let any excess drip off. Then roll in the breadcrumb mixture. Place the tenders on the prepared rack. Generously coat the top of each tender with cooking spray.
  3. Bake for 10 minutes. Turn each tender over and coat with cooking spray. Continue baking until the outside is crisp and the tenders are cooked through, about 10 minutes more. Serve the tenders with marinara sauce for dipping.


Zucchini muffins

Makes 24 servings
• nonstick cooking spray
• 1 ½ cups all-purpose lour
• ¾ cup almond flour
• 1 cup packed brown sugar
• ¾ cup oat or wheat bran
• 3 tbsp. chia or flax seeds
• 2 tsp. baking soda
• 1 tsp. baking powder
• 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
• 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
• ¾ cup buttermilk
• 1/3 cup cinnamon applesauce
• 2 tsp. vanilla extract
• 3 cups grated zucchini, drained (about 2 medium)
• Chopped walnuts, optional

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Lightly coat mini muffin pan with cooking spray; set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, combine flours, brown sugar, oat bran, chia seeds, baking soda, baking powder and cinnamon; set aside.
  3. In another large bowl, combine eggs, buttermilk, applesauce and vanilla. Stir in zucchini, mixing just until combined. Stir in flour mixture just until combined. Do not over-stir.
  4. Spoon 1 tbsp. or batter into each muffin cup. If desired, top with walnuts. Bake for 12-14 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool in pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Remove muffins to a wire rack. Cool completely. Repeat with remaining batter.


10 Tips to Improve Your Meals with Vegetables and Fruits

Liven up your meals with vegetables and fruits

Discover the many benefits of adding vegetables and fruits to your meals. They are low in fat and calories, while providing fiber and other key nutrients. Most Americans should eat more than 3 cups—and for some, up to 6 cups—of vegetables and fruits each day. Vegetables and fruits don’t just add nutrition to meals. They can also add color, flavor, and texture. Explore these creative ways to bring healthy foods to your table.

Fire up the grill

Use the grill to cook vegetables and fruits. Try grilling mushrooms, carrots, peppers, or potatoes on a kabob skewer. Brush with oil to keep them from drying out. Grilled fruits like peaches, pineapple, or mangoes add great flavor to a cookout.

Expand the flavor of your casseroles

Mix vegetables such as sautéed onions, peas, pinto beans, or tomatoes into your favorite dish for that extra flavor.

Planning something Italian?

Add extra vegetables to your pasta dish. Slip some peppers, spinach, red beans, onions, or cherry tomatoes into your traditional tomato sauce. Vegetables provide texture and low-calorie bulk that satisfies.

Get creative with your salad

Toss in shredded carrots, strawberries, spinach, watercress, orange segments, or sweet peas for a flavorful, fun salad.

Salad bars aren’t just for salads

Try eating sliced fruit from the salad bar as your dessert when dining out. This will help you avoid any baked desserts that are high in calories.

Get in on the stir-frying fun

Try something new! Stir-fry your veggies—like broccoli, carrots, sugar snap peas, mushrooms, or green beans—for a quick-and-easy addition to any meal.

Add them to your sandwiches

Whether it is a sandwich or wrap, vegetables make great additions to  both. Try sliced tomatoes, romaine lettuce, or avocado on your everyday sandwich or  wrap for extra flavor.

Be creative with your baked goods

Add apples, bananas, blueberries, or pears to your favorite muffin recipe for a treat.

Make a tasty fruit smoothie

For dessert, blend strawberries, blueberries, or raspberries with frozen bananas and 100% fruit juice for a delicious frozen fruit smoothie.

Liven up an omelet

Boost the color and flavor of your morning omelet with vegetables. Simply chop, sauté, and add them to the egg as it cooks. Try combining different vegetables, such as mushrooms, spinach, onions, or bell peppers. 


Simple Summer Snacks

Whether you’re out for an afternoon at the pool or getting ready for a family road trip, it’s important to have healthy food ready to go.

“In the summer, lots of fruits and vegetables are in season, and you can get pretty much anything at a reasonable price,” says Tara Todd, RD, LD, a dietitian on staff with St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “It’s a great time to add fresh produce to your child’s snacks and meals.”

Take a few minutes in the mornings to slice up watermelon, pull grapes off the stem, and cut carrots, celery or bell peppers into sticks. Toss them in baggies so your fridge is stocked with healthy, grab-and-go snacks that are perfect for summer outings.

“Running to the grocery store for bags of pretzels and chips is easy,” Todd says. “But a few minutes of prep work is worth it to get more fruits and vegetables into your child’s day.”

Power Couples

The best snacks include at least two different food groups, Todd says. She suggests these simple options:

Hummus and carrots—This combo of protein and fiber is also filled with potassium and vitamin A, which growing bodies need.
Frozen bananas and peanut butter—A refreshing idea on a hot day, chilled bananas with creamy peanut butter provide a burst of fuel.
Turkey rollups with a side of grapes—Low-sodium sliced turkey is a savory companion for a handful of sweet grapes.

Keep It Cool
Invest in a good cooler to make sure snacks stay cold if you’re out for a few hours or more. Dairy products and meats should be stored at 40 degrees or below.


What Makes It Hard to Eat Well?

Read the following statements about reasons why it is hard to eat well. Which ones can you relate to? If you think “that’s me.” Then read the suggested tips.  Check the tips that you want to remember.

Think that healthy foods cost too much?  Then . . .

  • Eat less meat and more beans
  • Eat canned or frozen fruits and veggies
  • Make quick meals at home instead of eating out


Think healthy foods don’t taste as good?  Then . . .

  • Don’t give up your favorites, just eat smaller amounts
  • Try new foods and new recipes
  • Work your way down slowly to 1% or skim milk


Eat when you’re bored, tired, angry or depressed? Then . . .

  • Find something else to distract you
  • Work on a hobby
  • Call a friend
  • Go for a walk
  • Keep only healthy snacks around


Find it hard to eat healthy when you eat out? Then . . .

  • Avoid fast food and all you can eat restaurants
  • When you order a salad, ask for dressing on the side
  • Ask for half portions
  • Share with a friend
  • Bring home leftovers


Eat too much when you’re at social events? Then . . .

  • Eat a healthy snack before you go
  • Decide on a few things to eat
  • Bring healthy dishes to pot lucks


Eat too much when you’re cooking or cleaning? Then . . .

  • Chew sugarless gum or a toothpick
  • Ask someone else to put away the leftovers


Tend to skip regular meals, but snack in front of the TV and throughout the day? Then . . .

  • Make time for regular meals
  • Sit down at the table and eat healthy meals with friends or family
  • Pack a lunch or snacks to take to work or for travel