Healthy Children - February 2016

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.


Build a Healthy Plate with Fruits

Nutrition and Wellness Tips for Young Children 

Did you know offering fruit is a quick-and-easy way to make meals and snacks healthier and more colorful?

While most toddlers consume enough fruit, most children 4 years and older do not. You can help by offering different fruits on your menu. Offering a variety of fruits during the week can:

  • Teach healthy eating habits children will use for life.
  • Add color, texture, and flavor to children’s plates.
  • Give children the vitamins and minerals they need to grow and play.
  • Promote a proper digestion, help children feel full, and maintain a healthy weight by providing dietary fiber.

What types of fruits should I offer?

  • Fresh, frozen, canned and dried fruits are all great choices. Introduce kids to the whole rainbow of fruit choices - each fruit has its own unique flavor and nutrients. Providing different choices each day helps children get the nutrition they need.
  • Limit fruit juice. Serve only one ½ cup (4 oz.) serving of 100% juice, once per day. While 100% fruit juice can be party of a healthy diet, it does not contain the dietary fiber found in other forms of fruit.
  • Include good sources of potassium, such as bananas, dried plums, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, nectarines, raspberries, and orange juice. Potassium can help children maintain a healthy blood pressure.

How can I serve fruits and juices with no added sugars?

It is easy for children to get too many added sugars from foods and beverages. The extra calories from these added sugars can make children feel full before they’ve had a chance to get the nutrients they need from other foods. Extra calories from added sugars also make it harder for children to maintain a healthy weight. Since fruits are naturally sweet, it can be easy to get children to eat them without adding sweeteners like sugar, corn syrup, and honey. Here are a few tips:

  • Serve fresh fruit more often than fruit-based desserts, such as fruit pies, cobblers, and crisps.
  • Purchase fruit canned in water or 100% fruit juice instead of syrup. Offer unsweetened applesauce and try sprinkling ground cinnamon on top.
  • Use frozen fruit that does not contain added sugars.
  • Choose 100% fruit juice instead of fruit flavored drinks or soda, including cola, lemon lime, root beer, or orange soda.
  • Offer raisins or other unsweetened dried fruit instead of chewy fruit snacks or strips, fruit drops, candy, or sweets. * Since it is easy to eat a lot of dried fruit in a short time, it is best to serve unsweetened dried fruit in a ¼ cup serving. Eating ¼ cup of dried fruit is like eating ½ cup of fresh fruit.

* Hard fruit chunks, chewy fruit snacks, and certain types of candy pose choking hazards

How can I encourage kids to eat fruits?

It may take time for new foods to be accepted. Kids don’t always eat new foods right away. Here are some ways to get kids excited about fruits:

  • Make food fun and be sure fruits are easy to eat. Create a rainbow salad with a variety of colors of fruits. Add crushed pineapple, mandarin oranges, or fresh apples to salad mix or coleslaw. Peel or slice fresh oranges.
  • Have a fruit tasting day. Encourage each child’s family to bring one unique fruit for the group to taste. How about kiwifruit, black grapes, blackberries, pomelo, or lychees?
  • Cook together. Children learn about fruits and vegetables when they help prepare them. Young children can help rinse fruits and make “faces” out of pieces of fruits. Pick kitchen tasks that match children’s abilities: mash bananas, peel some fruits, or mix ingredients for a fruit salad. See the “Edible Art” activity from Team Nutrition’s Community Nutrition Action Kit.
  • Explore the “Grow It, Try It, Like It!” educational kit. Growing fruits, like strawberries, in a garden or container can help increase children’s willingness to taste them.
  • Eat fruits and kids will too! They learn from watching you.

Build a Healthy Plate with Fruits -

10 Tips for Healthy Snacking

Snacks can help children get the nutrients needed to grow and maintain a healthy weight. Prepare single-serving snacks for younger children to help them get just enough to satisfy their hunger. Let older kids make their own snacks by keeping healthy foods in the kitchen. Visit to help you and your kids select satisfying snacks.

  1. Save time by slicing Veggies- Store sliced vegetables in the refrigerator and serve with dips like hummus or low-fat dressing. Top half a whole-wheat English muffin with spaghetti sauce, chopped vegetables, and low fat shredded mozzarella and melt in microwave.
  2. Mix it up- For older school-age kids, mix dried fruit, unsalted nuts, and popcorn in a snack-size bag for a quick trail mix. Blend plain fat-free or low fat yogurt with 100% fruit juice and frozen peaches for a tasty smoothie.
  3. Grab a glass of milk- A cup of low-fat or fat-free milk or milk alternative (soy milk) is an easy way to drink a healthy snack.
  4. Go for great whole grains- Offer whole-wheat breads, popcorn, and whole-oat cereals that are high in fiber and low in added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium. Limit refined-grain products such as snack bars, cakes, and sweetened cereals.
  5. Nibble on lean protein- Choose lean protein foods such as low-sodium deli meats, unsalted nuts, or eggs. Wrap sliced, low-sodium deli turkey or ham around an apple wedge. Store unsalted nuts in the pantry or peeled, hard-cooked (boiled) eggs in the refrigerator for kids to enjoy any time.
  6. Keep an eye on the size- Snacks shouldn’t replace a meal, so look for ways to help your kids understand how much is enough. Store snack-size bags in the cupboard and use them to control serving sizes.
  7. Fruits are quick and easy- Fresh, frozen, dried, or canned fruits can be easy “grab-and-go” options that need little preparation. Offer whole fruit and limit the amount of 100% juice served.
  8. Consider convenience- A single-serving container of low-fat or fat-free yogurt or individually wrapped string cheese can be just enough for an after-school snack.
  9. Swap out the sugar- Keep healthier foods handy so kids avoid cookies, pastries, or candies between meals. Add seltzer water to a ½ cup of 100% fruit juice instead of offering soda.
  10. Prepare homemade goodies- For homemade sweets, add dried fruits like apricots or raisins and reduce the amount of sugar. Adjust recipes that include fats like butter or shortening by using unsweetened applesauce or prune puree for half the amount of fat. 

Make Your Protein Work Harder for You 

Protein Can Help Power Your Plate and Your Lifestyle

Maximize the power of protein

Although most Americans meet their protein needs, some people may benefit from diets higher in protein such as athletes, aging adults and those trying to manage their weight. This face sheet will help you learn how to maximize the protein in your diet. From helping build muscle with exercise to providing easy and tasty options at meals, high-quality protein foods, such as dairy foods, can help you meet your health and wellness goals.

What exactly is protein?

Protein is an essential nutrient (like fat and carbohydrate) your body needs each day. Not all proteins are equal- quality can make a difference. High- quality protein foods make it easy for you to get all of the essential amino acids your body needs to build and maintain muscles and help your body work properly.

Where can I get protein?

Protein is naturally found in animal foods and some plant foods, but the amount of quality of protein varies. The quality of protein is measured by the type and amount of amino acids. It provides and by how well the body uses the protein.

What are high-quality proteins?

Dairy foods such as milk, flavored milk, cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt and Greek-style yogurt are good examples of high- quality protein. * High quality protein provides all the essential amino acids your body can’t make on its own. The high-quality protein found in foods such as dairy foods, eggs, lean beef and pork, skinless poultry, fish and soy offer convenient options to help your meet your protein needs.

What exactly is whey protein?

Whey protein is a high-quality protein that is naturally found in milk. It can help provide the protein your body needs each day and can be conveniently added to foods and beverages to increase the protein content.

What about plant proteins?

Plant proteins can help meet nutrition needs, too. But unlike animal foods, it may not be as easy because most plant foods, including many beans, peas, seeds, nuts, vegetables, and grain products, do not provide the significant amounts of essential amino acids the body needs. Therefore, a variety of plants proteins are often needed to ensure amino acid needs are met.

What are amino acids?

The basic structure of protein is not a single, simple substance, but a multitude of chains of amino acids of amino acids, which are building blocks that help build, repair and maintain body tissues. There are a total of 21 amino acids; the body makes 12 of them, which are called nonessential amino acids, but the other 9 are called essential amino acids, because the body cannot make them so they must come from food.

Did you know? A little more than half of people are trying to get more protein in their diets, and about 20 percent of adults indicate they’re actively doing something about it, such as checking labels or changing their eating behavior. Potentially, this could equate to more than 45 million people! Do they know something you don’t? Choosing high-quality protein sources can help benefit a variety of health wellness goals.

Fast Facts:

  • Your body uses protein all day long to actively build, repair and maintain muscle tissues. Try eating foods containing high quality protein as an easy way to help get your protein throughout the day. Your protein can work better for you, if you choose high-quality sources to help insure you get all the essential amino acids you need. Don’t forget to include high-quality protein as an easy way to help get your protein throughout the day.
  • Your protein can work better for you, if you choose high-quality sources to help ensure you get all the essential amino acids you need. Don’t forget to include high-quality protein with breakfast- many people skip this important meal altogether!
  • If you are planning meals with less meat, include high-quality protein such as that found in milk, cheese, yogurt or whey as a convenient way to help younger the essential amino acids your body needs.

Did You Know?
In addition to protein dairy foods (milk, cheese, and yogurt) are important sources of calcium, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, vitamins A, D and B12 and riboflavin in the U.S. diet.
Dairy proteins are high-quality proteins that can help build and repair your muscles following a hard workout.
Diets high in protein have been shown to help slow muscle loss that occurs as you get older, help curb hunger and help maintain a healthy weight. 

Protein in Common Foods (grams)

Milk/ 1 c. / 8-10 grams/Choose low-fat or fat free varieties including flavored or lactose free items.
Cheese/ 1.5 oz. / 9-11 grams/ Choose reduced-fat or low-fat cheese
Cottage Cheese/ ½ c. / 13 grams/ Choose low-fat varieties
Greek-Style Yogurt/ 6oz. / 14-18 grams/ Choose low-fat varieties
Traditional yogurt/ 6oz. / 5-7 grams/ Choose low-fat varieties
Lean beef/ 3oz. / 22-27 grams/ Choose cuts with round or loin in the name, such as sirloin, round tip, tenderloin and top round
Learn pork/ 3oz. / 24-26 grams/ Choose cuts with loin in the name, such as tenderloin, top loin and Canadian bacon.
Lean poultry/ 3oz. / 25-26 grams/ Choose breast meat and remove the skin before eating.
Seafood and fresh water fish/ 3oz. / 18-22 grams
Eggs/ 1 Large/ 6 grams
Beans/ ½ c. / 7-8 grams/ Choose beans such as kidney or pinto
Nuts/ 1oz. / 6-8 grams
Peanut Butter/ 2tbsp. / 8 grams
Tofu/ 3oz. / 6 grams

Get recipes that include protein at and

The Healthy Lunchtime Challenge Cookbook

54 Winning Recipes from America's Junior Chefs

Garden Stir-Fry
Kaitlyn Kirchner, 9

½ cup low-sodium chicken broth
½ tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon reduced-sodium wheat-free soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1 cup chopped broccoli
1 ¼ cups chopped yellow squash
1 ¼ cups carrots, cut into matchsticks
1 ¼ cups sugar snap peas
1 cup sliced onion
1 cup sliced red bell pepper

In a medium bowl, whisk together the chicken broth, cornstarch, and soy sauce. Set aside. In a wok or sauté pan over moderately high heat warm the sesame oil. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for 1 minute. Add the broccoli, squash, carrots, sugar snap peas, onion, and bell pepper and cook until tender, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the soy sauce mixture, reduce the heat to moderate, and continue cooking until the sauce is thickened.
100 calories; 3g protein; 15g carbohydrates; 4g fat (1g saturated fat); 215mg sodium