Healthy Children - May 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. 

Eating Foods Away from Home

10 tips for eating out

Restaurants, convenience and grocery stores, or fast-food places offer a variety of options when eating out. But larger portions and too many extras can make it difficult to stay within your calorie needs. 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 for dressing on the side and use a small amount of it.
  3. share a main dish
    Divide a 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 options are usually filled with vegetables. Order options without creamy sauces or heavy gravies and select fruits for 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
  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 breads, rolls, and pasta when choosing, sandwiches, burgers, or main dishes
  10. quit the “clean your plate club”
    When you’ve eaten enough food, leave the rest. Take leftovers home in a container and chill in the refrigerator right away.

At-Home Tools for Sleeping

Did you know? . . .Getting too little sleep may lead to chemical changes in the brain that cause individuals to feel hungrier and eat more.

Quiet Bedtime Activities:

  • Read favorite books together
  • Give a backrub
  • Stretch gently
  • Keep bedroom comfortable, quiet, and dark

Sleep Books:

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
Time to Sleep by Denise Fleming
Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann

New Sleep Words to Use:

  1. Tired
  2. Sleep
  3. Nap
  4. Rest
  5. Bed

Bedtime Snack Ideas:

  • Cup of warm fat-free milk
  • Banana Slices
  • 2 Slices of toast
  • Cup of applesauce with cinnamon sprinkled on top

Save More at the Grocery Store

10 tips to stretch your food dollar

  1. Find deals right under your nose
    Look for coupons with your receipt, as peel-offs on items, and on signs along aisle shelves.
  2. Search for coupons
    Many stores still send ads and coupons for promotion, so don’t overlook that so-called “junk mail.” You can also do a Web search for “coupons.” Go through your coupons at least once a month and toss out any expired ones.
  3. Look for savings in newspaper
    Brand name coupons are found as inserts in the paper every Sunday – except on holiday weekends. Some stores will double the value of brand name coupons on certain days.
  4. Join your store’s loyalty program
    Sign up is usually free and you can receive savings and electronic coupons when you provide your email address.
  5. Buy when foods are on sale
    Maximize your savings by using coupons on sale items. You may find huge deals such as “buy one get one free”
  6. Find out if the store will match competitors’ coupons
    Many stores will accept coupons, as long as they are for the same item. Check with the customer service desk for further details.
  7. Stay organized so coupons are easy to find
    Sort your coupons either by item or in alphabetical order. Develop a system that’s easiest for you and make finding coupons quick and hassle-free. Ideals for coupon storage include 3-ring binders, accordion-style organizers, or plain envelopes.
  8. Find a coupon buddy
    Swap coupons you won’t use with a friend. You can get rid of clutter and discover additional discounts.
  9. Compare brands
    Store brands can be less expensive than some of the name brand foods. Compare the items to find better prices.
  10. Stick to the list
    Make a shopping list for all the items you need. Keep a running list on your phone, on the refrigerator, or in a wallet. When you’re in the store, do your best to buy only the items on your list.  

The Not-So-Sweet Scoop on Sugar

As parents, we make hundreds of decisions daily about what we feed our children and ourselves. We think about schedules, budgets, food preferences and what is best for health and growth of our children. When we hear about new nutrition information, how do we apply that information along with all the other things we have to consider?

Sugar is one example. The new USDA recommendation is that we limit added sugar in our diet to no more than 10% of our daily calories. This amount will depend on our age and physical activity level, but the average is between 60 and 10 teaspoons for moderately active school-aged children and adults. The average American currently consumes at least double that amount with 23 teaspoons consumed per day.

How many of us have had the experience where an unhappy child was soothed with some sweet treat? Our taste for sweets is part of our biology. Sweet foods have energy that our bodies need to function. In fact, many healthy foods such as fruits, grains, and milk have natural sugars along with nutrients they provide. However, our modern world is over flowing with processed foods that have huge amounts of added sugar. Many of these foods have empty calories from sugar, or calories that do not provide our body with any necessary nutrients. Our bodies are overwhelmed by too much sugar and too many calories and this contributes to long term health problems like obesity, diabetes, and other chronic conditions.

So what decisions can we make to cut back on added sugars in our diets? One place to start is with beverages. A 12 oz. can of soda has about 10 teaspoons of sugar. That is about the recommended limit for our whole day! The following tips are other ways we can enjoy foods without all the added sugar.

  • Drink water, low-fat milk, or calorie free flavored water.
  • Prepare fruits for a sweet alternative to packaged desserts or baked goods. For the kids: cut and arrange fruits to make flowers, animals or other fun shapes. For adults: add nuts, cinnamon or unsweetened coconut flakes to liven up the flavor.
  • Read labels to find packaged foods with less sugar. Yogurt is a healthy choice, but some flavored yogurts can have as much added sugar as a soda. Instead get plain yogurt and add your own fresh or frozen fruits.
  • Cut back on sugar at breakfast. Read labels to find some breakfast cereals without as much added sugar. Ingredients are listed by weight. So if sugar falls at the top of the list, consider a different option.
  • Save desserts and other sweet treats for special occasions, not everyday meals.

contributed by Sherri Ambrose, MS Nutrition  University of Illinois Extension Educator

Walking Activity Card - Gear Up!

Shoes are the most important part of your walking gear. Good walking shoes are generally flat, but flexible, so your foot rolls with each step. They should fit well, but leave enough room for your feet to spread out while talking. Wear socks that are comfortable. Try socks made of cotton or other sweat-wicking materials – they will keep your feet drier and help prevent blisters. Running shoes are okay to use for walking. Don’t forget to trade in the lode shoes when the treads start wearing out – which is about 500 miles. Whew!

Wear comfortable clothing when walking. Try to dress in layers, so you can always take off something as you warm up. Layering with a t-shirt, sweatshirt, or windproof jacket is a good idea if it’s windy or chilly outside.

Two other essentials: sunscreen and a hat. The sunscreen protects your skin from the sun. In the summer, a hat keeps the sun out of your face, and in the winter it helps to keep you warm by trapping the heat that is lost from the top of your head A bright colored hat will also make it easy for drivers to see and avoid you. Need to learn more about sun protection? Read here for more info!

It’s always best to walk where you can avoid traffic – like parks or even the mall! Or try to find an area where there are sidewalks. If you have to walk on a street without sidewalks, walk close to the curb facing traffic. Remember to cross the street only at marked crosswalks or at corners, keep your ears and eyes, open, and watch out for traffic in front and back of you. Wear bright-colored clothing or reflectors so drivers can see you. If you are walking alone, don’t wear headphones – if they are too loud, they can keep you from hearing any oncoming traffic. 

Water, water, water. It’s a good idea to drink some water before you head out to walk, while you are walking, and when you get back – even if it’s cold outside or you don’t feel thirsty. In the summer, late afternoon’s (not nights) and mornings are the best times to walk to avoid the midday heat and humidity. Read more about staying cool at

It is best to warm up your muscles before stretching them. So warm up for 5 minutes at an easy walking pace before stretching. Then stretch by starting at the top of your body and working your way down. Make sure to cool down and stretch after your walk too!

Remember – start out slowly and gradually increase the speed and distance you walk—don’t try walking a marathon your first time out! And no matter where you are walking, be aware of what is going on around you.

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 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 ready 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 the 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 snow man 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.