Healthy Children - June 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. 

Taking Care: Handling and Preparing Food Safely

Foodborne pathogens are sneaky. Food that appears completely fine can contain pathogens – disease-causing bacteria, viruses, or parasites – that can make you sick. You should never taste food to determine if it is safe to eat.

As a person with an illness, it is especially important that you – or those preparing your food – are always careful with food handling and preparation. The easiest ways to do this is to Check Your Steps – clean, separate, cook, and chill – from the Food Safe Families Campaign.

Four Basic Steps to Food Safety:

  1. Clean: Wash your hands and surfaces often. Bacteria can spread throughout the kitchen and get onto cutting boards, utensils, counter tops, and food.

To ensure that your hands and surfaces are clean, be sure to:

  • Wash your hands in warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food and after using the bathroom, changing diapers, or handling pets.
  • Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and counter tops with hot soapy water between the preparation of raw meat, poultry, and seafood products and preparation of any other food that will not be cooked. As an added precaution, sanitize cutting boards and countertops by rinsing them in a solution made of one tablespoon of unscented liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water, or, as an alternative, you may run the plastic board through the wash cycle in your automatic dishwasher.
  • Use paper towels to clean up kitchen surfaces. If using cloth towels, you should wash them often in the hot cycle of the washing machine.
  • Wash produce. Rinse fruits and vegetables, and rub firm-skin fruits and vegetables under running tap water, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten.
  • With canned goods: remember to clean lids before opening.
  1. Separate: Don’t cross-contaminate. Cross-contamination occurs when bacteria are spread from one food product to another. This is especially common when handling raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs. The key is to keep these foods – and their juices – away from ready-to-eat foods.

To prevent cross-contamination, remember to:

  • Separate raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs from other foods in your grocery-shopping cart, grocery bags, and in your refrigerator.
  • Never place cooked food on a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs without first washing the plate with hot soapy water.
  • Don’t reuse marinades used on raw foods unless you bring them to a boil first.
  • Consider using one cutting board only for raw foods and another only for ready-to-eat foods, such as bread, fresh fruits and vegetables, and cooked meat.
  1. Cook: Cook to safe temperatures. Foods are safely cooked when they are heated to the USDA-FDA recommended safe minimum internal temperatures, as shown on the “Is It Done Yet?” chart.

To ensure that your foods are cooked safely, always:

  • Use a food thermometer to measure the internal temperature of cooked foods. Check the internal temperature in several places to make sure that the meat, poultry, seafood, or egg product is cooked to safe minimum internal temperatures.
  • Cooked ground beef to at least 160° F and ground poultry to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165° Color of food is not a reliable indicator of safety or doneness.
  • Reheat fully cooked hams packaged at a USDA-inspected plant to 140° For fully cooked ham that has been repackaged in any other location or for leftover fully cooked ham, heat to 165° F.
  • Cooked seafood to 145° Cook shrimp, lobster, and crab until they turn red and the flesh is nearly opaque. Cook clams, mussels, and oysters until the shells open. If the shells do not open, do not eat the seafood inside.
  • Cook eggs until the yolks and whites are firm. Use only recipes in which the eggs are cooked or heated to 160°
  • Cook all raw beef, lamb, pork, and veal steaks, roasts, and chops to 145° F with a 3-minute rest time after removal from the heat source.
  • Bring sauces, soups, and gravy to a boil when reheating. Heat other leftovers to 165°
  • Reheat hot dogs, luncheon meats, bologna, and other deli meats until steaming hot or 165°
  • When cooking in a microwave oven, cover food, stir, and rotate for even cooking. If there is no turntable, rotate the dish by hand once or twice during cooking. Always allow standing time, which completes the cooking, before checking the internal temperature with a food thermometer. Food is done when it reaches the USDA-FDA recommended safe minimum internal temperature.
  1. Chill: refrigerate promptly. Cold temperatures slow the growth of harmful bacteria. Keeping a constant refrigerator temperature of 40° F or below is one of the most effective ways to reduce risk of foodborne illness. Use an appliance thermometer to be sure the refrigerator temperature is consistently 40° F or below and the freezer temperature is 0° F or below.

To chill foods properly:

  • Refrigerate or freeze meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, and other perishables within 2 hours of cooking or purchasing. Refrigerate within 1 hour if the temperature outside is about 90°
  • Never thaw food at room temperature, such as on the countertop. It is safe to thaw food in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave. If you thaw food in cold water or in the microwave, you should cook it immediately.
  • Divide large amounts of food into shallow containers for quicker cooling in the refrigerator.

Smart Menu Choices

Higher Risk: Lower Risk:
Soft cheese made from unpasteurized (raw) milk. Hard or processed cheeses. Soft cheeses only if they are from pasteurized milk.
Refrigerated smoked seafood and raw or undercooked seafood. Fully cooked fish or seafood.
Cold or improperly heated hot dogs. Hot dogs reheated to steaming hot.
Sandwiches with cold deli or luncheon meat. Grilled sandwiches in which the meat or poultry is heated until steaming.
Raw or undercooked fish, such as sashimi, or non-vegetarian sushi. Fully cooked fish that is firm and flaky.
Soft-boiled or “over-easy” eggs, as the yolks are not fully cooked. Fully cooked eggs with firm yolks and whites.
Salads, wraps, or sandwiches containing raw (uncooked) or lightly cooked sprouts. Salads, wraps, or sandwiches containing cooked sprouts.

Tips for Transporting Food

  • Keep cold food cold, at 40° F or below. To be safest, place cold food in cooler with ice or frozen gel packs. Use plenty of ice or frozen get packs. Cold foods should be 40° F or below the entire time you are transporting it.
  • Hot food should be kept hot at 140° F or above. Wrap the food well and place in an insulated container.

Stay “Food Safe” When Traveling Internationally

Discuss your travel plans with your physician before traveling to other countries. Your physician may have specific recommendations for the places you are visiting, may suggest extra precautions or medications to take on your travels.

For more information about safe food and water while traveling abroad, access the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site at

Foodborne illness: Know the symptoms

Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself in a situation where you suspect you have a foodborne illness. Foodborne illness often presents itself with flu-like symptoms.

These symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever


Safe drinking water

  • After an emergency, especially after flooding, drinking water may not be available or safe to drink.
  • Do not use water you suspect or have been told is unsafe to wash dishes, brush teeth, wash and prepare food, make ice, or make baby formula.
  • Alcohol dehydrates the body, which increases the need for drinking water.
  • Floods and other disasters can damage drinking water wells and lead to aquifer and well contamination. Floodwaters can contaminate well water with livestock waste, human sewage, chemicals, and other contaminants, which can lead to illness when used for drinking, bathing, and other hygiene activities.
  • If your water comes from a private well that has been flooded, consider the following guidelines for making water safe and for emergency water sources until you are certain your water is free of contaminants and safe to drink.

Make water safe

  • Water often can be made safe to drink by boiling, adding disinfectants, or filtering.

Feeding infants and young children when your tap water is unsafe

  • Breastfed infants should continue breastfeeding. For formula-fed infants, use ready-to-feed formula if possible. If using ready-to-feed formula is not possible, it is best to use bottled water to prepare powdered or concentrated formula when the tap water is unsafe. If bottled water is not available, check with the local authorities to learn the status of your drinking water to see if boiling it will make it safe to drink. Use treated water to prepare formula only if you do not have bottled or boiled water.
  • If water is contaminated with a chemical, boiling it will not remove the chemical or make it safe to consume.
  • If you prepare infant formula with boiled water, let the formula cool sufficiently before giving it to an infant. Put a couple drops of formula on the back of your hand to see if it is too hot.
  • Clean feeding bottles with bottled, boiled or treated water before each use. Throw away baby bottle nipples or pacifiers that have been in contact with flood waters; they cannot be sanitized.
  • Wash your hands before preparing formula and before feeding an infant. You can use alcohol-based hand sanitizer is water is limited or unsafe.

Clean and sanitize food-contact surfaces that have been flooded. Throw out wooden cutting boards, baby bottle nipples, and pacifiers if they have come into contact with floodwaters because they cannot be properly sanitized. Clean and sanitize food-contact surfaces in a four-step process:

  • Wash with soap and hot, clean water.
  • Rinse with clean water.
  • Sanitize by immersing for 1 minute in a solution of 1 cup of unscented household chlorine bleach in 5 gallons of clean water.
  • Allow to air dry.

Add more vegetables to your day!

It is easy to eat more vegetables! Eating vegetables is important because they provide vitamins and minerals and more are low in calories. To fit more vegetables in your day, try them as snacks and add them to your meals.

  1. Discover fast ways to cook. Cook fresh or frozen vegetables in the microwave for a quick-and-easy dish to add to any meal. Steam green beans, carrots, or bok choy in a bowl with a small amount of water in the microwave for a quick side dish.
  2. Be ahead of the game. Cut up a batch of bell peppers, cauliflower, or broccoli. Pre-package them to use when time is limited. Enjoy them in a casserole, stir-fry, or as a snack with hummus.
  3. Choose vegetables rich in color. Brighten your plate with vegetables that are red, orange, or dark green. They are full of vitamins and minerals. Try acorn squash, cherry tomatoes, sweet potatoes, or collard greens. They not only taste great but are good for you, too.
  4. Check the freezer aisle. Frozen vegetables are quick and easy to use and are just as nutritious as fresh veggies. Try adding frozen vegetables, such as corn, peas, edamame, or spinach, to your favorite dish. Look for frozen vegetables without added sauces, gravies, butter, or cream.
  5. Stack up on veggies. Canned vegetables are a great addition to any meal, so keep on hand canned tomatoes, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, mushrooms, and beets. Select those labeled as “reduced sodium,” “low sodium,” or “no salt added.”
  6. Make your garden salad glow with color. Brighten your salad by using colorful vegetables such as black beans or avocadoes, sliced red bell peppers or onions, shredded radishes or carrots, and chopped red cabbage or watercress. Your salad will not only look good but taste good, too.
  7. Sip on some vegetable soup. Heat it and eat it. Try tomato, butternut squash, or garden vegetable soup. Look for reduced- or low-sodium soups. Make your own soups with a low-sodium broth and your favorite vegetables.
  8. While you’re out. If dinner is away from home, no need to worry. When ordering, ask for an extra side of vegetables or a side salad instead of the typical fried side dish. Ask for toppings and dressings on the side.
  9. Savor the flavor of seasonal vegetables. Buy vegetables that are in season for maximum flavor at a lower cost. Check your local supermarket specials for the best in-season buys. Or visit your local farmers market.
  10. Vary your veggies. Choose a new vegetable that you’ve never tried before.

Screen Time

“Screen time” - it’s a buzz term you might have heard before. But what exactly is it? And why does it matter for children’s health? Read on for the answers to these questions and more!

The term “screen time” means time spent watching television or movies, playing video games, surfing the internet and so on. It includes any time viewing media on a cell phone, tablet, computer, television, movie screen, and other devices. These days, children are spending a lot of time in front of screens. Unfortunately, too much screen time is bad for kids’ health and development.

One reason to limit screen time is that it encourages kids to sit still. Kids are meant to be active! Physical activity helps kids to be more fit, grow strong muscles and bones, be at a healthy weight, and have a lower chance of developing health conditions like heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. When children have more screen time in early care and education, they are less active.

There are other reasons to watch out for screen time. Too much screen time is linked with slower learning and development of skills, poorer sleep, and worse social and emotional health. When children are in front of screens, they are not playing, exploring, actively learning, or interacting with other children and adults.

Yet another reason to be aware of screen time is advertising. In the United States, young people see up to 30,000 television advertisements every year, and a lot of those ads are for unhealthy foods and drinks. Advertisements are also online, showing up in videos and near web content. The more of these types of ads children see, the more likely they are to become obese. When kids have obesity, they are at higher risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, asthma, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and more.

So, how much screen time is TOO MUCH? Great question!

  • For children two years of age and younger, no screen time is best (except for video-calling with relatives).
  • Children ages two to five should get no more than one-hour total per day (at early care and education and at home combined).

When kids do have screen time, the content should be high-quality, educational, and without any advertising. An adult should also watch with them, to help kids understand and apply what they are seeing.

What parents can do

  • Set time limits on screen time at home (remember, your kids may be getting screen time outside of the home, too).
  • Create “screen-free” spaces or times.
    • Try being “screen-free” in the bedrooms, and during meals and family time.
    • To help children sleep well, make sure screens are off at least one hour before bedtime.
  • Turn screens off when they are not being used.
  • Do not use screen time to reward good behavior or punish bad behavior.
  • Use the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Media Plan and Calculator tools to plan for screen time at home - both are available for free online!
  • Ask your early care and education provider to limit screen time.

What early care and education settings can do

  • Set limits on screen time to match recommendations (remember, kids, are probably getting screen time at home, too).
  • Use the Go NAPSACC Screen Time Self-Assessment to figure out your strengths, where you have room for growth, and to make an action plan to improve!
  • The Illinois Public Health Institute (IPHI) administers Go NAPSACC in partnership with the Illinois Department of Public Health. Contact your local Child Care Resource and Referral agency, University of Illinois Extension office or IPHI at (312) 786-5362 to see if free technical assistance is available near you.