Healthy Children - February 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.



Is a Vegetarian Diet Healthy for Children?

So your child tells you she wants to be a vegetarian. Now what? Is it just a phase? Is it safe?

“We’re seeing more kids trying to be vegetarians, particularly teen girls, as sort of a trendy thing,” says Tara Todd, a registered dietitian at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “Food is the one thing kids at this age can control. Sometimes wanting to be a vegetarian is a phase that passes for some children, while others are more committed to it.”

Todd says vegetarians can achieve a healthy diet as long as it’s carefully planned and balanced, especially for growing bodies.

“It’s OK to be a vegetarian as long as kids choose a healthy substitute for meat and will eat enough fruits and vegetables,” Todd says. “But kids need to fully understand what’s involved with being a good vegetarian. If they’re not doing it well, they should see a dietitian. Children and teens are in a time of growing, and they need balanced nutrition.”

When Todd meets with children, she asks them what kind of vegetarian they want to be and how they plan to fill the voids. For example, if they’re eliminating dairy from their diets, they need to know other ways to get calcium and vitamin D into their diets.

“We lay out what their vitamin and mineral needs are and make sure they’re getting them,” she says.

A vegetarian diet requires finding healthy alternate iron and protein sources.

“The problem with teens is that if they’re not eating meat for protein, they often choose cheese instead,” Todd says. “But cheese is high in saturated fat and calories. Yet when I suggest beans, legumes, nuts, tofu and tempeh for protein, they don’t always like those options.”

Offering a “Happy Medium” Option

Children who become vegetarians because they believe eating meat is cruel to animals are generally more committed to a restricted vegetarian diet. But for those who are following more of a trend or eating less meat for health reasons, Todd tries to steer them toward becoming a “flexitarian.”

“Being a flexitarian is the new big thing where people have a goal of eating less red meat and more plant-based foods each week. This happy medium is often a better option for teens than a strict vegetarian diet. Most teens are not great fruit and vegetable eaters and often have poor diets overall, so until they get used to eating a more plant-based diet, I recommend giving them a multivitamin.”

As a rule of thumb, Todd advises parents to choose a complete vitamin with 100 percent of the RDI (recommended daily intake) of vitamins and minerals for their children.

Adapting As a Family

An additional hurdle when a child decides to become a vegetarian is adapting meals as a family.

“Parents often come to dietitians at wit's end,” Todd says. “Parents shouldn’t have to make two separate dinners for the family. The key is to be supportive, but don’t let the vegetarian run the show. Teens should help make being a vegetarian easier on the family by buying vegetarian cookbooks and helping to plan and prepare meals. Parents and kids need to meet in the middle and make it easy on the cook. For example, Morningstar Farms® makes a meat substitute to use like ground beef in spaghetti or other recipes that everyone can enjoy.”



Meal Deal

Eating good food with others brings joy to life. Sharing mealtime with children creates close bonds and lifelong memories. At family meals children learn about healthful eating by watching others.

To help our family enjoy eating together, I will:

  • Serve meals and snacks at regular times.
  • Offer my child healthy foods and drinks.
  • Help my child come to the table for meals and snacks.
  • Make mealtimes happy times when we talk with each other and laugh together.
  • Let my child choose what foods and how much to eat.


Signature __________________________________________ Date ___________________


The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides nutrition assistance to people with low income. It can help you buy nutritious foods for a better diet. To find out more, contact 1-800-342-3009.This material was funded by USDA’s SNAP. FNS/USDA reserves a royalty-free non-exclusive license to reproduce, publish, use or authorize others to use all videos or literature including copyrighted items resulting from this project. In accordance with Federal law and USDA policy, this institution is prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, religion, political beliefs or disability. To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20250-9410 or call (800) 795-3272 (voice) or (202) 720-6382 (TTY). USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.



What Counts as a Cup?

One cup refers to a common measuring cup (the kind used in recipes). In general, 1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables or 100% vegetable juice, or 2 cups of raw leafy greens can be considered as 1 cup from the vegetable group. One cup of fruit or 100% fruit juice, or ½ cup of dried fruit can be considered as 1 cup from the fruit group.

Below shows simple ways to enjoy fruits and vegetable throughout the day, with corresponding cup amounts. See more examples of what counts as 1 cup or 1/2 cup of fruits and vegetables below.

1 cup: 1 small apple
½ cup: 1 small banana
½ cup: 1 cup of lettuce* and 1/2 cup of other vegetables
½ cup: 6 baby carrots
1 cup: 1/2 large sweet potato and 1/2 cup of green beans
½ cup: 16 grapes

*1 cup of lettuce counts as 1/2 cup of vegetables

In addition to fruits and vegetables, a healthful diet also includes whole grains, fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, lean meats, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs and nuts, and is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt, and added sugars.

More Examples - 1 cup
1 small apple
1 large banana
1 medium grapefruit
1 large orange
1 medium pear
1 small wedge watermelon
2 large or 3 medium plums
8 large strawberries
1 large bell pepper
1 medium potato
2 large stalks of celery
1 cup cooked greens or 2 cups raw (spinach, collards, mustard greens, turnip greens)
12 baby carrots
2 medium carrots
1 large sweet potato
1 large ear of corn
More Examples - ½ cup
1 snack container of applesauce (4oz)
16 grapes
1 medium cantaloupe wedge
½ medium grapefruit
4 large strawberries
5 broccoli florets
6 baby carrots
1 large plum
1 small box (1/4 cup) of raisins



Whole Wheat Pumpkin Muffins

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
3 tablespoons sugar (or Splenda)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 beaten egg (or egg substitute)
3/4 cup skim milk
2 tablespoons butter, melted (or applesauce)
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
Cooking spray
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
2. Spray 12 2-1/2 inch muffin cups with nonstick cooking spray. Dust with flour and set aside.
3. In a large bowl, stir together dry ingredients and make a well in center of flour mixture.
4. In a small bowl, combine egg, milk and butter and then stir in pumpkin.
5. Add pumpkin mixture all at once to flour mixture and stir until just moistened (batter should be lumpy).
6. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling about 2/3 full.
7. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean.
8. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Remove from muffin cups. Serve warm.

Source: Whole Foods Market



Eat Right

Staying at a healthy weight is about making sure that you and your family keep an energy balance. Energy is another word for "calories." What you eat and drink is ENERGY IN. What you burn through physical activity is ENERGY OUT.

The same amount of ENERGY IN (calories consumed) and ENERGY OUT (calories burned) over time = weight stays the same

More IN than OUT over time = weight gain

More OUT than IN over time = weight loss

The best way to make sure your energy equation is balanced is to make better choices before you or your family even picks up that fork—or tips that glass to your lips—by making sure to:

  • Choose foods that are lower in fat and have fewer calories
  • Shop “smart” at the grocery store by learning to read the Nutrition Facts Label on packaged foods, and identifying other, more nutritious foods.
  • Use the GO, SLOW, and WHOA foods chart to help identify foods that are good for you (GO), food that you can eat in moderation (SLOW), and foods that should only be eaten rarely, or on special occasions (WHOA).
  • Share the children’s version of the GO, SLOW, and WHOA chart—called U R What U Eat—with your family. Use it to help them understand which foods are better for them.


Review Dietary Guidelines

  • Check out the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Published every five years by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, these guidelines can help you build good dietary habits that can reduce your risk of major chronic diseases.
  • Explore some sample eating plans. These plans—the USDA Food Guide and the DASH Eating Plan—help you figure out how much of each food group (e.g., fruits, vegetables, grains, meats) you need to be eating each day.


Cook smart

  • Read about some easy substitutions that can help you make great recipes healthier by using lower fat or lower calorie ingredients—they’ll be better for you but will still taste great.


Eat smaller portions

  • Consider that in many cases, the amount of food that appears on your plate in a restaurant has nearly doubled over the past 20 years. And that’s affected the way we look at and serve food at home, too. Learn more about what we call “portion distortion,” and about the difference between a portion and a serving.


Make better choices when you eat out

  • Be careful when eating out, too. Just eat smaller portions and try to identify items on the menu that are lower in fat and calories. And don’t forget you can always ask for a healthier substitution.


Know your calories

  • Remember that whether they come from a soda, sweet potato, or a steak, they’re still calories. And calories count. Read more about calories from fat and sugar.



Help Your Overweight Teen “Get Fit”

Many people do not like exercise. This is especially true for overweight teens.

  • Increased weight makes moving difficult.
  • They are often self-conscious about their body. Wearing exercise clothes is embarrassing.
  • They do not exercise on a regular basis. As a result, they can only stand a small amount of exercise at a time.
  • They are often the victims of bullying. It is why may do not exercise or tryout for any team sports. Instead, they tend to stay at home.


Many overweight kids do not feel naturally athletic. Still, you can help your overweight teen be more physically active. Get your teen to move. It may not start with exercise.

  • Persuade your teen to get out of the house. Instead of exercising, encourage her to take a class at the local college. It could be art or photography. She gets exercise as she walks from the car to her class. Encourage her to join a drama group. Acting or painting scenes gets her moving. For extra fun, she could take a friend.
  • Start with an easy activity for a small amount of time. Walk 5 minutes a day. Increase the walking time by 1 minute every other day. Do the activity with him.
  • Find an activity that does not take extra skill. She could bike, swim or shoot hoops.
  • Encourage exercise at home. Exercise between video games or during TV ads. Gradually decrease TV and screen time to no more than 2 hours a day.
  • Consider strength training at home. He could life weights or use resistance bands. Doing these exercises 3 times a week can lower his body fat and increase muscle and strength. Consult his doctor first.
  • Make a chart of new activities and minutes spent in each activity or exercises. Let your teen see her progress on a chart.


The CDC tells us that kids who are physically fit and active often do better in school than those who are not active. Exercise boosts learning and memory. It also:

  • Promotes better sleep.
  • Improves concentration and behavior.
  • Makes bones stronger.
  • Helps with weigh control.
  • Relieves stress and anxiety.
  • Boosts mood.


Parent Help Line 217-544-5808 in Springfield or toll-free 1-888-727-5889 |