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Type 1 Diabetes and Your Child: Meals and Snacks

People with type 1 diabetes were once told that they couldn’t eat certain foods. This is no longer true. There aren't any foods that people with diabetes can't eat. Your child can eat the same foods as the rest of the family. But you and your child will have to balance the foods he or she eats with the correct amount of insulin. Insulin helps keep your child’s blood sugar from going too high after meals. Healthier food choices also help control blood sugar. So help your child make smarter food choices. This will help your child stay healthy now and in the future.

What is a meal plan?

A dietitian will help you make a meal plan. A meal plan helps you decide what kinds of foods your child can eat for meals and snacks. It also tells you how much food (how many servings) your child can eat. Following the meal plan is important. It helps manage your child’s blood sugar. Try to stick to the same schedules for meals and snacks. Then you can best control your child’s blood sugar level. Of course, this won't always be possible. So the meal plan should be flexible. You should be able to make adjustments. The meal plan will also need to be changed as your child grows.

Understanding carbohydrates   

Different foods affect blood sugar in different ways. Foods high in carbohydrates (carbs) raise blood sugar quicker than other foods. This is why you must keep track of the carbs that your child eats. Carbohydrates are in fruit. They're also in starchy foods. These include potatoes, corn, and beans. Carbohydrates are in a lot of foods. So they can be hard to keep track of. You may even be tempted to cut them out of your child’s diet altogether. But carbs play a key role in your child’s health. They are the body’s main source of energy. Your child’s healthcare team may teach you about carb counting. This is a precise way of counting how many carbs your child is eating each day. One serving of a starch, fruit, or dairy product counts as 1 carb. Each carb choice is about 15 grams of carbohydrate. The team will also teach you about portion sizes, food groups, and how each food affects blood sugar.

Carb-counting tips

You, your child, and his or her teachers will need to keep track of the amount of carbohydrates eaten for each meal and snack. This information is important. It helps you, your child, or his or her teachers balance the amount of carbs eaten with the correct amount of insulin. Help your child and others manage your child’s blood sugar by doing the following:  

  • Let your child help measure food. This helps your child learn about portion sizes.

  • Write down the amount of carbs of each food on the wrapper of each food. Or write it on a napkin or separate piece of paper. Then stick it into the lunchbox or bag. If your child uses a smartphone, see if there are apps that may be used to track carbs.

  • Include snack times on a napkin or piece of paper. Put this into the lunchbox or bag.

  • Write down the amount of carbs of each meal on your child’s school lunch menu.

Reading food labels

Pay attention to food labels. The information on them will help you choose healthy foods that make managing your child’s blood sugar easier. Look for the Nutrition Facts label on packaged foods. This label tells you how many carbs and how much sugar, fat, and fiber are in each serving. Then you can decide if the food fits your child’s meal plan.

  • Serving size. This number is very important. It tells you how much of the food makes up a single serving. If you eat more than 1 serving, all other numbers also increase. This includes calories and carbohydrates.

  • Total carbs. This number tells you how much carbohydrate is in each serving. If you are carb counting, this number will help you fit the food into your child’s meal plan. Also, keep in mind the number of servings your child eats. If he or she eats 2 servings, you’ll need to double the amount of carbohydrates listed on the box. This helps you give your child the correct amount of insulin.

  • Sugars. This number includes both natural and added sugars. Sugars count as part of your child’s carb intake. They are included in the total carbohydrate number on the label. So don’t add up the amount of sugar separately when figuring out how much insulin to give your child. Just take into consideration the amount of carbs when preparing insulin.

  • Fat. This number tells you the total amount of fat in each serving. Watch out for saturated fats. These raise cholesterol. Limit fats, especially if your child is trying to lose weight.

  • Trans fat. This number tells you if the food includes trans fat. Liquid oils made into a solid fat, such as margarine, have a lot of trans fat. Trans fat is bad for the heart. Try to stay away from foods that have trans fat.

  • Dietary fiber. This number tells you how much of the carbohydrate in the food is fiber. Foods high in fiber are healthy. They also help keep blood sugar levels steady.

Learning portion sizes

Portion control is an important part of healthy eating. How much food your child eats affects his or her blood sugar. Your child’s healthcare team can show you how to measure the right amount of food for meals and snacks. Until you learn what portion sizes look like, use measuring cups and spoons. This helps you to be sure portions are accurate.

Food for thought

These tips can make things easier on you and your child:

  • Try not to be the “food police.” You want your child to eat healthy foods. But try not to put too much pressure on him or her. This will only make your child more likely to want to stray from the meal plan.

  • Stock up on healthy snacks. If your child is active, he or she may need a snack before, during, and after the activity. Bring snacks to sports events and activities. Snacks help maintain your child’s blood sugar during exercise.

  • Be positive. Acknowledge and support your child's efforts. Teach your child about healthy eating . Give him or her age-appropriate control over healthy food choices.

Resources

For more information about diabetes, visit these websites:

  • American Diabetes Association www.diabetes.org

  • Children with Diabetes www.childrenwithdiabetes.org

  • Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation www.jdrf.org

 

This sheet does not give all the information you need to care for your child with diabetes. Ask your child’s healthcare team for more information.

Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Robert Hurd MD
Date Last Reviewed: 7/1/2016
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