What Can a Child with Diabetes Eat?

What can my child eat? This is probably the most common question I get from parents of newly diagnosed children with type 1 diabetes. So what’s the answer I give?


So hear me out. I know people shudder when they hear that. According to the ADA guidelines for treating children with type 1 diabetes, the goal is to teach carbohydrate counting and adjusting the insulin doses based on carbs, using a carb factor.  If a child eats a higher carb food such as a piece of cake, more insulin is given.

In the beginning, when a child is diagnosed with diabetes, the parents are overwhelmed. Suddenly, their world consists of having to remember to check their child’s blood sugar before eating, determining an insulin dosage based on the blood sugar, learn to count carbs and give a dose for the carbs, watch EVERYTHING the child eats, learn to treat high and low blood sugars, plus much more. A new diagnosis is an extremely high stress time.

How to decrease the stress:

To decrease the stress in the beginning, I recommend continuing to eat the same as before, with the goal of counting the carbs in the food. Rather than have to overhaul everything they are doing in the beginning, when parents are so stressed, I keep the food the same. Plus, we don’t want them to suddenly decrease the carb intake while we figure out the insulin doses. If we give doses based on eating very little carbs, then suddenly when they get tired of it and they begin eating more, it can cause high blood sugars.

But healthier is better.

Healthy eating is for ALL kids, not kids with diabetes. The children in the United States eat an alarming amount of sugar and junk foods. In the beginning when I was working with children, I assumed most families ate the way my family did. I usually cook meals most nights and we tend to have a meat, a carb side like potatoes/rice/pasta, and a vegetable, with some fruits occaionally. We rarely tend to eat bread unless the focus of the meal is a sandwich type food. We tend to only drink water and milk. (I only buy soda if we are having some type of church youth group function at our house)

I assumed others tended to eat that way but I have been very surprised. Many families rarely cook vegetables. Many families eat out several times a week, and some even daily. Many families drink sodas, Kool-Aid,  and sweet drinks throughout the day. They eat pop-tart or donuts with Coke for breakfast.

So, for those types of families, after they are feeling more calm and secure in treating diabetes, I will begin suggesting a healthier diet. Not necessarily to change the blood sugars, but just to have a healthier diet for other reasons, such as long-term heart health, less ADD/ADHD symptoms, risk of obesity, and the overall health risks to anyone eating junk.

Some people have few cooking skills, and I may suggest SunBasket, an awesome meal home delivery service with easy recipes and instructions to help them learn cooking skills. I also recommend a meal planning service like Super Healthy Kids menus, where you get a weekly meal plan with recipes, shopping lists, prep videos and more all designed for kids.

This approach of covering the carbs in foods and letting the child not feel like he can’t do what his friends do, helps decrease cheating. Here’s an article on cheating with food if you need help with that.

Action step: How is your family eating? If you need to start eating better, think about how you can start adding healthier options. If you need help, check out the options above! Leave a comment below on how you eat healthier!

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Author: Carol

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