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The right diet for children with type 1 diabetes

diet for children with type 1 diabetes
beautiful schoolboy eating sandwich for lunch during recess time at school

The right diet for children with type 1 diabetes

Meal planning for children with type 1 diabetes can be a true practice in patience. With the varying degrees of literature and information out there, it can be challenging to understand the Do’s and Don’ts of proper nutrition. Although, naturally, there are some considerations to be aware of, most diets recommended for children with type 1 diabetes are the same healthy diet for children without the condition. Knowing this helps alleviate some of the stresses in making food, so when it’s time to prep that lunch or dinnertime meal you know it’s just a matter of following a few, basic rules. Here’s how it’s done!

Back to the basics

Instead of trying to build a “diabetic diet” handbook (which, at best, is an exhausting pursuit) focus on ensuring your child is getting a balanced diet, which means eating across each of the major food groups: vegetables and fruit, grain products, meat and alternatives, dairy and alternatives, as well as added oils and fats. Healthy eating is integral to a child’s development and growth and a child with diabetes is no different. Check out this article on basic menu planning for people with diabetes. 

Speaking of carbohydrates…

Carbohydrates raise your blood sugar levels faster than any other food, but they are important nutrients for your child because they supply glucose (aka: energy) needed for the body’s cells and brain functions. Your child’s body uses carbs to help him or her grow, walk and hit that jungle gym, while their brain uses it to develop, learn and respond. They are critical to health and well being but consumption also warrants a critical eye, as children with type 1 diabetes must manage their blood sugar levels.

You will need to balance the amount of insulin given to the amount of carbs eaten. There are two ways to do this. You can either use a consistent amount of insulin for a consistent amount of carbs eaten at a meal or snack. The amount of carbs will depend on your child’s age, gender and activity level. While the general recommendations range from 45 to 60 grams at each meal and 15 grams at each snack, each child has different needs so it’s best to consult with your doctor or registered dietitian (RD) to understand specific amounts. An alternative method is to adjust the amount of insulin based on the different amount of carbs eaten. A registered dietitian can help you find the best plan that will work for your child.

Check out this expert blog for more information on carb counting.

Snack Time

Most, if not all children need snacks. Kids are hungry often - they’re growing after all! -so to avoid between-meal hunger and perhaps a bit of grumpy behavior, snacks are a must. This is especially true for those with type 1 diabetes because they help ward off low blood glucose throughout the day. For great snack suggestions, click here!

High Sugar Foods to Avoid

It’s fairly obvious to say that any foods high in added sugar are not the healthiest choice for, well, anyone, but when a child has diabetes and eats these foods (think: jams, candy, soft drinks or chocolate) his or her blood sugar level can go up very high, very quickly. Notwithstanding the fact these foods are typically – if not always – low in nutrients, they could take the place of those more nourishing eats that are imperative for your child’s growth. Best to reserve these sweet treats for special occasions.

Not sure where to start?

Begin with small changes one at a time – figure out what works for your child and better yet, your whole family. Start by adding in healthy foods and then gradually take away the less healthy options. You can decide which tips fit best into your lifestyle. For more tips on introducing changes for healthier eating, click here.

About Diabetes Care

Diabetes Care Community is the author of articles on a wide range of diabetes topics. All of these articles are written to a high standard of quality. They are reviewed for accuracy with health care professionals and, wherever possible, will adhere to Diabetes Canada's 2018 Clinical Practice Guidelines. It is our wish that you find our articles helpful. We welcome your feedback and comments.

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