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Healthy Eating Tips for Children with Diabetes

young girls eating fruit

Finding out that your child is diabetic can be a life-changing moment. You may wonder how you can prepare a meal plan for your child while still retaining normalcy for him or her as well as for the rest of the family.

Read on for tips on helping your child and the rest of your family make healthy food choices.

Learn about Carbs

A diagnosis of pre-diabetes, type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes means your child’s body is unable to regulate blood sugar (called glucose). Treatment for all types of diabetes includes making healthy food choices.

Carbohydrates tend to have the largest impact on blood sugar levels, so any diabetic meal plan will likely focus on reducing high-carb food intake. Carbs are found in grains, beans, fruits and vegetables, all types of sweets (including cakes, cookies, candy and donuts), soda and other junk foods such as potato chips and french fries.

Some high-carb vegetables, such as potatoes, corn and peas (also known as starchy vegetables), cause blood sugar to rise sharply, while some low-carb veggies, such as broccoli, lettuce, tomatoes and carrots, have little or no effect on blood sugar. Focus on non-starchy veggies when choosing vegetables for your meal plan. These will fill your family up with fiber and nutrients. Make sure to avoid cooking these items with added cream, butter and cheese.

Learn more about diabetes.

Add in Whole Grains

Check out whole grain foods, such as oatmeal, brown rice and lentils. These foods haven’t been refined or processed into something else, such as white bread, regular pasta and many cereals. Whole-grain foods are high in fiber, which helps the food move more slowly through the digestive tract, avoiding blood sugar spikes. When you pair whole-grain carbs with non-starchy vegetables at each meal, you can help the body regulate blood sugar naturally.

Skip Fruit Juice

Keep fruit in mind as you prepare your meal plan. Fruits contain a sweet, sugary carb, but when eaten whole (as opposed to in fruit juice), they provide fiber and essential nutrients and make for the perfect healthy snack.

For low-carb produce options, print out this helpful chart and keep it on the fridge or in your walletor easy reference.

Read Nutrition Labels

Your child’s doctor will likely prescribe a personal plan that includes how many carbs (and maybe even grams of sugar) your child should eat at any given meal or snack. The nutrition labels on packaged foods tell you the amount of carbs and sugar each serving contains. Click here for useful tips on reading a nutrition label.

Once you start reading labels, you may be shocked at how many foods actually contain added sugar. Peanut butter, ketchup, salad dressings, jarred tomato sauce, barbecue sauce, many canned soups and frozen prepared foods all frequently contain added sugar. You can often identify these sugary ingredients by looking for words ending in “-ose,” e.g. fructose or maltose).

Create Your Meal Plan

According to the American Diabetes Association, an easy and effective way to manage diabetes is to fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables and split the other half in two, filling one quarter with grains and starchy vegetables and the other with protein.

Healthy protein options include:

  • Lean meats
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Plain yogurt with fresh fruit
  • Peanut butter
  • Eggs

Healthy fats are essential and come from whole foods such as avocados, dry roasted nuts and seeds. When cooking or making your own homemade salad dressings, opt for olive oil, avocado oil or coconut oil over other processed, polyunsaturated vegetable oils.

Be sure to customize these tips to build a meal plan that fits your child’s needs. Understanding carbs and learning to read food labels can be a great start to making healthy habits with the entire family.

Advice or recommendations are for informational or educational purposes only, not a substitute for a visit or consultation with your  doctor.

Consult your doctor before beginning any diet or exercise program.

Naomi Mannino

Naomi Mannino

Naomi Mannino is a health and personal finance journalist who specializes in helping consumers get the most from their health and financial choices. She enjoys sharing her personal experiences and never writes about anything she has not tried herself.

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