Menu Tips & Guidelines for Kids with Diabetes

By Jill Jackson

Diabetes is a metabolic disease that prevents your body from using sugar properly. There are two forms of diabetes: Type 1, where your body (your pancreas) does not make a hormone called insulin; and Type 2: where your body makes insulin, but is unable to use it. Children and teens can be diagnosed with either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes.

Helping Your Child Manage Diabetes

Managing diabetes can be challenging for anyone, and particularly for children. As a parent, you can play a key role in making the management of diabetes a smoother, less stressful road for your child. The type of diabetes your child has will determine the treatment. Type 1 is treated with insulin, whereas Type 2 might require a combination of dietary changes and drugs, like metformin (Glucofage), that help the body use the insulin it makes naturally. More advanced stages of Type 2 diabetes sometimes also require insulin.

Getting Onboard with a Diabetes Diet

Dietary changes can be the most challenging aspect of having diabetes, but the diet is also a key component of treatment because, regardless of which form of diabetes your child has, making minor dietary changes can help you manage his or her illness.

The good news is that there is no set diabetes diet. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) does have some guidelines that apply to both children and adults with diabetes. Essentially, people with diabetes can eat nearly the same thing as everyone else-with some modifications.

Here are the general dietary recommendations for diabetics from the ADA:

  • The ADA recommends a varied and balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, leafy greens, and lean proteins - such as fish and poultry

  • The ADA recommends that you reduce your intake of saturated fats, such as lard and butter, in favor of unsaturated fats, such as olive oil

  • The ADA recommends you reduce your consumption of high-calorie and sugary foods, making them more of a once-in-a-while treat than a part of your daily diet

  • The ADA recommends that you eat meals at regular intervals to keep your blood sugar levels stable

  • The ADA also recommends that you maintain your weight within a healthy range to reduce symptoms of diabetes

8 Tips to Help Your Child Eat Right with Diabetes

While a lot of the ADA guidelines are relatively easy for adults to follow, children may have more difficulty - especially if their friends and classmates don't have to follow the same guidelines. With some organization and pre-planning on your part, you can help your child follow the guidelines without feeling deprived. Here are some tips to help you:

  1. Baked goods require a certain amount of sugar to have the proper consistency. However, you can cut as much as half the sugar from many recipes and replace it with a low-calorie, natural sweetener like stevia.

  2. Brown rice syrup and maple syrup both have a lower glycemic index than cane sugar, meaning they don't have as serious an effect on blood sugar. You can use these ingredients in moderation as a replacement for the cane sugar you might normally use

  3. Replace half or all of the white flour you would use in recipes with whole wheat flour.

  4. In brownie recipes, you can replace some or all of the flour with pureed, cooked black beans

  5. Replacing shortening and oil with pureed prunes or apple sauce will provide moisture and sweetness to your baked goods

  6. Cinnamon is thought to help you manage blood sugar, and it works well in both sweet and savory recipes

  7. Use non-fat Greek yogurt as a mix-in for hot cereal instead of milk. Greek yogurt has digestion-friendly active cultures and it's very high in protein, which can help to balance out the carbohydrates in a meal

  8. Cook chicken with the skin on, to add flavor, then remove the skin before you serve it to reduce the amount of fat in your meal

Things to Consider for Your Diabetic Child

While it is best for a diabetic to follow a consistently healthy diet, it's alright to have a small treat now and then. As long as your child does not have any food allergies or sensitivities and your pediatrician gives the "okay," it's sometimes easier to just let him have that occasional slice of pizza. In some cases, it may even be okay to let your child have a little bit of plain vanilla ice cream at a birthday party rather than stress about finding alternative options. Just be sure to instruct your child on the importance of keeping sugary foods to a minimum, and balancing protein with carbohydrates. Allowing your child some latitude, and letting him enjoy some occasional treats as a normal part of a healthy diet, could set the stage for healthier food choices in the future.