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Nutrition Tips for Diabetes in Children: Care Instructions

Your Care Instructions

A healthy diet is important to manage diabetes. It gives the nutrition and energy your child needs. But a diet for diabetes does not mean that your child has to eat special foods. Your child can eat what your family eats, including occasional sweets and other favourites. But you do have to pay attention to how often your child eats and how much he or she eats of certain foods. The right plan will give you meals that help your child keep blood sugar at healthy levels.

Your child should try to eat a variety of foods and to spread carbohydrate throughout the day. Carbohydrate raises blood sugar higher and more quickly than any other nutrient does. Carbohydrate is found in sugar, breads and cereals, fruit, starchy vegetables such as potatoes and corn, and milk and yogurt.

You may want to work with a dietitian or diabetes educator to help you plan meals and snacks for your child. A dietitian or diabetes educator also can help your child lose weight if that is one of your goals. The following tips can help your child enjoy meals and stay healthy.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Learn which foods have carbohydrate and how much carbohydrate your child can eat. A dietitian or diabetes educator can help you and your child learn to keep track of how much carbohydrate your child eats.
  • Spread your child's carbohydrate throughout the day. Make sure he or she eats some carbohydrate at all meals, but not too much at any one time.
  • If your child needs mealtime insulin, you might be taught to adjust the amount of insulin needed to cover the amount of carbohydrate your child eats.
  • Plan meals to include food from all the food groups. These are the food groups and some example portion sizes:
    • Grain products and starches: These include bread, cereal, rice, pasta, beans and legumes, and starchy vegetables. A serving is 1 slice bread (1 oz), 1/4 large bagel, 2/3 cup crispy rice cereal, 3/4 cup cooked wheat cereal, 1/3 cup cooked rice, 1/2 cup cooked pasta, 1/2 cup cooked beans, lentils, or peas, 1/2 cup cooked corn, or 1/2 cup mashed potatoes. These have about 15 grams of carbohydrate in a serving. Choose whole grains such as whole wheat bread or crackers, oatmeal, and brown rice more often than refined grains.
    • Vegetables: Non-starchy vegetables have about 5 grams of carbohydrate in a serving. A serving is 1 cup raw leafy vegetables, 1 cup other vegetables, cooked or chopped raw, or 1/2 cup vegetable juice.
    • Fruit: 1 small apple or medium orange, ½ large banana, ½ cup chopped, cooked, or canned fruit, 1/2 cup apple, grapefruit, orange, or cranberry juice, or 2 tablespoons raisins. These have about 15 grams of carbohydrate in a serving.
    • Milk and alternatives: 1 cup of milk or fortified soy beverage or 3/4 cup of no-sugar-added yogurt. These have about 15 grams of carbohydrate in a serving.
    • Meat and alternatives: Beef, chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, tofu, cheese, cottage cheese, and peanut butter. A serving size of meat is 2.5 ounces, which is about the size of a deck of cards. Examples of meat and alternatives serving sizes are 1/4 cup of cottage cheese, 1 egg, and 2 tablespoons of peanut butter. These have very little or no carbohydrate per serving.
  • Use the plate format (also called the plate method) to plan your child's meals. It is a good, quick way to make sure that your child has a balanced meal. It also helps you spread your child's carbohydrate throughout the day. Use a plate that is about 20 centimetres. Depending on how much carbohydrate you are supposed to eat at a meal, follow these guidelines for lunch and dinner:
    • Half the plate is at least two kinds of non-starchy vegetables. Examples are broccoli, green beans, carrots, mushrooms, tomatoes, cauliflower, spinach, peppers, and salad greens.
    • One-fourth of the plate is grain products and starches. Examples are bread, rolls, rice, crackers, cooked grains, cereal, tortillas, and starchy vegetables like potatoes, corn, and winter squash.
    • One-fourth is meat and alternatives. Examples are lean beef, chicken, turkey, pork, fish, tofu, eggs, beans, and lentils.
    • Add a small piece of fruit. Or choose ½ cup of frozen, cooked, or canned fruit.
    • Enjoy a serving of milk or an alternative. A serving is 1 cup of low-fat or skim milk, ¾ cup no-sugar-added yogurt, or 1 cup of fortified soy beverage.
  • Talk to your dietitian or diabetes educator about ways to add limited amounts of sweets into your child's meal plan. Your child can eat these foods now and then, as long as you include the amount of carbohydrate they have in your child's daily carbohydrate allowance.
  • Protein, fat, and fibre do not raise blood sugar as much as carbohydrate does. If your child eats a lot of these nutrients in a meal, his or her blood sugar will rise more slowly than it would otherwise.
  • Limit saturated fats, such as those from meat and dairy products, in your child's diet. Try to replace them with monounsaturated fat, such as olive oil. This is a healthier choice, because people who have diabetes are at higher-than-average risk of heart disease. But use a modest amount of olive oil. A tablespoon of olive oil has 14 grams of fat and 120 calories.
  • Ask your doctor about what type of daily activity is safe for your child. Exercise is important and can help manage blood sugar.

When your child eats out

  • It's a good idea for you and your child to learn to estimate the serving sizes of foods that have carbohydrate. If you measure food at home, it will be easier to estimate the amount in a serving of restaurant food.
  • If the meal you order for your child has too much carbohydrate (such as potatoes, corn, or baked beans), ask to have a low-carbohydrate food instead. Ask for a salad or green vegetables.
  • If your child uses insulin, check his or her blood sugar before and after eating out to help you and your child plan how much to eat in the future.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.