How to Prepare Food for Diabetic Children


As with adults, a diabetic child’s nutritional needs are basically the same as those of children who do not have diabetes. If this sounds too easy to be true, it is—and it isn’t. Meal planning, which a nutritionist can help you with, should not have to change much as long as your family was eating correctly in the first place. If not, then all of you will benefit from paying greater attention to the nutritional value of what you eat.

Children’s meal plans should be reviewed about once a year because their needs change as they grow. In general, a child of av­erage weight needs about one thousand calories a day at age one, with an additional one hundred calories a day added each year until the onset of puberty—at which time their caloric needs are the same as an adult.

Food for Diabetic Children

There are really only two potential glitches in keeping your child on track in terms of food. The first is the need to coordinate food with insulin injections, and the second is the appalling eating habits of children when they are out of their parents’ sight.

Regarding the first, insulin injections should be matched to eating times using the same principles as adults. To minimize a precipitous drop in blood glucose, the child should have snacks between meals and at bedtime. Meals and snacks should be eaten at about the same time every day—just as adults should. This is not usually a problem during the week when home and school meals are fairly tightly scheduled.

School lunches may not be the tastiest in the world, but they are nutritionally sound, and you can request a confidential conference with the school nutritionist who can then make certain that your child eats properly without creating special attention. If you pack a lunch, you have even more control. Snacks might be a little more problematic because most schools do not permit chil­dren to eat in the classroom or at other than designated lunchtime. In this case, you will need to go to school and arrange with the ad­ministration to obtain permission for your child to eat a snack when necessary.

Which brings you to the second problem: Kids often don’t eat what their mothers pack in their lunch pails. They trade with other children, they throw it in the garbage and eat junk food, and for various reasons they sometimes skip lunch.

Eating is one of the many things that is subject to peer pres­sure during childhood. Children need to feel as though they are fully integrated members of their peer group, and being different in any way (too fat, too thin, wearing eyeglasses, having any physical deformity, even having the “wrong” haircut) is anathema to a child. If a child sees the diabetic food plan as in any way weird, it might be thrown out—to prove that the child is no differ­ent from anyone else.

It is also in the nature of children to test limits: to perform daredevil feats the minute they are out of their parents’ sight, to get their ears pierced, to dye their hair orange, to stay out later than they are allowed. In fact, they will do almost anything they can get away with. This is a normal part of growing up: reaching for independence and testing the waters of the larger world. They will do it with their diabetic food plan, too. To see how far they can push their blood glucose levels to dangerous limits, they may balk at taking insulin (and when they are old enough to give themselves injections, they may skip doses), and they may stuff themselves with heavily sugared foods—just to see what will hap­pen. They’ll get into trouble as a result, which is why it is so im­portant that you and they learn what to do in case of emergency.

Now that I have thoroughly terrified you about your child and food, I should say that things are not so bad. First, a food plan is only a guide—suggestions, within limits, of what your child should and should not eat. The more relaxed you are about that guide, the more relaxed your child will feel and the less hemmed in by a rigid food regimen. And the less rigid, the less the likeli­hood of rebellion against the whole thing—with resultant diabetic trouble. The ADA Guidelines lists the foods in categories from which you can make exchanges to create flexibility and variety.

Naturally, your child will be angry about having diabetes, perhaps even at you. Angry children are unhappy children, so it is better to relax the food rules as much as possible than to create even more anger at having to stick to a diet.

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Related posts:

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  2. How to Help a Child with Diabetes in School
  3. How to Take Care of Middle Childhood with Diabetes
  4. How to Treat Diabetes in Children, Adolescents, and the DCCT
  5. How to Treat Diabetic Ketoacidosis

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About the Author: Andrew Reinert is a health care professional who loves to share different tips on health and personal care. He is a regular contributor to MegaHowTo and lives in Canada.

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