Children's Health and Wellness

Diet and Diabetes

Diabetes management and meal-planning for children

It is important to learn about proper meal-planning when your child has diabetes. The type and amount of food your child eats affects his or her blood sugar levels. If your child eats too much, his or her blood sugar may go up too high. Also, if your child skips meals, his or her blood sugar may go too low. Good blood sugar control requires a balance of food, exercise, and medication. Healthy meals include foods that contain carbohydrates, protein, and fat.

What are carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are an important source of energy for children. Carbohydrates in foods affect the body's blood sugar the most. The body turns carbohydrates into blood sugar. If your child eats too many foods with carbohydrates, then his or her blood sugar can go too high. A dietitian can help you decide how much carbohydrate your child needs each day. About half the calories your child eats should come from carbohydrates. Carbohydrate foods should be included with each meal and snack. Sources of carbohydrates include the following:

  • Breads, crackers, and cereals

  • Pasta, rice, and grains

  • Vegetables

  • Milk and milk products

  • Fruit and fruit juice

  • Sugar, honey, jelly, and syrup

Your child can eat limited sweets and sugars if they are counted as part of the daily carbohydrate intake. Sweets and sugar do not have many vitamins or minerals, so they should be eaten in small amounts.

Are proteins and fats important?

Protein and fat do not affect the body's blood sugar level as much as carbohydrates. However, the amount of protein and fat in your child's diet may need to be counted as it is important for your child to eat the appropriate amount of protein and fat. Too much fat can increase your child's risk for heart disease and may make it difficult for your child to maintain a healthy weight. Your child's dietitian can help you decide how much protein and fat your child needs. Additionally, some fats are good for you, and some are more unhealthy. A dietician can help you determine which fats are better for your child and which ones to avoid.

Sources of protein include:

  • Beef, pork, and lamb

  • Fish and seafood

  • Chicken and turkey

  • Cheese

  • Eggs

  • Peanut butter

  • Nuts and seeds

Sources of fat include:

  • Salad dressing

  • Olives

  • Avocado

  • Butter and margarine

  • Oils and shortening

  • Mayonnaise

  • Sour cream and cream cheese

  • Bacon and other cured meats 

  • Beef, pork, and poultry without the skin removed

  • Ice cream, cheese, and other high fat dairy products

  • Sauces

There are also foods that have carbohydrate, protein, and fat. These foods can affect your child's blood sugar similar to other foods with carbohydrates:

  • Pizza

  • Casseroles

  • Stew and soups

  • Milk and yogurt

A dietitian can help you develop the meal plan that works best for your child.

Print Source: American Diabetes Association. Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes: 2013. Diabetes Care. (2013) 36:1; pp s1-s66
Online Source: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseaseshttp://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/eating_ez/
Online Source: American Diabetes Association http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/planning-meals/diabetes-meal-plans-and-a-healthy-diet.html
Online Source: American Diabetes Associationhttp://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/what-can-i-eat/making-healthy-food-choices/fats-and-diabetes.html
Online Source: American Academy of Pediatrics http://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/chronic/Pages/Diabetes-Treatment.aspx
Online Editor: Sims, Jane
Online Medical Reviewer: Bass, Pat F. III, MD, MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically-affiliated clinician
Date Last Reviewed: 2/6/2014
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