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Diabetes nutrition

Diabetes nutrition: Planning your child's meals and snacks

A child’s meals and snacks play a huge role in the daily management of diabetes. As part of our diabetes education program, you’ll find recommendations from our team for meal planning and snacks, tips for calculating a child’s carbohydrate intake and suggestions for healthy snacks.

Regular visits with a registered dietitian are an integral part of diabetes management for your child.

Nutrition therapy helps to:

  • Build a base for long term good health and wellness
  • Improve food choices and healthy eating habits
  • Maintain or lose weight
  • Reduce complications from diabetes

Meal and snack planning for children with diabetes

diabetes nutrition tips

  • Your child should eat three meals a day unless directed otherwise by your doctor, certified diabetes educator or dietitian.
  • Be sure your child does not skip meals. The idea is to spread carbohydrates out throughout the day. 
  • Try to plan meals and snacks about the same time every day if your child is on a set insulin dose.
  • Your child should eat a variety of foods, spread starches, milk and fruits evenly between meals and snacks, and eat meals within 15 minutes of taking fast-acting insulin.
  • If your child’s blood glucose level drops low at the same time each day, contact your child’s provider for dose adjustment; in the meantime, have your child have a small snack prior to this time of day, until the dosing is adjusted.

Tips for planning healthy meals

  • Choose lean proteins (mostly chicken, turkey and fish).
  • Choose low-fat dairy (skim or 1% milk, part-skim or 2% cheese, etc.).
  • Include plant proteins, which have little fat and contain high fiber (beans, lentils, tofu, nuts, seeds, etc.).
  • Watch your child’s sodium intake and try to ensure that they consume less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day.
  • Choose and prepare foods low in added sugars. (Added sugars include corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, sugar, etc.)
  • Limit saturated and trans fat intake, such as butter, shortening, lard, fried foods, whole milk/cheese, high-fat meats, etc.
  • Choose whole grains in place of white flour when possible.
  • Sweets should be eaten only in place of another food that contains an equal amount of carbohydrates (for example one bread, fruit, milk or starchy vegetable). Sweets should not be added on as an extra choice, and your child should not eat sweets every day.

For a sweet taste that is less likely to affect your child’s blood sugar levels:

  • Choose diet soft drinks or drink mixes that are sugar-free.
  • Use sugar substitutes in place of regular sugar.
  • Remember, not all sugar-free foods are carbohydrate-free.

Counting and calculating carbohydrates

counting carbs when you have diabetes

In the beginning, consistency in carbohydrate intake is key! While your child is on a fixed dose of insulin, they need to eat about the same amount of carbohydrates at meals until you learn advanced carbohydrate counting.

Talk to your provider or dietitian if your child is not able to eat or wants to eat more than the target provided to you. The insulin dose may need to be adjusted. Our diabetes specialists will walk you through resources that can help you with carbohydrate counting and daily planning.

Reading food labels

To count carbohydrates, look at three things: serving size, number of servings per container and grams of total carbohydrate per serving. The total carbohydrate tells how many grams of carbohydrate are in one serving.

Be careful when reading the label. There can be more than one serving in the package, so if more than one serving is eaten, you will need to multiply the grams of carbohydrate accordingly.

Remember, when you are learning to count carbohydrates, measure the exact serving size to help train your eye to see what portion sizes look like. If the serving size is half a cup, measure out half a cup. Keep doing this until you get a good idea of the weights and volumes of different foods. Measuring foods at home can also make you feel more comfortable with estimating portion sizes in restaurants.

For healthy food tips, an eating plan that works for your child and more education on how to control and prevent diabetes, our diabetes specialists are here to help.

Contact Ellen Dionne, RD, CDCES

Does insurance cover nutrition therapy?

Some insurance carriers will cover medical nutrition therapy. A small out-of-pocket fee will be assessed if nutrition counseling is not billable under your insurance plan or if your child is uninsured.

Length of session pre-payment amount

  • Up to 15 minutes $35
  • Up to 30 minutes $70
  • Up to 45 minutes $105
  • Up to 60 minutes $140
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Meet the team

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Anshu Gupta, MBBS, MS
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Trang N Le, MD
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Kanhere Mansi Mukund, MD
Kanhere Mansi Mukund MD Endocrinology and metabolism Read more
Bryce Nelson, MD, PhD
Bryce Nelson MD, PhD Endocrinology and metabolism Read more
Apoorva Ravindranath Waikar, MBBS
Apoorva Ravindranath Waikar MBBS Endocrinology and metabolism Read more
Mareen Thomas, MD
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Edmond P Wickham, MD, FAAP
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