Kids who have diabetes
don't need to be on strict diets, but they do need to pay attention to when they eat
and what's on their plates. Why? Because it helps them keep their blood
sugar levels in check. Meal plans help people with diabetes eat right and stay
healthy. What's a meal plan? Let's find out.
Following Meal Plans
Because healthy meals are so important, your diabetes health care team will probably
give you a meal plan to follow. Meal plans don't tell you exactly which foods to eat,
but they might give you general information like which food
groups to pick and when you should eat.
Don't worry that this plan will include stuff you don't like. Your meal plan will
include the foods that you already eat and like. The team will probably ask you to
write down all the foods you eat in a food diary for a few days so that they know
Your meal plan will help you think about healthy meals, but it also might help
you reach other health goals. For example, if you need to lose weight, then the plan
may suggest that you watch the number of calories and fat grams you eat to help you
reach your goal.
Your parents or other grown-ups might make most of the meal-planning decisions.
But if they ask for your advice, try to keep things balanced. For instance, two baked
potatoes don't make a balanced meal. But you could have half a baked potato along
with some grilled chicken and some broccoli. Top it off with a dessert of fresh berries,
and you have a great balanced meal.
Types of Meal Plans
There are three types of meal plans. Your diabetes health care team, including
your doctor, will help you decide which one is best for you.
With the constant carbohydrate meal plan, the person eats a certain
amount of carbohydrates
(say: kar-bo-HI-drates), or carbs, in each meal and snack. Then he or she takes insulin (say: IN-suh-lin)
or other diabetes medicines at the same times and in similar doses each day. A kid
— or the kid's parents — could use food labels to determine how many grams
of carbohydrates are being eaten, so he or she stays on track.
Another option is the carbohydrate
countingmeal plan. With this plan, people with diabetes
count carbs so they can match their insulin doses with the amount of carbohydrates
that they eat. Counting carbs means the person counts the number of carbohydrate grams
Food labels can tell you how many grams of carbohydrate are in a food. Knowing
that, a person then matches the insulin dose with the amount of carbohydrates that
he or she eats. This plan works best for people who take a dose of insulin (as a shot
or with an insulin pump) with each meal.
Some people who have diabetes use the exchange
meal plan. Rather than focusing only on carbs, a person on this meal
plan needs to look at proteins and fats as well. With this meal plan, foods are divided
into six groups: starch, fruit, milk, fat, vegetable, and meat.
The plan sets a serving size (amount) for foods in each group. Each serving has
about the same amount of calories, proteins, carbs, and fats. For instance, an apple
or an orange would each be one serving of fruit. You could choose either one if your
meal plan calls for a fruit serving. The number of servings from each food group that
should be eaten at each meal is based on the number of calories the person needs per
How Food Labels Can Help
Food labels are easy
to read, and they list a food's ingredients, nutritional information, and calories.
So anyone concerned about eating healthy can learn a lot from them. For people with
diabetes, food labels also may provide information they need to know to keep their
blood sugar on track.
For example, if you are using the constant carbohydrate or the carb counting meal
plan, you can look for carbohydrates on the food label. It will tell you how many
grams of carbs you are about to eat. The number of carb grams on the label applies
to one serving, so be sure to multiply that number times the number of servings you're
eating or drinking.
If you're using the carb counting plan, knowing the amount of carbs you've eaten
can help you determine how much medicine to take.
Someone on an exchange plan also might use food labels. How? By looking at the
food's breakdown of carbs, protein, and fat. It can help the person know how to classify
this food — as a starch, fruit, vegetable, meat, or fat. This lets people keep
track of how many servings of a food they eat that day.
Food labels also show you how much sodium (salt) is in a food. This is important
because some people who have diabetes also have high blood
pressure. Too much salt, or sodium, can worsen blood pressure problems.
On food labels, you'll also find information on the amount of fat, the type of
fat, and the total calories in a food. It's a good idea for everyone, including people
who have diabetes, to keep an eye on these. Eating too much of certain fats can make
someone more likely to have heart and blood vessel problems. And eating too many calories
can cause you to gain too much weight. If you're curious, your parent, doctor, or
nutritionist can help you figure out how many calories you need each day. Use them
Write it Down
As you've probably noticed, meal plans mean a lot of keeping track — of the
carb grams or the exchange servings you've eaten. To make that easier, you might want
to write down what you eat and your blood sugar readings on a record sheet.
Your mom or dad can use this record to help you balance food and insulin so you
stay on track. And because it's written down, you won't have to say, "Uh, I don't
know" when someone asks you what you ate or what your last reading was!