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Healthy Eating for Kids With Diabetes

Medically reviewed by: Cheryl Patterson, RD, LDN, CDCES

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 learning how to make healthy choices and balance carbohydrates, protein, and fat can help you keep your blood sugars in a healthy range.

Because healthy meals are so important, your diabetes health care team will probably give you a plan to follow. It won't tell you exactly which foods to eat, but 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. It 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 tastes.

The 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, 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.

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.

Kids with diabetes need to pay special attention to carbohydrates (carbs) because carbs raise blood sugar levels. After you eat, your body breaks down carbs into glucose (sugar). The glucose goes into the bloodstream making the blood sugar level rise. Insulin is a hormone that helps get glucose into cells so it can be used as energy. 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.

Remember, not all carbs are the same. Whole-grain foods, fruits, and vegetables are great choices because they have fiber, vitamins, and other nutrients. Fiber slows the digestion and absorption of sugar and can help keep blood sugar levels in the healthy range. Candy, soda, and highly processed foods cause blood sugar levels to rise quickly because they break down easily and don’t have fiber to slow things down.

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 dietitian can help you figure out how many calories you need each day. Use them well!

As you've probably noticed, it's important to keep track of what you eat. To make that easier, you might want to write it down. It may take a little time to get used to making changes. But starting today will help you now and in the future.

Medically reviewed by: Cheryl Patterson, RD, LDN, CDCES
Date reviewed: January 2022