Put Your Child in Charge of Food Choices

How to get your kid involved with counting carbs and planning healthy meals

family eating together

When your child has diabetes, it’s important to control meals and snacks. But starting around first grade, most children are able to help out with these tasks, says Mary Hartley, RD, a dietitian in New York City. Making your child more involved with food preparation and selection will give him or her more choice. More important, your child will be better able to care for himself or herself when you’re not around.

Count to 15
Hartley says that carb counting is the best way to set kids up for success. This skill can be taught with the help of a physician, certified diabetes educator, or dietitian, or you can practice with your child. The idea is to find the amount of glucose that typically raises her or his blood sugar. Usually around 15 to 20 grams of simple carbohydrates does the trick. Then find the best food choices with that amount.

Make it fun
Snacks are a good place to start, says Hartley. Ask your child which blood sugar-boosting treats are favorites. Things like fruit juice, candy, crackers, chips, fruit, and other simple carbohydrates all work well. Then help figure out how many of those favorite snacks will hit that magic number between 15 to 20 grams. Make flashcards or a guessing game to help. Teach your child to use nutrition labels and websites as a guide. Create a chart or poster to make these numbers easy to read.

Check in often
Ask your child to keep a journal of what he or she eats and when, and when blood sugar levels go higher or lower than usual. Are there times of day when your child feels tired or thirsty? Use these details to figure out times when more or fewer carbohydrates might be needed. For example, he or she might need to eat extra carbs before or during soccer practice. Or if blood sugar levels are unusually high after lunch, it might be time to cut back on simple carbs and add more protein.

Talk to your child
Children who know more about diabetes and understand it better are more able to care for themselves. As soon as kids see the effect of foods on blood sugar, they’ll be able to better control it, Hartley says.