It’s called the most wonderful time of the year for a reason – the holidays are filled with family, friends, fun and FOOD! But for kids with diabetes, they can sometimes be a bit challenging when so many of the events are centered around carb-rich foods. But that’s not to say that the holidays can’t be managed (and enjoyed!) with a little extra planning.
For kids with type 1 diabetes, there really aren’t many restrictions on what they can eat, but they need to make sure that they’re getting enough insulin – either by injection or through their pump – each time they eat carb-containing foods. It’s the timing of insulin, and knowing how many carbs are in, say, a relative’s cookie, that can be tricky. For kids with type 2 diabetes, we know that even a modest weight reduction of 5-10% of their current weight can help their bodies manage their glucose level better. So, their challenge is often centered around enjoying treats in moderation and making healthier food choices – which is harder for all of us this time of year.
Because we have this conversation a lot with our families in the Diabetes Center, I’d like to share some of our tips and tricks for helping kids with diabetes manage the holidays.
Tips to Help Kids with Diabetes Navigate the Holidays
1. Look at the restaurant’s menu ahead of time
If you’re headed to a holiday celebration at a restaurant, I suggest looking at the menu before you go. This will help you determine the best choices for your child, calculate carbs ahead of time, and not feel as rushed when the waiter asks for your order.
2. Create a plan for the snack table
Grazing is inherent to many holiday parties, but is not ideal for kids with type 1 diabetes. This is because you have to count carbs each time they eat something, and cover the carbs with the appropriate amount of insulin. In addition to being cumbersome, giving too many back-to-back doses can lead to insulin stacking, which can cause hypoglycemia later in the evening.
Therefore, having a plan in place can help families navigate this. For instance, let your child know that he can have certain low-carb foods, like meat, cheese, and pickles, without having to check in with you at the party. When you get there, take a look at the snack table together and determine which carb containing foods he wants to eat, and at what point he wants to eat them. Limit his snack table trips for carbs to once or twice, versus grazing throughout the event.
3. Determine where you’ll perform diabetes care
Not all kids are comfortable with doing diabetes care in front of others. Whether you’re at a restaurant or in someone’s home, if your child prefers privacy, I recommend planning a location to give her injections or enter pump information. It can be easy to miss the timing when you’re at a party. Do your best to check her blood sugar as recommended and give her insulin right before eating or within 30 minutes of when she starts eating if you follow post-meal dosing recommendations.
4. Bring low-carb snacks with you
If you don’t know what’s being served at the party, I recommend bringing some low-carb snacks with you. That way if your child is still hungry after eating carb-rich foods, you know he can have a choice of something else to eat without having to get another injection.
5. Calculate carbs in family recipes
If you’re planning on making a high-carb, homemade dish or family recipe, calculate the amount of carbs in each serving ahead of time. There are some great apps and online resources to help you, such as myfitnesspal.com and verywellfit.com. They can help take the guesswork out of the carb content and save you time the day of the event (and for years to come if you save it or create a recipe card!). Further, there are thousands of recipes online, such as diabetes.org, that already have the carbs per serving calculated for you.
6. Use similar substitutes for estimating carb counts
It helps to use similar substitutes for foods that you have no nutrition information for, but your child might want to eat at the party. For instance, you know that your daughter looks forward to Aunt Sally’s pumpkin pie each year. You might not know the carbs count in her dish, but you can look up how many carbs are in a slice of Frisch’s pumpkin pie. It won’t be exact, but it should be close enough for your child to safely enjoy a holiday favorite.
7. For Type 2 diabetes, limit – not eliminate – foods
For kids with type 2 diabetes, the strategies are a little bit different. Overall, they will benefit from choosing nutritious foods on holidays, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, lean proteins, and limiting added sugars. However, I recommend that families normalize that a day or two of eating rich foods isn’t going to break their diabetes management goals. Enjoy the festivities, then get back on track with your nutrition goals the following day.
We do suggest limiting, rather than eliminating, rich foods. For instance, if your son really likes mashed potatoes, let him have it, but decrease the serving size by a third. This can help reduce glucose numbers while still enjoying holiday favorites. It can also be useful to incorporate more movement on days when there may be a little indulgence. A morning walk or an afternoon game of pick-up basketball can help glucose levels too.
8. Take the focus off the food
While food is an important part of our holiday culture, it doesn’t have to be the center of it all. I recommend that families try to take the focus off the food. Form non-food traditions like looking at lights, playing certain games, making crafts, or watching beloved movies. It’s making new memories and spending time with friends and family that’s most important!
To learn more about Diabetes Center at Cincinnati Children’s, please call 513-636-3005 or fill out an online form for more information.