When my seven-year-old son, Danny, was diagnosed with type 1diabetes, I had to take a serious look at his diet. He had always been our “picky” eater, and I had gone along with his demands to keep the peace. As a result, his favorite foods at the time of his diagnosis were pancakes with syrup, grilled cheese sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, cookies, juice, and the only vegetable he ate—cucumbers. These foods became the centerpiece of the meal plan constructed by the hospital nutritionist.
After months of roller coaster blood sugars, I realized that most of his highs and subsequent lows followed meals containing white flour, white sugar, or anything fried. I wanted to help him change his diet, but knew I couldn’t do it without the help of the whole family. One night, in a family meeting around the dinner table, I told my husband, daughter, and son that we all needed to change the way we were eating. Danny’s blood sugars were showing us that some foods were definitely better for us than others.
That was the first of many steps I took to change our diet and help Danny improve his blood sugar control. It was a bumpy road, filled with protests, but by the end of the first year, after incorporating more whole grain and low-carbohydrate foods into our meals, we were all healthier, stronger, and thinner. Danny’s A1c’s had stabilized at under seven percent, down from over eight percent (a number that the ADA suggests may lead to later complications).
Below are suggestions for helping your family make the same transition smoothly. As in all things, persistence usually wins out just as you are about to give up.
- When making changes in your family’s diet, explain that it is for everyone’s overall health and well-being, not just because of diabetes.
- When you go food shopping, buy only foods that have nutritional value. This means that your child with diabetes can eat whatever is in the house. Encourage resistant family members to satisfy their sweet tooth away from home.
- When you get home from the supermarket, wash and cut up your fruit and vegetables before you put them away. Put them on the top shelf of the refrigerator so that they’re the first food everyone sees.
- Use the prepared vegetables and fruits to make “snack plates” which can be quietly placed next to family members when they are watching TV, playing computer, or doing homework. These can include celery with peanut butter, carrots, baby tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, snap peas, and green beans with ranch dressing. They are especially tempting after school and before dinner.
- Serve a salad, which is raw and rich in enzymes, before the meal, when everyone is hungry. If your family isn’t used to salad, begin with iceberg lettuce. When you find a dressing your family likes, gradually add darker, more nutritious greens. Cheese, nuts, mandarin oranges, and bits of apple sometimes make a salad more attractive to children.
- Shift to whole grains by small increments. Gradually move from white bread to oat bran, then to whole wheat, and finally to sprouted grain. At the beginning, you can disguise darker breads as French toast or use them in grilled cheese sandwiches.
- Replace soda and fruit juices, which spike blood sugar levels, with other sweet choices such as hot cocoa: (whole milk, unsweetened cocoa, 1/2 packet stevia); lemonade: (lemon juice, water, 1/2 packet stevia); spritzer: (seltzer, unsweetened cranberry juice, lime juice, 1/2 packet stevia); and hot vanilla milk: (milk, cinnamon, vanilla, 1/2 packet stevia). Eventually, as members of your family develop less of a sweet tooth, water is the easiest.
- For breakfast and sugar cravings, healthy fruit shakes can be made from milk or soy milk and any of the following: bananas, frozen blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, peaches, pineapple, or mango slices. You can add plain yogurt, unsweetened cocoa or carob. By decreasing the amount of liquid, smoothies approach the consistency of ice cream and can be used as a dessert, along with frozen bananas on a popsicle stick and frozen lemonade in popsicle molds.
These tips are drawn from the book, “The Challenge of Childhood Diabetes: Family Strategies for Raising a Healthy Child”, by Laura Plunkett and Linda Weltner, written to help parents support their child’s overall health and well-being. For additional strategies and information, go to www.challengeofdiabetes.com.