Diabetes-Friendly Snacks for Kids

Smart Snacking for Kids with Type I Diabetes

Smiling girl eating fresh berries in kitchen
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Getting your child with type 1 diabetes to eat a healthy snack might seem an impossible task. Not only because you first need to do what other parents do—find a snack that is both appetizing and healthy—but you need to find a snack that will improve and/or maintain your child's blood sugar level. Let's take a look at four strategies that can help you address this common problem.

Keep Healthy Snacks on Hand

For better and worse, your kids will eat what's available at your house. If you stock up on lots of snack foods like chips, cookies, and soda, chances are good that your child will eat more of these foods than he should. Not only do these snacks lack nutritional value but foods high in fat and sugar are likely to cause a roller-coaster of ups and downs in blood glucose levels.

Having healthy snacks on hand starts at the grocery store. Make it a point to buy healthy staples that can be turned into wholesome snacks. Snacks such as peanut butter on celery, whole grain crackers, and cheese, or low-fat yogurt are good alternatives to hyper-processed snack foods. A variety of fruits and some vegetables can often satisfy a child’s craving for something sweet and crunchy if they are presented in an appealing way.

Life can get busy, and you may be tempted to have "quick snacks" such as snack bars on hand.

Many of these can cause havoc with diabetes, but if you choose carefully, these bars may be a good option in a pinch. Check out some of the top snack bars for diabetes.

Be Creative

Instead of simply handing your child an apple or a cup of grapes to eat, encourage them to be creative with the snacks you give them.

For example, try creating a collage or a face on a dinner plate by combining small portions of healthy snacks. A thinly sliced apple can act as the outline of the face; a couple small dollops of peanut butter for ears and some shavings off a carrot for hair. Nuts, low-fat yogurt, red and yellow peppers, celery, whole grain crackers, and cheese can all be used as building blocks for edible sculptures. Once you get your children started on this idea, the possibilities for food creations are endless.

Allow your child to design his own "interesting" snack food. This works best if you only provide ingredients which he can consume as part of a healthy diabetic diet. Then let him create. It's amazing what children will sometimes eat when they are the chef.

Model Preferred Eating Habits

The best way to teach your child to eat healthily is to choose your own snacks wisely. Children will often eat what they see modeled for them by parents.

Another way to be a good role model is to be mindful of portion sizes for kids. Match your snack portion sizes to theirs.

Get into a habit of discussing the number of carbohydrates that are in each snack so that your child will learn to associate snacks with blood sugar awareness.

This will also help them understand the concept of carbohydrate counting and why it is important for them to learn.

Also, teach the importance of pairing foods for extra satisfaction and optimal blood sugar control: carbohydrates should always be paired with a protein and/or fat (hence, the apple and cheese, crackers and peanut butter).

Don’t Fight Over Food

Children may resist snacks you push on them. Instead, give them some measure of control over their food by offering healthy choices. Offer a limited number of options, such as a peanut butter sandwich, string cheese or a helping of yogurt. This is when not having unhealthy snacks in the house works to your advantage.

Save the less healthy snacks like soda, chips, and cookies for special occasions and only serve in small quantities. This will help to keep your child’s palate tuned to healthy foods without seeming too restrictive.

More Ideas For Creating Healthy Snacks

Once you're convinced that having healthy snacks on hand for your diabetic child is a good idea, you'll want to find some recipes. If your child is normal weight or overweight, you may wish to begin by checking out diabetes snacks with less than 200 calories.

Or for children without a weight issue, check out this A to Z list of ideas for healthy diabetic snacks.

The Concern About Sugar

Everyone worries about sugar in the blood of a child with diabetes, but the truth is that some sugar is necessary for the normal functioning of cells. That said, it's important to not overdo it, and look for ways of substituting other ingredients or reducing the amount of sugar in a recipe. In recent years, alternative "sugar" preparations have become common. What should you know about alternative natural sweeteners for diabetes and what are the benefits and risks of these options?

Conflict Over Healthy Snacks

You may experience family conflict, especially if your non-diabetic children are able to eat snacks that your diabetic child can't. To avoid what may appear as favoritism, it's often a good idea to limit your buying of unhealthy food for all of your children. These changes can be worthwhile to all of your children as the average child now takes in much more sugar than is considered healthy.

Bottom Line on Healthy Snacks for Kids With Diabetes

Snacks are a good way to both stabilize your child's blood sugars and manage his appetite. In our society, snacks are often associated with items high in sugar, yet people consumed healthy snacks long before processed foods and easy-to-grab packages came along.

Planning for healthy snacks can take some time and sometimes extra money, but when you weigh this against the risk of not serving your child healthy foods, the investment is well worth it. 

Shopping for healthy foods can be a challenge for parents if a child is accustomed to high sugar snack foods. After all, if your child is already struggling with a chronic disease, it can feel cruel to deny him the foods he loves the most. One way to overcome your fear of "punishing" your child by limiting his favorite foods, take a moment to check out healthy swaps on a diabetic diet. This may also help him find joy in food again. Providing a multitude of choices empowers your child to begin making healthy choices today.

Sources:

Edwards, D., Noyes, J., Lowes, L. Spencer, L., and J. Gregory. An Ongoing Struggle: A Mixed-Method systematic Review of Interventions, Barriers, and Facilitators Achieving Optimal Self-Care by Children and Young Adult People with Type I Diabetes in Educational Settings. BMC Pediatrics. 2014. 14:28.

Kliegman, Robert M., Bonita Stanton, St Geme III Joseph W., Nina Felice. Schor, Richard E. Behrman, and Waldo E. Nelson. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 20th Edition. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier, 2015. Print.

Patton, S. Adherence to Diet in Youth With Type I Diabetes. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2011. 111(4):550-555.