Food issues at different ages for a child with diabetes

PDF download is not available for Arabic and Urdu languages at this time. Please use the browser print function instead.

Find tips on how to manage changes in your child's diet so that they have no impact on your child's health.

Key points

  • Children and teenagers express different tastes, eating patterns and habits which can impact their diabetes management.
  • Involve your child in meal planning as soon as they are old enough to understand the concept of carbohydrate counting.

At different ages, children will express different tastes and eating patterns. Toddlers might have days with huge appetites, and days where they barely eat anything. Teenagers may want to go on a special diet. All these changes may make it difficult to stick to the meal plan you worked out for your child or teenager. It is important to find a way to compensate for these fluctuations as carbohydrate intake plays a big role in blood sugar and diabetes management. This section gives tips on how to manage these changes so that they have no impact on your child’s health.

Infants and toddlers

Infants and toddlers often have appetites that change every day. This makes it difficult to stick to a meal plan. They may also go through periods when they want to eat the same thing every day. This may be followed by periods when they refuse to touch foods that were their favourites just days before.

It is neither practical nor realistic to set up a strict meal plan for a young child with diabetes. Rather, meal planning should focus on normal infant or toddler feeding.

Aim to have meals and snacks at about the same time each day. Avoid giving too many high-GI foods, such as cookies.

As children get older, meal planning becomes much more feasible and realistic. This often occurs when a child starts spending more time in a school setting.

When a toddler refuses food after an insulin injection

Forcing a child to eat usually leaves both the parents and the child upset and frustrated.

Your only option may be to give the toddler juice or milk to make up for the carbohydrates that they were supposed to get in their meal. Watch carefully for a low blood sugar event (hypoglycemia) and treat it appropriately. Your child will probably be hungry for their next meal or snack, since they ate little or nothing earlier.

If your child refuses food often, talk to your diabetes team. You may need to reduce the insulin and adjust the blood sugar targets. Or ask your doctor about giving the insulin injection right after the meal. Then you can adjust the dose to the amount of carbohydrates eaten. This works best with rapid-acting insulin.

Older children and teenager

You should involve your child in their meal planning as soon as they are old enough to understand the concept of carbohydrate counting.

As they grow older, you can let your child take more and more ownership of their meal plan while monitoring it closely.

Vegetarian diets

A vegetarian diet is safe for children with diabetes. They just have to make sure all their nutritional needs are met, much like people without diabetes.

Understanding food labels will help, and there are numerous resources available to help you prepare nutritionally balanced meals. Your dietitian will be a great source of information and support as you make your healthy choices.

Food trends

Because of messaging around diets in the media and rising and falling health trends, some teenagers want to embrace low-fat diets, Paleolithic diets, or any other specialized way of eating.

Teenagers should understand that the best diet is one that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, proteins, and healthy fats (such as eggs and avocado). Adhering to a specific diet can be managed, as long as the nutritional requirements of the teen are being met.

Work with your dietitian closely to create an appropriate meal plan.

Last updated: October 17th 2016