Type 1 Diabetes and Your Child: Meals and Snacks

People with type 1 diabetes were once told that they couldn’t eat certain foods. This is no longer true. In fact, now there are no “forbidden foods” for people with diabetes. This means that your child can eat the same foods as the rest of the family. But, you and your child will have to balance the foods he or she eats with the correct amount of insulin. Insulin helps keep your child’s blood sugar from going too high after meals. Healthier food choices also help control blood sugar. So encourage smarter food choices to help your child stay healthy now and in the future.

Healthy turkey sandwich and apple with post-it note with grams of carbohydrates.

What is a meal plan?

A dietitian will help you create a meal plan and show you how to follow it. A meal plan helps you decide what kinds of foods your child can eat for meals and snacks. It also tells you how much food (how many servings) your child can eat. Following the meal plan is important because it helps manage your child’s blood sugar. Try to stick to the same schedules for meals and snacks so that you can best control your child’s blood sugar level. Of course, this will not always be possible. So the meal plan should be flexible and give you room to make adjustments. The meal plan will also need to be changed as your child grows.

Understanding carbohydrates   

Different foods affect blood sugar in different ways. Foods high in carbohydrates raise blood sugar quicker than other foods. This is why you must keep track of the carbohydrates that your child eats. Carbohydrates are found in fruit and in starchy foods such as potatoes. Because carbohydrates are in so many foods, they can be tricky to keep track of. You may even be tempted to cut them out of your child’s diet altogether. But carbohydrates play a very important role in your child’s health. They are the body’s main source of energy. Your child’s healthcare team may teach you about “carb counting.” This is a precise way of counting how much carbohydrate your child is eating each day. When you count carbohydrate servings, know that one serving of a starch, fruit, or dairy product counts as one “carb.” Each carbohydrate choice is about 15 grams of carbohydrate. The team will also teach you about portion sizes, food groups, and how each food affects blood sugar.

Carb counting tips

You, your child, and his or her teachers will need to keep track of the amount of carbohydrates eaten for each meal and snack. This information is important because it helps you, your child, or his or her teachers balance the amount of carbohydrates eaten with the correct amount of insulin. Help your child and others manage your child’s blood sugar by doing the following:  

  • Allow your child to help with measuring food so he or she can learn about portion sizes.

  • Write down the amount of carbs of each food on the wrapper of each food. Or, write it on a napkin or separate piece of paper and stick it into the lunchbox or bag.

  • Include snack times on a napkin or piece of paper and slip it into the lunchbox or bag.

  • Write down the amount of carbs of each meal on your child’s school lunch menu.

Reading food labels

Pay close attention to food labels. The information on them will help you choose healthy foods that make managing your child’s blood sugar easier. Look for the Nutrition Facts label on packaged foods. This label tells you how many carbohydrates and how much sugar, fat, and fiber are in each serving. Then you can decide whether the food fits your child’s meal plan.

Nutrition facts label highlighting servings and grams of carbohydrates.

  • Serving size. This number is very important and tells you how much of the food makes up a single serving. If you eat more than one serving, all other numbers, like calories and carbohydrates, also increase.

  • Total carbohydrates. This number tells you how much carbohydrate is in each serving. If you are carb counting, this number will help you fit the food into your child’s meal plan. Also, keep in mind the number of servings your child eats. If he or she eats two servings, you’ll need to double the amount of carbohydrates listed on the box. This helps you give your child the correct amount of insulin.

  • Sugars. This number includes both natural and added sugars. Sugars count as part of your child’s carbohydrate intake, and are included in the total carbohydrate number on the label. So don’t add up the amount of sugar separately when figuring out how much insulin to give your child. Just take into consideration the amount of carbohydrates when preparing insulin.

  • Fat. This number tells you the total amount of fat in each serving. Watch out for saturated fats, which raise cholesterol. Limit fats, especially if your child is trying to lose weight.

  • Trans fat. This number tells you if the food includes trans fat. Liquid oils made into a solid fat, such as margarine, have a lot of trans fat. Trans fat is bad for the heart. Try to avoid foods containing trans fat.

  • Dietary fiber. This number tells you how much of the carbohydrate in the food is fiber. Foods high in fiber are healthy. They also help keep blood sugar levels steady.

Learning portion sizes

Portion control is an important part of healthy eating. How much food your child eats affects his or her blood sugar. Your child’s healthcare team can show you how to measure the right amount of food for meals and snacks. And until you learn what portion sizes look like, use measuring cups and spoons to be sure portions are accurate.

Food for thought

Here are some tips to make things easier on you and your child:

  • Try not to be the “food police.” You want your child to eat healthy foods. But try not to put too much pressure on him or her. This will only make your child more likely to want to stray from the meal plan.

  • Stock up on healthy snacks. If your child is active, he or she may need a snack before, during, and after the activity. Bring snacks to sports events and activities. Snacks help maintain your child’s blood sugar during exercise.


For more information about diabetes, visit these websites:

  • American Diabetes Association www.diabetes.org

  • Children with Diabetes www.childrenwithdiabetes.org

  • Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation www.jdrf.org

NOTE: This sheet does not give all the information you need to care for your child with diabetes. Ask your child’s healthcare team for more information.