Eating Balanced Meals

Children who have diabetes basically need the same foods that all children need to grow and stay healthy. Healthy eating for children with diabetes means eating plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It also includes choosing protein sources such as lean meats, poultry, fish, legumes, soy-based meat substitutes, and low- or non-fat dairy products.

  • Include plenty of vegetables of various colors. (Good choices include spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, peppers, onions, eggplant, and kale.)
  • Use whole grains such as 100% whole-wheat bread, brown rice, and whole-wheat pasta.
  • Substitute beans or lentils for meat a few times per week.
  • Eat fish 2-3 times per week.
  • Choose lean meats and remove skin from poultry.
  • Switch to low- or non-fat dairy products such as skim (or non-fat) milk, low- or non-fat yogurt, and low-fat cheeses.
  • Use vegetable-based oils such as canola, olive, or corn oil when cooking.

Limit the child's intake of white or albacore tuna to no more than 6 ounces per week. Avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish due to potentially high levels of mercury. Talk with a health care provider or registered dietician about the safety of fish in the child's diet.

Choosing Healthy Snacks

A healthy snack is high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and low in fat and added sugar or sweeteners. A dietician can provide more ideas for healthy snacks, including the following:

  • Fresh fruit with low-fat cheddar cheese
  • Raw vegetables with low- or non-fat dressing or yogurt dip
  • Whole-grain crackers with low-fat cheddar cheese

Whole Grains and Other High Fiber Foods

Foods made with whole grains are healthier choices than those made with refined flour. For example, 100% whole-wheat bread, brown rice, and oatmeal are better choices than white bread, white rice, and sugary, low-fiber breakfast cereals. Foods made with refined grains (such as white flour and white rice) can make blood sugar rise faster than whole-grain foods.

Tips for adding more fiber:

  • Offer plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Switch to brown rice at home and request brown rice in restaurants.
  • Buy 100% whole-grain bread.
  • Substitute whole-grain pasta for traditional pasta.
  • Choose breakfast cereals made with whole grains (containing at least 2.5 grams of fiber per serving).
  • Check for whole grains in the ingredients lists of all grain-based products.
  • Provide raw vegetables as snacks instead of chips, crackers, or candy.
  • Substitute lentils or beans for meat 2-3 times per week.
  • Provide a green salad with dinner or lunch.
  • Try Indian, Latin, or Middle Eastern foods that have beans, lentils, or chickpeas.

Limit Saturated Fat and Cholesterol

Being overweight makes it harder for children's bodies to manage blood glucose levels and increases the risk for heart disease. Limiting saturated fat and cholesterol in the child's diet can help them maintain a healthy weight and better control diabetes.

To reduce saturated fat and cholesterol in the child's diet:

  • Limit meat and poultry serving sizes. Ask a dietician for appropriate serving sizes based on the child's age and weight.
  • Choose leaner cuts of beef (e.g., cuts with "loin" in the name, 90% lean ground beef).
  • Remove the skin from poultry before serving.
  • Serve fish such as salmon, trout, and herring 1-2 times per week.
  • Limit or avoid shellfish.
  • Substitute beans, lentils, or tofu for meat 2-3 times per week.
  • Offer low-fat or non-fat milk instead of whole or 2% milk.
  • Substitute plain low- or non-fat yogurt for sour cream.
  • Limit butter and avoid stick margarines completely. (Or use a special margarine that is made with plant stanols and sterols and is trans fat-free.)

Avoid Trans Fats

Trans fats, from hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenated oils, are unhealthy because they raise LDL ("bad") cholesterol and lower HDL ("good") cholesterol. Eliminating these from the child's diet can also help them maintain a healthy weight and avoid heart disease.

Check the ingredients lists on all foods and avoid foods that contain hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated oils. Instead, choose products made with healthier unsaturated fats such as canola, olive, soybean, safflower, and corn oils.

To eliminate trans fats (hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenated oils) from the child's diet avoid the following:

  • Stick margarine
  • Some peanut butters (check the ingredients list)
  • Most microwave popcorn
  • Many pastries and other bakery items (also may raise blood glucose levels)
  • Many crackers, cookies, and chips (also may raise blood glucose levels)
  • Fast food French fries, fried chicken, and breaded chicken and fish patties

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 28 Feb 2007

Last Modified: 11 Sep 2015