Nutrition for Children with Diabetes

In children who have diabetes, keeping blood glucose levels on target is the main goal for controlling diabetes and maintaining health. To help achieve this, provide healthy food choices, offer regular opportunities for exercise, and follow the advice of a qualified health care provider for giving medication if necessary.

There are two different types of diabetes. However, the recommendations for healthy eating are generally the same for both types. Without proper attention, diabetes can damage the eyes, kidneys, nerves, and blood vessels. Because diabetes can increase a child's long-term risk for developing high cholesterol, high blood pressure (hypertension), and heart disease, detecting the condition early and getting it under control is very important. For infants and toddlers, keeping glucose levels stable and on target is crucial for healthy brain development.

One of the first things to do after a child has been diagnosed with diabetes( or pre-diabetes) is to talk with a qualified health care provider and a nurse educator or registered dietician about establishing a diabetes care plan. This plan may include a schedule for what, when, and how much the child should eat and when to give diabetes medication if necessary.

Accommodating the child's new dietary needs may require changes in the family's daily lifestyle. Ask a qualified health care provider, nurse educator, or nutritionist for advice about how to talk with the child (and family) about making the needed lifestyle changes to control diabetes.

Children with diabetes basically need the same foods that all children need to grow and thrive. The following guidelines will help provide a healthy diet to help control the child's diabetes:

  • Offer balanced meals at regular intervals every day.
  • Learn how different foods affect the child's blood glucose level.
  • Offer healthy snacks between meals.
  • Encourage the child to drink water when thirsty.
  • Choose whole-grain foods with higher fiber contents.
  • Limit sweets, regular soft drinks, pastries, candy, jam, and honey.
  • Limit saturated fat and cholesterol.
  • Avoid trans fat (found in foods with hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated oils).
  • Build time into the child's daily routine for physical activity.
  • Monitor blood glucose levels as directed by the child's health care provider.
  • Learn how to treat high blood glucose (hyperglycemia) and low blood glucose (hypoglycemia).

When a child has diabetes, the body has difficulty managing the level of glucose (a type of sugar) in the bloodstream. Too little glucose in the bloodstream can cause tiredness and irritability. Too much glucose in the blood stream can damage the eyes and other organs. The amount of glucose in the bloodstream is referred to as the blood sugar or blood glucose level. When choosing foods for a child who has diabetes, it is important to know how different foods affect blood glucose levels.

Publication Review By: John J. Swierzewski, D.P.M., Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 01 Mar 2007

Last Modified: 23 Jul 2013