The holidays don’t always feel like holidays without favorite foods, which can make them especially difficult for kids with diabetes and their families. If your family’s traditional favorites seem like a recipe for disaster, Children’s nutritionist Rainie Robinson has three simple tips to keep your celebrations healthy and fun:
1) Keep track of carbs (carbohydrates)
You’ll want to help your child make lower fat choices to stay healthy daily. But on a holiday, Robinson says, “We’re really just focused on counting the carbs.”
Accurately counting carbs is one of the things families struggle with around the holidays, Robinson explains, but online and smartphone resources to make it easier than ever. Sites like calorieking.com and carbmanager.com help identify the carbohydrate counts in common foods, and both sites offer free smartphone apps for quick reference on the go.
For multi-ingredient dishes prepared at home, sparkrecipes.com has a handy recipe calculator that does the counting for you. Keep in mind that these counts depend on accurate serving measures, so you’ll have to be aware when dishing out servings.
Some holiday foods are surprisingly easy to adjust for a lower carbohydrate load. “You can make a lot of the pies a lot more diabetes-friendly by just using a sugar substitute,” Robinson notes. “If you use sucralose (Splenda®) it doesn’t really change the consistency or alter the baking in any way.” Making your pie crust-less can save even more carbs.
2) Enjoy some favorites
Remember that the holidays should feel special and it’s okay to indulge a little. Robinson recommends that kids stick to three or four of their favorite items in the main meal and one or two small desserts. Fill half the plate with non-starchy vegetables and lean protein to fill up on lower carb options. A half-cup serving is a good limit for higher calorie items. (But don’t worry about bringing a measuring cup to holiday dinners: A half-cup serving is roughly the size of a child’s fist.)
Some holiday favorites have reasonable carb counts in small servings. Mashed potatoes, for instance, have so much milk and butter that the carb load is only around 15 grams of carbohydrates per half cup. Green bean casserole is another decent option at roughly 12 grams of carbs per half cup. (Macaroni and cheese and cornbread dressing have higher amounts of carbs and should be eaten in moderation, since a one cup serving can add up to more than 50 grams of carbohydrates.)
Regular snacks can help kids avoid constant grazing and stick to reasonable servings during big holiday dinners. Need ideas? These kid-friendly snacks weigh in at just 15 grams of carbohydrates:
• Four animal crackers with 4 ounces of milk
• One small piece of fruit with 3 ounces of cheese
• Five vanilla wafers and 1 tablespoon of peanut butter
• One slice of turkey breast with lettuce and tomato wrapped in a 6-inch tortilla
• One 6-ounce cup of light yogurt (or one Yoplait Go-Gurt® tube)
Try to limit favorites to actual food, and avoid liquid calories. Stay away from sugar in drinks, Robinson says, “because it doesn’t really take any digestion to absorb, and that’s bad news for blood sugar maintenance.”
3) Get back to normal
Balance holiday treats with a quick return to normal diet habits. “We still want them to monitor and use their good judgment and not have a free-for-all that day,” Robinson says, “but on the next day really try to get back into that typical range.”
And try not to make your child feel like she’s being singled out because of her diabetes, Robinson cautions. Practice the same thoughtful indulgence followed by normal eating yourself. That way, you’re teaching your child that these habits are part of a healthier family holiday instead of a punishment for her diabetes.
In Robinson’s experience, parents of newly-diagnosed diabetics often have the hardest time with this balance, but they shouldn’t worry too much. “It gets easier with time,” she says. “Just play it by ear, especially with the first holiday.”