10 Holiday Tips for Children with Diabetes

Brittany Pond, MS, RD, LDN, CDE

The holidays should be a joyous time. But for children with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, this can be a tough time of year.  

Changes to daily routines, different meal times, new foods, or familiar foods prepared differently are all challenges that families face during the holidays. Regular activity or exercise during this time of year can also be a struggle. For children with diabetes, each of these factors may cause unusual blood sugar levels throughout the season.

For happy and healthy holidays, encourage your child to include all food groups. Since holiday meals are special occasions, it’s okay for your child to enjoy foods they may not see on a normal day. Be sure to limit, but not restrict, desserts or sweet foods.

Blood sugar levels

Blood sugar may be higher than normal during this time of year. To help minimize high blood sugar levels, try not to keep leftover sweet foods in the house. You may also notice low blood sugars due to stress, varying daily routines, or carbohydrate counting errors.  Always treat low levels with fast-acting sugars such as juice or glucose tablets.

Here are 10 tips to help enjoy the holidays:

  1. Use the “plate method.” Encourage your child to choose three of the five food groups at each mealtime.
  2. Fill up on nonstarchy vegetables. Broccoli, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, peppers, zucchini, and other non-starchy vegetables are low in carbohydrates and will help your child feel full.   
  3. Include all food types during the holiday meal. Restricting certain foods can lead to poor eating habits.
  4. Be a food role model. Children tend to model themselves after their parents and older siblings. Choosing healthy foods may inspire your child to make better food choices. 
  5. Count carbohydrates for your child. If your child takes insulin, help with their carbohydrate count. It’s okay to estimate at holiday meals.   
  6. Don’t force kids to finish their meal.  If your child is too full, avoid forcing them to finish all their food. Do remember to monitor blood sugars closely.
  7. Allow sweets. Children with type 1 or type 2 diabetes can eat a small amount of dessert or other treat foods.
  8. Limit or avoid foods labeled as “sugar free.” These foods may contain sugar alcohols that can cause belly pain or diarrhea.
  9. Increase blood glucose monitoring.  Foods, activity, and stress can all affect blood sugars. Checking more often is a good idea.
  10. Plan for movement. Take a family walk! Activity may help lower blood sugars and is important for a healthy lifestyle for everyone!

Don’t let holiday eating become a weeklong affair. Try to reserve special meals for the holiday itself. Afterwards, return to your child’s normal eating schedule, making sure to offer healthy food choices. 

If you have specific questions about your child’s nutritional needs, contact your child’s diabetes care team. Ensure that it includes a registered dietitian who specializes in diabetes. Of course, always follow doctor’s recommendations regarding medications.

For more information on diabetes in children, and the services we offer, visit the Pediatric Diabetes and Endocrinology Program or call 401-793-8100.