When a child has type 1 diabetes, people often ask what they can eat. Unless a child has allergies or food intolerances, no foods are off limits.
Having diabetes does involve more planning for snacks and mealtimes, as well as for special events involving food. This document will help school staff:
Our bodies get energy from carbohydrates, protein and fat. Our bodies turn carbohydrates into a sugar called glucose. Carbohydrates are found in many foods, such as:
Carbohydrates are an essential part of a healthy diet because:
A person’s blood sugar level is the amount of glucose (sugar) in their blood at any given time (for more detail, see Understanding blood sugar). Managing diabetes involves working to keep blood sugars within a target range.
Foods like candy, juice, and regular soft drinks are called “fast-acting sugars” because they raise blood sugar very quickly. Fast-acting sugar sources are very important for people with type 1 diabetes because they are used to treat low blood sugar.
A supply of fast-acting sugars will be in a student’s emergency kit, which should always be close at hand.
Foods with little or no carbohydrates do not raise blood sugar. Some examples include:
Since carbohydrates (or “carbs”) raise blood sugar, people with diabetes need to know how many carbohydrates are in the food they are eating to help them follow their meal plan and/or to determine how much insulin they need. This is called “carb counting.”
Packaged foods show the number of carbohydrates on the Nutrition Facts label.
Note: Carbohydrates in the form of fibre are not absorbed, so they don’t “count.” When counting carbs, subtract the amount of fibre. In the example here, the number of carbs in a 1-cup serving is 14 g (17 g ̶ 3 g = 14 g). Also, always look carefully at the serving sizes: In this example, there are 2 servings in 1 container.
For foods that are not packaged, like fresh fruit, Diabetes Canada has a number of useful tools to determine carbohydrate content, including a resource called Beyond the Basics. Several apps are available for mobile phones.
Although carb counting may seem complicated at first, families quickly learn the carbohydrate counts for the foods they eat on a regular basis.
Detailed instructions for lunch and snacks will be in the student’s Individual Care Plan. In general, here are some suggestions for school staff:
Because insulin doses are related to the amount of food, it’s important to ensure that students eat all (or most) of the carbohydrates in their lunch and snacks.
If food is not eaten, the student may have a low blood sugar. When that happens, extra blood checks may be needed. Be sure students have enough time to complete snacks and lunch, and that they do not share or substitute food. Younger children may need more supervision.
Last updated: March, 2017