Kids who have diabetes don't need to be on strict diets, but they do need to pay attention to when they eat and what's on their plates. Why? Because it helps them keep their blood sugar levels in check. Meal plans help people with diabetes eat right and stay healthy. What's a meal plan? Let's find out.

Following Meal Plans

What Happens in Diabetes?

Because healthy meals are so important, your diabetes health care team will probably give you a meal plan to follow. Meal plans don't tell you exactly which foods to eat, but they might give you general information like which food groups to pick and when you should eat.

Don't worry that this plan will include stuff you don't like. Your meal plan will include the foods that you already eat and like. The team will probably ask you to write down all the foods you eat in a food diary for a few days so that they know your tastes.

Your meal plan will help you think about healthy meals, but it also might help you reach other health goals. For example, if you need to lose weight, then the plan may suggest that you watch the number of calories and fat grams you eat to help you reach your goal.

Your parents or other grown-ups might make most of the meal-planning decisions. But if they ask for your advice, try to keep things balanced. For instance, two baked potatoes don't make a balanced meal. But you could have half a baked potato along with some grilled chicken and some broccoli. Top it off with a dessert of fresh berries, and you have a great balanced meal.

Types of Meal Plans

There are three types of meal plans. Your diabetes health care team, including your doctor, will help you decide which one is best for you.

With the constant carbohydrate meal plan, the person eats a certain amount of carbohydrates (say: kar-bo-HI-drates), or carbs, in each meal and snack. Then he or she takes insulin (say: IN-suh-lin) or other diabetes medicines at the same times and in similar doses each day. A kid — or the kid's parents — could use food labels to determine how many grams of carbohydrates are being eaten, so he or she stays on track.

Another option is the carbohydrate counting meal plan. With this plan, people with diabetes count carbs so they can match their insulin doses with the amount of carbohydrates that they eat. Counting carbs means the person counts the number of carbohydrate grams being eaten.

Food labels can tell you how many grams of carbohydrate are in a food. Knowing that, a person then matches the insulin dose with the amount of carbohydrates that he or she eats. This plan works best for people who take a dose of insulin (as a shot or with an insulin pump) with each meal.

Some people who have diabetes use the exchange meal plan. Rather than focusing only on carbs, a person on this meal plan needs to look at proteins and fats as well. With this meal plan, foods are divided into six groups: starch, fruit, milk, fat, vegetable, and meat.

The plan sets a serving size (amount) for foods in each group. Each serving has about the same amount of calories, proteins, carbs, and fats. For instance, an apple or an orange would each be one serving of fruit. You could choose either one if your meal plan calls for a fruit serving. The number of servings from each food group that should be eaten at each meal is based on the number of calories the person needs per day.

How Food Labels Can Help

Food labels are easy to read, and they list a food's ingredients, nutritional information, and calories. So anyone concerned about eating healthy can learn a lot from them. For people with diabetes, food labels also may provide information they need to know to keep their blood sugar on track.

For example, if you are using the constant carbohydrate or the carb counting meal plan, you can look for carbohydrates on the food label. It will tell you how many grams of carbs you are about to eat. The number of carb grams on the label applies to one serving, so be sure to multiply that number times the number of servings you're eating or drinking.

If you're using the carb counting plan, knowing the amount of carbs you've eaten can help you determine how much medicine to take.

Someone on an exchange plan also might use food labels. How? By looking at the food's breakdown of carbs, protein, and fat. It can help the person know how to classify this food — as a starch, fruit, vegetable, meat, or fat. This lets people keep track of how many servings of a food they eat that day.

Food labels also show you how much sodium (salt) is in a food. This is important because some people who have diabetes also have high blood pressure. Too much salt, or sodium, can worsen blood pressure problems.

On food labels, you'll also find information on the amount of fat, the type of fat, and the total calories in a food. It's a good idea for everyone, including people who have diabetes, to keep an eye on these. Eating too much of certain fats can make someone more likely to have heart and blood vessel problems. And eating too many calories can cause you to gain too much weight. If you're curious, your parent, doctor, or nutritionist can help you figure out how many calories you need each day. Use them well!

Write it Down

As you've probably noticed, meal plans mean a lot of keeping track — of the carb grams or the exchange servings you've eaten. To make that easier, you might want to write down what you eat and your blood sugar readings on a record sheet.

Your mom or dad can use this record to help you balance food and insulin so you stay on track. And because it's written down, you won't have to say, "Uh, I don't know" when someone asks you what you ate or what your last reading was!

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