Coming up with a variety of healthy foods for school lunches is challenging enough, but if you have a child who is diabetic, the thought of calculating starches/carbohydrates can be overwhelming. Here, Brooke Wheeler shares three tips that have made lunch packing for her diabetic son a bit easier.
My now 5½-year-old son was diagnosed with type 1 (juvenile) diabetes at 21 months of age. Since his diagnosis, we have encountered many obstacles along the way as we navigate through life with diabetes.
One of the biggest hurdles to-date, for me, came in the months before we were preparing to send him to kindergarten. Because I am a stay-at-home mom, this was the first time his diabetes management would be entrusted to someone else (the school nurse). I was particularly concerned with how lunchtime would be for him.
Now we are halfway through the school year, and I am so happy to say that my worry was for nothing. I’m not saying every day has been perfect, but we have found a pretty good system that is working for us and that is giving our son a “normal” school experience.
Lunch packing for a diabetic isn’t as different from lunch packing for someone without diabetes as you might think. As is the case for any other kid, the most important thing is to have a balanced diet. The difference is that with a diabetic, you must be aware of the carbohydrate content because that determines the insulin dosage for each meal. Fortunately, our son is on an insulin pump, so once you enter the amount of carbohydrates he’ll be eating, it makes all of the calculations for you.
I try to keep my son’s lunches in the 40- to 50-gram carbohydrate range. I have found that this amount helps keep his blood sugar stabilized, while still being able to provide him with a food portion that keeps him full throughout the afternoon. In order to stay around this number, I incorporate a lot of low-carbohydrate foods. For instance, I have found a brand of yogurt with only 4 grams of carbohydrates per container, and a brand of bread that has half the amount of carbohydrates as a typical loaf. You may have to do some hunting, but the lower-carbohydrate options are out there. You might also be surprised at how many 0-carbohydrate items there are, for example, most meats, cheeses, and veggies.
Something that has really helped me in my lunch-packing ventures is a system I came up with on my own. Every day, I send a note card in my son’s lunch box that details the food I have packed for him that day, along with a carbohydrate count for each item, and the lunch grand total. This way, if there is something he doesn’t eat, it’s easy to deduct that amount from the total. Also, I keep these note cards and re-use them, to save me time on calculating and also to give me inspiration for what to pack when I am meal planning.
Pre-packaged food makes calculating carbohydrates easier, of course, because the carbohydrate count is right there on the back of the package, already calculated for you. However, I want to stress that you need not feel like these foods are your only options. Calculating carbohydrates in fresh fruits, vegetables, and homemade meals doesn’t need to be intimidating. There are many resources out there that can help you calculate carbohydrates in food. Also, I am positive that you will find a good food scale to be invaluable, just as I have.
Believe me, I know first-hand that learning the ropes of meal planning for diabetics is a learning curve and can seem very overwhelming. However, with a little time and practice, you’ll be a carbohydrate queen/king before you know it!
Brooke Wheeler is married with two young children. She took on the role of household lunch packer this fall when her oldest son started kindergarten. Because her son is a type-1 diabetic, her main focus in lunch packing is preparing low-carbohydrate lunches. You can also visit Brooke’s blog over at thewheelerweekly.com