Healthy eating for children with diabetes

Healthy eating for children with diabetes

Healthy meal planning is an important part of diabetes management. There is no need for a child or young person to eat special foods.

Key points to remember about healthy eating for children with diabetes

  • healthy meal planning is an important part of diabetes management
  • healthy eating for people with diabetes is the same as healthy eating for everyone
  • there is no need for a child or young person to eat special foods
  • regular physical activity is also important and benefits people of all ages 

What kind of meal planning does my child with diabetes need?

There is no need for your child or young person to eat special foods.

Healthy meal planning is an important part of diabetes management. Healthy eating for people with diabetes is the same as healthy eating for everyone. There is no need for a child or young person to eat special foods.

A dietitian who specialises in diabetes will be able to help you and your child to work out an individual meal plan. The individual plan will depend on things like:

  • nutritional requirements for growth and development
  • daily routine
  • food preferences
  • (most important) matching the amount of carbohydrate with your child's insulin regimen or medicines and physical activity

This will help to keep blood glucose levels steady and within the target range most of the time.

How are carbohydrates important for my child with diabetes?

Carbohydrate is the best source of energy for the body. It is broken down into glucose in the bloodstream. Glucose is used as a fuel by the body, including the brain and the muscles.

Carbohydrate has the most direct influence on blood glucose levels. It is important to include carbohydrate foods at each meal (and snacks) to balance blood glucose levels. The dietitian can give you advice about the right amount of carbohydrate for your child or young person.

Carbohydrates are found in a range of foods.

Cereals and grains

Breakfast cereals, breads, crackers, rice, pasta, noodles.

Legumes and lentils

Baked beans, chickpeas, split peas, kidney beans, soya beans.

Starchy vegetables

Potato, kumara, corn, yam, parsnips, taro, green banana, cassava.

Natural sugars

Fruit, fruit juice, milk, honey, yoghurt.

Foods with added sugar

Jam, cakes, biscuits, ice cream, cordials, soft drinks.

Why is the glycaemic index important for my child with diabetes?

The glycaemic index (GI) is a ranking of carbohydrate foods based on their immediate effect (compared to pure glucose) on blood glucose levels.

Slow release carbohydrate (low GI) foods help to keep blood glucose levels steady. 

Some carbohydrate foods are digested slowly producing a gradual rise in blood glucose levels. These slow release carbohydrate (low GI or low glycaemic index) foods help to keep blood glucose levels steady. They help to provide sustained energy for your child or young person, especially during sporting activities.

Some examples of low GI foods are:

  • heavy and dense wholegrain breads, such as Burgen®, Holsom's® 9 grain
  • wholegrain or unrefined cereals that are high in fibre, such as rolled oats/porridge, muesli (choose unsweetened and untoasted), All Bran® , Special K®, Weetbix®
  • pasta - white, wholemeal
  • rice, such as Basmati, Doongara, Uncle Ben's® parboiled
  • legumes and lentils, such as baked beans, chickpeas, split peas, kidney beans, haricot beans
  • milk, yoghurt, low fat ice cream
  • fruits such as citrus (oranges), stone (apricots, peaches, plums), cherries, apples, pears, dried apricots, prunes and apples
  • vegetables, such as corn, yams, taro, green banana

Some carbohydrate foods are digested quickly and produce a rapid rise in blood glucose levels. They are called quick release or high GI foods. 

A dietitian will be able to recommend the use of different types of carbohydrates to fit in your child or young person's meal plan and activities.

Why is specific dietary advice important for my child with diabetes?

It is important that your child or young person sees a dietitian at least once a year. Your dietitian can give you details and advice that's right for your child or young person. That way, your child or young person has a meal plan that is best for their growth and development. A dietitian can also provide you with up to date information on the dietary management of diabetes and advice on changes to your child or young person's meal plan.

The Paediatric Society of New Zealand acknowledges the cooperation of the Starship Children's Hospital, Auckland District Health Board. The content on this page has been produced in collaboration with the National Clinical Network Children and Young People's Diabetes Services.

This page last reviewed 09 August 2016.
Email us your feedback


On this page