Making Snacktime Fun for Kids with Diabetes

Setting the goal of "no snacks" for our children with type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes may not be feasible and is certainly contrary to your child's needs. Children's stomachs are smaller than our own, so they eat less at a sitting. Snacks provide a way for your child to recharge and sustain their energy until the next meal. Instead of eliminating snacks, plan for them and guide your children to balanced food choices.

For our children with diabetes, their food needs change as they grow and as they exercise more or less during the week. Diet experts from the Mayo Clinic state that snacks for children should come from the bread, dairy foods, and fruits and vegetable groups of the food pyramid.

In the bread group, healthier snacks include:

  • low fat crackers
  • bread sticks
  • pretzels
  • low and no fat rolls like bagels
  • baked chips
  • graham crackers
  • vanilla wafers
  • trail mix
  • rice cakes with fruit spread and peanut butter
  • air popped pop corn

In the fruit and vegetable groups:

  • apples
  • bananas
  • oranges and tangerines
  • grapes
  • pears
  • unsweetened fruit juices
  • tomato and vegetables juices
  • vegetable sticks

Keep in mind that vegetables and fruits can be interchanged. If your child doesn't like carrot sticks, then change to pear slices.

Foods in the milk group:

  • low fat milk
  • frozen low fat no sugar added yogurt or ice cream product
  • low fat cheese
  • low fat cottage cheese or ricotta
  • fruited yogurt
  • string cheese
  • non sugar frozen pops
  • fruit smoothies( nonfat yogurt, fruit, skim milk and ice cubes)

When shopping for these products, examine the labels, as "low fat" does not translate into low calories all of the time. Sometimes sugar is added for bulk and taste thus adding to the carbohydrate count. Fat and cholesterol should not be limited in children under two years of age because they are necessary for growth and development. After age 2, low fat dairy products and leaner meat servings may be used.

Have snacks available in certain areas of the fridge for older children. Let children know the proper time to snack. This is not 30 minutes before a meal. Rather look to the middle of the morning and afternoon. Have a place in the pantry for snacks for older children . For younger children, prepack snacks. Have them in lunch boxes or colorful sacks for younger children to make the snack special. Vary snacks so that children do not get bored.

How do you offer snacks?

Offer comparable snacks. Ask, "Do you want ice cream or yogurt?" or "Apples or grapes?"  This is better than asking, "Do you want pretzels or carrot sticks?"

Give the appropriate amount of snacks. Small children need little to eat, while older children need more. Snacks are not snacks if they ruin your child's ability to eat the next meal. For example, a 4-year-old may get 1/4 cup frozen yogurt, while a 12-year-old may get 3/4 of a cup of the same frozen treat.

Offer a variety of snacks. No one wants the same thing day in and day out. Think about how we try to vary our meals and then you'll understand this fact. Having said that, remember that young children may go from one food to another for periods of time. For example, when our son was 3 years old, he ate one brand of canned pasta for lunch every day for months until he decided that cheese sandwiches were what he wanted every day.

Another reason for selecting snacks from several areas of the food pyramid is that "forbidden foods" will not hold power over your child. Dress up fruits and vegetables with dips made from peanut butter, sour cream, cream cheese, etc. Cut the fruits and vegetables into different shapes.

Also make sure that the snacks are appropriate to the age of your child. Never give children under 3 years of age things they can choke on like nuts, hot dogs, raisins, pop corn, raw vegetables, and fruits.

Don't give up if your child doesn't like a new food the first time. Try it over again done in another way. Don't fight over food or punish your child for not eating a new food. That sets you up for unhappy future meals. Ask your child what friends eat for snacks. They may not be able to eat Snickers bars, but they can have ice cream, peanut butter crackers, etc. If your child goes to day care or school, never pack snacks that will make other children say "yuck" when your child unpacks it.

Model eating habits for your children. If you snack on veggies with dip, or fresh fruit, your children will model after you at least at home.

Nutritionists believe that when children are offered an array of healthful foods, they will select an appropriate diet. As you seek to influence your child's eating habits, go for the long haul. Consider what your child is eating over a few days--not just today. We know our diabetic children must have a certain number of calories to cover the insulin they take so fighting over one food group on one day makes little sense and may lead to eating disorders in the long run, and hypoglycemia in the short run.

Now lets look at some healthy snacks from various food groups:

Ricotta Dip for Fruits

Mix low fat ricotta with sugar substitute and orange juice. This is the basis for stuffed pastry shells called cannolli. It can be spread on crackers or toast or even on thin pancakes or French toast.

Cream Cheese Dip

Use low fat cream cheese softened with skim milk or low fat sour cream. Add lemon juice, garlic powder or onion powder and pepper and use for a vegetables dip. For a Tex Mex taste, use lime juice, cumin and garlic powder and serve with peppers and jicama slices. Stuff celery sticks with cheese and top with a few sunflower kernels.

Peanut Butter Dip

Use "natural" peanut butter as it does not have transfatty acids. You can thin it with a bit of milk. If your child likes it sweet. add a bit of artificial sweetener. Use it for apple slices, pear slices, carrot slices etc.

Cereal Gorp

Mix non sugar cereal such as Cheerios®, Trix®, Wheaties®, Shredded Wheat with dry roasted nuts, and sunflower kernels with dried fruit, and finally add non sugar chocolate chips.

Cheese Dip

Combine low fat cottage cheese with low fat grated cheddar cheese, low fat yogurt or sour cream, some horseradish, pepper, and Worcester Sauce. Use on crackers, and with vegetables.

Roasted Peanuts

Roast 4 cups raw peanuts with cumin, turmeric, 1 teaspoon sugar and dried chiles (optional) to taste. Spray with cooking spray and bake at 325°F until golden.

Fruit Wraps

Spread tortilla with a bit of thinned peanut butter and no-sugar jelly. Add a peeled banana, or fruit slices that you have acidulated.. Roll up and slice.

Acorn Squash Seeds

Acorn squash seeds taste similar to pumpkin seeds but are less dry and won't get caught in your child's throat. Cut the squash in half. Clean pulp strings from the seeds in a colander under running water. Dry on a towel. Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat seeds with refrigerated butter spray. Spread over a cookie sheet. Bake in oven 10 minutes or until the seeds start to brown, stirring occasionally.

Updated on: July 23, 2012