For the first six months or so after his type 1 diabetes diagnosis, James probably consumed more processed food than in any other period of his life. For us, the conveniently labeled packages represented an easier and more certain way to count carbohydrates and make sure that we calculated the proper amount of insulin. I’m grateful for that, BUT…we now try to leave packaged foods for special occasions in our home. I am constantly trying to help my kid with diabetes and the rest of our kids to eat better meals and try more new unprocessed foods!

All four of my kids will eat broccoli, carrots, green apples, and bananas—always. Outside of that matrix, they are all picky in different ways. Cooking for picky eaters is really not fun. I was feeling stuck between my two options: cooking only the five healthy dishes that they’ll all eat but becoming bored to tears with mealtimes, or making healthy, interesting dishes that remained uneaten. I figured there had to be a better way. I think I came up with something that seems to be working really well for my family, and I wanted to share it with you.

My new meal plan is to take those basic dishes that my kids will eat and RAMP THEM UP…with a toppings bar. For example, my kids love really basic burritos—tortillas, beans, and cheese, and that’s it. Burritos made this way are really boring and only moderately healthy. (Though you can bet we use black beans and healthier tortillas!) What I’ve started doing is making those basic burritos but providing amazing salsa, guacamole, chili peppers, and shredded chicken, too. We make a kind of burrito bar where the basic ingredients are there, but so are some fun, interesting, healthy toppings and sauces. All of a sudden, mealtime is more interesting to me, AND it seems like the kids have been a little more adventurous in trying some new things. Especially when their father and I don’t force them to have any, but we simply load up and enjoy our own very appetizing-looking plates.

Now, this strategy might seem tricky for a kid with diabetes. But here’s what we do: We keep all of our sauces and toppings (or as our family calls them, “add-ons” and “dip-ins”) in little bowls with measuring cups and spoons as scoops. James simply needs to use the scoop and tell me what he’s put in his burrito, and we can figure out the carb count. It’s actually great, because it’s a process we’re modeling for him now that he can carry on himself when he becomes more independent with his diabetes care. He tests his blood sugar, he gets a plate, and he starts counting out exactly what he is eating. I think it’s freeing and empowering for him.

We’ve had a lot of success with this method. We have done pasta, pizza, paninis, salads, chicken strips, burritos, stir-fry, and veggie burgers all by providing the most basic ingredients the kids already like and then really being creative with the sides and toppings and sauces and dips. We have seen more experimentation from the kids, less waste (because they only put on their plate what they’ll eat), and very accurate and conscious carb counting. What’s more, I’m enjoying meal planning again, because my kids are happy and their father and I are happy too!

Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring. Jen and Kim are real moms of kids with type 1 diabetes and have been compensated for their contributions to this site.

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