We like buffets. We’re big eaters in my family, so we really feel like we get our money’s worth. When we walk in the door, restaurant owners start sweating, hoping that the house will come out on top despite our presence that evening.

But I confess, buffets were something we rather avoided when James was first diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. I think this is only natural. Like many of the families that I’ve talked to, when James was first diagnosed and we were learning so many things, relying on foods that were easy to carb-count was really a comfort. We probably ate more packaged foods those first few months than any time period since. However, after a little while, we really felt ready to take on the challenge of an all-you-can-eat buffet, and with time we’ve gotten better and better at it.

Here are some of our tips:

First, remember, you are practicing for a buffet every time you measure something at home. Each time you use your scale or measuring cups, you are honing your evaluation skills. I like to eyeball a serving, make a guess, and then check myself with my measuring devices. This allows for fine tuning my “guesstimating” skills which is a great help when at a buffet!

Second, prepare in advance if you can. While sometimes buffet attending will be on the fly, if you know you’ll be going out, try to prepare by testing blood sugar an hour before eating. That way, you can make any corrections that need to be made to ensure that at least at the start of the meal, your child is in range. Take out as many variables as possible!

Third, don’t be ashamed to bring your measuring devices. I don’t find that we need measuring cups anymore, but I admit I’ve brought them before. Usually what I like to do is dish up quickly and efficiently in the lines, then bring the food back to the table, whip out the cups and make my guesses that way. Some families might find this to be too obtrusive, but the places we frequent are often loud and full of other kids. Using measuring cups is hardly the most disruptive or embarrassing event of the evening.

Fourth, have a carb-counting book or device handy. We depended on a book for years. Now we have some handy apps on our smart phones. Both are great for when you run into unfamiliar foods. At our latest buffet outing, James wanted frozen yogurt. We’re pretty good at ice cream, but we haven’t done yogurt before, surprisingly. It was great to be able to estimate the size (because we practice at home) and enter the calculation into the smart phone app. It helped us come up with a much more accurate guess as to how many carbs the yogurt contained.

Fifth, be flexible. Consider that James ate over 200 carb grams at the buffet we recently attended! He is a healthy eater and he ate lots of salad and fresh veggies, but he also dove into the pasta and had a loaded baked potato. And that brought the carb count up quickly. When we go to buffets, I realize that I can only offer my best guess. I try to use the skills I’ve acquired, and then I really have to let go to a certain extent in order to relax and enjoy the evening with my family. Happily, two and a half hours after eating, James’ blood sugar was only very slightly elevated. We’ve done worse in the past, and we’ve done better. We keep trying and having fun.

And to the chagrin of local buffet owners, we keep coming back. We like it…we like to eat!


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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5 Tips for Parents of Picky Eaters
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