Q: The holidays are rapidly approaching, and all the sugary treats have me feeling not so jolly! How can our newly diagnosed 8-year-old son navigate “candy season”?
A: Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or another important holiday, the amount of sweets most people think nothing of downing during the holiday season can be overwhelming when you have a child with type 1 diabetes. Will you need to tweak some of your holiday traditions to accommodate your child’s diabetes? Probably. But any changes likely won’t need to be as drastic as you might think.
As you gear up for the holiday party circuit, talk to your child beforehand about how to pick party foods that may do a better job at keeping his blood sugar on a more even keel. Offerings like popcorn, chips, and mixed nuts are usually better choices than candy and punch when it comes to avoiding unexpected blood sugar spikes, as are cheese, veggies and dip, and hummus and pita triangles. If you have a good handle on your child’s insulin needs, a piece of cake or a sweet at the party is likely fine, but there really is no one-size-fits-all answer here, especially when a child is newly diagnosed. It’s no fun to go through blood sugar trial and error right in the middle of a holiday gathering. So if you think your child is so new to type 1 diabetes that he may not yet understand the connection between foods and blood sugar, fill up his plate for him and make sure he knows that he needs to ask you first before going in for seconds. You can show solidarity with your child by eating the same foods.
If children receive a goodie bag stuffed with candy and other holiday confections as a party favor, one strategy is to have your child pick out a small number of sweets he really likes and then dole them out piece by piece as an occasional treat (this can also work for Halloween and Easter candy). Hanukkah gelt, or gold foil-wrapped chocolate “coins”, available during the holiday season, are handy for portion control.
This year may also be the perfect time to see what healthy changes and non-food traditions can be added to your family’s holiday repertoire. After trimming the tree and decking the halls at your own house, go for a family walk to check out the neighbors’ displays of twinkling lights. Instead of going to the tree lot in front of the mall, visit a tree farm to experience the fun and excitement of finding your own tree. Volunteer at a toy drive, spend the day finding gently used (or never used!) items from your own home that might be suitable to donate, or even sign up as a family to be holiday bell ringers for a local charity. You will be taking some of the focus off of food and making the season healthier and happier for lots of families, including your own!
–Jean Betschart Roemer, MN, MSN, CRNP, CPNP, CDE, is a pediatric nurse practitioner and certified diabetes educator in the Department of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.
Disclaimer: The information in these articles is not intended as medical advice. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding individual care.