Q: Now that life has calmed down some after our son’s type 1 diabetes diagnosis, I really want to get back to cooking and baking most of our food from scratch, something I enjoy doing and believe makes for healthier food. How can I make sure I’m as accurate in counting carbs in homemade items as I am with packaged foods?

A: Feeling ready to resume doing things you enjoy is a wonderful milestone to reach following a child’s diagnosis of diabetes, especially in your case, since it’s cooking for your family! Working with fresh ingredients and preparing meals from scratch are both great ways to work a greater variety of healthy foods into your family’s diet. And the really good news? Once you get the hang of it, estimating carbohydrate counts for most homemade dishes isn’t too difficult.

Do you have a recipe for what it is you plan to whip up? A great tool for quickly calculating carbohydrate grams per serving is the free recipe analyzer found on the USDA’s SuperTracker website. Simply input the number of servings you expect the recipe to produce and the measurements of raw ingredients, and the tool will do the rest. In addition to the carb count, you’ll get an estimate of fat and protein amounts and calories per serving. For more detailed nutritional information on each raw ingredient your recipe calls for, you can check out the USDA’s nutrient database here.

That said, I know that in home cooking, if you’re making something like your great-grandmother’s lasagna recipe, it might call for a pinch of this or a dash of that to taste and not really have set measurements of ingredients that are easy to look up. You can still make a pretty good estimate of the carb count per serving by checking in whatever carbohydrate/calorie guide book you use for a restaurant-prepared version of what it is that you’re making (for example, looking up the nutrition info for a popular Italian chain restaurant’s lasagna).

Once you have this approximate carb count, measure your child’s blood sugar before eating and then check again one to two hours after the meal to see the effect of the food on his blood sugar. Was the carb-to-insulin ratio you calculated for the meal within the ballpark, or are his numbers out of range after the meal? Make a note of what carb count you dosed for so you know how to adjust next time. This kind of experimentation is a good idea whenever you are trying out any new recipe.

Before you break out the mixing bowls, I will also tell you what I tell all parents I work with when it comes to trying new things in a child’s diet: There’s no such thing as perfection. Be prepared to observe and adjust given how your child’s blood sugars respond, but also be prepared to have fun! Cooking is a great activity to involve your child in because it’s such a simple and effective way to introduce him to the concept of choosing healthy ingredients, estimating carbs, and simply knowing his way around the kitchen — all skills that will help him for life.

 –Amy Hess-Fischl, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., B.C.-A.D.M., C.D.E., is an advanced practice dietitian and coordinator for the University of Chicago Kovler Diabetes Center’s “InTransit” program for teens.

How Other Parents Deal
“When my daughter and I bake together, it feels like a game to figure out how many carbs the cookies (or whatever it is we’re making) will have. We take turns guessing before looking it up and then high-five if we’re close. It’s definitely more exciting than reading the food labels on a package of store-bought cookies!”
–Jennifer V., Asheville, N.C., mom of 8-year-old Abigail

Related topics:
Recipes From Disney and Lilly’s Type 1 Diabetes Cookbook

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Disclaimer: The information in these articles is not intended as medical advice. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding individual care.