At our most recent endocrinologist appointment, James and I had a fabulous discussion with the registered dietitian. We’re so grateful to have her on our diabetes care team. She’s knowledgeable and kind and always gives us tons of advice about both type-1-diabetes-specific food questions and general nutrition. Of course we try to take full advantage of her wealth of knowledge and experience.

We’ve been struggling to keep weight ON James for the past few years. He’s growing UP just fine, but he’s growing so quickly that his heft can’t quite keep up. After suggesting a number of good, nutrient-dense foods that James turned his nose up at, the dietitian gave us a very practical plan that I think we’re going to put in place.

She suggested a kind of “sticker chart” to help him learn to incorporate new foods into his diet. Now, sticker charts and I, we’ve had a bit of a rocky relationship over the years. As a younger parent I really hated the idea of sticker charts. I just didn’t want my kids to be dependent on external motivation to do chores or behave.

But I’ve changed my tune a little bit. I do use sticker charts now. For me, I find that they work best when I’m teaching a new behavior that my kids might not be really excited about at first. A great example is potty training. It’s a temporary process that is rewarding in itself once accomplished, but stickers and other treats are VERY motivating in the short-term!

Now I have sticker charts for almost everyone in the family. I keep them on the inside of my kitchen cabinets. Each kid gets a cabinet, and there you might find a chart in addition to things like school calendars or instruction sheets for special projects.

But the one person who has actually never had a sticker chart of his own is James! He was just too old to really benefit from my rather recent use of them. So here we are, using a sticker chart with him for the first time. And here’s what we’re putting on it…

The dietitian told us that it takes about 20 exposures to new foods for us to learn to like them. She suggested picking a few healthy foods that James doesn’t like right now and giving space on the chart for 20 opportunities to try each food. Once the chart is filled out, he gets some kind of incentive. James was actually pretty open to the idea!

James is funny, because there are some very healthy foods that he just LOVES and he’d eat all day. He adores carrots, celery, tomatoes, peapods, and spinach. But there are a lot of other healthy foods that he just won’t touch. Like chicken. And most protein sources actually! Protein is important in his diet, both to gain weight and make his dietitian happy but also as part of a healthy, balanced diet. Foods high in protein and fat are awesome for him, because their effect on blood sugar is less pronounced than carb-heavy foods.

So James and I sat down and tried to make a list of FIVE foods that he’d agree to try 20 times. We both agreed to avoid things that truly turned his stomach. I let him pick one food that he kind of liked but didn’t really love — brie cheese. I picked the other four foods. I picked three foods high in protein — chicken, hamburger, and quinoa — and one high in vitamin C: oranges.

Together we negotiated what necessitated a “try” and decided that a good-sized bite, maybe an inch cubed in size, was required for a sticker on his chart. We haven’t come up with what he gets when he fills out his chart yet. I promised him it would be good!

I’m excited, because I really believe that by actively trying these foods his palate will get more adventurous. I know that eating good-quality food is important to his general health and to help him keep his blood sugar at optimum levels.

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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