Feeding my family healthy food has always been an important priority for me. Well before James was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, our family was committed to eating unprocessed foods and watching our sugar intake, if not our carbs. His diagnosis has had an effect on our eating habits, for sure. Not the same effect that some might have predicted—we haven’t sworn off all sugar or gone super low-carb—but in small ways we’ve started transforming the way we eat.
A big part of this desire to eat healthy is directly due to my child’s chronic illness. Having a diet that is balanced in carbs, protein, and fat is important in my attempt to help regulate James’ blood sugar, and consuming good quality foods is important for making sure that the rest of him is as healthy as possible.
On top of that, I think just counting carbs for every meal creates a little more awareness about food. We started noticing that sometimes we could make little tweaks—basically substitutions—to the foods that James was eating, and his blood sugar would be much easier to manage. That kind of tinkering with food is very much in concert with my philosophy of diabetes and life in general: Better living through tweaks. I think sometimes the little things we do can make a big difference!
I fully recognize that tweaking recipes and making favorite foods just a little bit healthier is not a new concept at all. There are lots of cookbooks out there that can teach us how to improve the nutrition of our favorite foods. My particular tweaks tend to be simple and mostly about reducing sugar and carb content.
The biggest single way we reduced James’ breakfast carbs was by using unsweetened almond milk with his cereal. He doesn’t tolerate dairy well, so he has always used an alternative milk. We’ve done soy, rice, and coconut milks. James’ favorite of the three was rice milk, for sure. But the carb content in rice milk is really high. By choosing almond milk instead we reduced the carb content of his breakfast by a TON (22 grams per eight ounces). James barely notices the difference, but it’s easier to keep his morning blood sugars in range.
Similarly, we learned from some of our friends about substituting almond flour for wheat flour in baked goods. Some recipes tolerate this substitution better than others! I haven’t found a low-carb bread recipe that my family cares for. But I can make great pancakes with almond flour that everybody enjoys. Almond flour is good for dredging and making homemade chicken strips too. I’m looking to tweak more old favorites with almond flour in the future.
As for zero-calorie sugar substitutes, as a family we have a healthy respect for them but don’t use them too frequently. I will forever have a special place in my heart for Crystal Light® as it was a tremendous help when James was first diagnosed. He was still so hungry and accustomed to frequent snacking but didn’t want shots all day long. Crystal Light was such a fabulous substitution that made that little boy’s days so much easier. But I don’t use sugar-free foods too often now. Mostly I prefer to cultivate tastes that are less sweet, not falsely sweet, if that makes sense.
So while I like tweaks, I like some dietary changes even better. For example, as our weather has been foggy and drizzly lately (June gloom at its finest), we’ve been enjoying hot beverages. I do make a mean hot chocolate by subbing in almond milk and stevia, so it’s pretty low carb. But James also loves drinking mint herbal tea, which is naturally sugar-free, and that is an even better substitution!
As a parent of a child with diabetes, of course I want my child to be as healthy as possible, both for easier blood sugar management and out of concern for his general health. I think sometimes small substitutions—tweaks as they’re known in our house—are just the right step toward keeping a healthy diet fun and functional for our kids!
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.
Crystal Light is a registered trademark of Kraft Foods. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.