If you have a child with diabetes, you will know all too well how difficult it can be to keep them on their diet. And, now that your child is back at school and away from your watchful eye, it may be even harder. However, kids are clever and adaptable and by keeping them and their teachers informed about their condition and medication needs, and filling their lunchboxes with enough healthy snacks for the day, your kid can pass each school day with flying colours.
It is very important to make sure that your child's school and their main teacher know that they have diabetes. Explain their needs and what the possible symptoms could be. Yes, your child may not want to be treated any different, but it is important that the teacher is aware of the condition and allows them to eat snacks and drink water when necessary.
Most kids have type 1 diabetes, an auto-immune disease that needs to be managed with regular insulin injections. Your child must be allowed to check blood sugar levels at school and inject themselves with insulin if necessary. Make sure that there always is some emergency glucose on hand in case of a low blood sugar attack (hypoglycaemia). However, nowadays there are even children with type 2 diabetes, which is very disconcerting, as it is a lifestyle disease which goes hand in hand with wrong eating habits, inactivity and overweight.
The basic principles of healthy eating are the same for a child with diabetes as for any other child. Meals should be based on complex carbohydrates (preferably low-GI carbs) with some low-fat protein, and fat (preferably the healthier fats), sugar and salt in moderation. Also, encourage your child to eat several portions of fruit (focusing on low-GI ones) and vegetables/salad a day. Snacks between meals will top up their energy and balance with their insulin to prevent hypos.
There are many healthy snacks that are easy to prepare for school and really tasty. Never succumb to the "easy option" of packing chips and sweets - your child might be nagging you for them and it could save you some time, but these foods will only result in poor blood sugar control which in the long run may lead to serious complications. Rather opt for lower-GI foods as they can prevent fluctuations in blood insulin levels and help to sustain energy levels.
Registered dietician Liesbet Delport recommends the following healthy snacks for school: Popcorn, dried fruit (preferably low-GI), nuts, or trail mix with nuts, seeds and sultanas (sultanas are a good lower GI choice, whereas intermediate GI raisins are better during or after exercise), veggies like carrot sticks, cucumber sticks and baby tomatoes, low GI-fruits like apples, pears, apricots, grapes and naartjies, provitas with small cubes of lower fat cheese, low-GI sandwiches with peanut butter or low-fat chicken mayo and lettuce, low-fat yoghurt, biltong (without fat) or game biltong and cereal and fruit bars. "Bokomo's low-GI fruit and cereal bars and Safari's low-GI just fruit bars are great options," says Delport.
Also remember to pack a bottle of water and some fruit juice. "Good choices for low-GI fruit juice are apple juice or Appletiser, fresh orange juice, Liquifruit Mango and Orange and Peach and Orange, or the Ceres Cloudy Apple and Pear, Passion Fruit, Pineapple, Secrets of the Valley fruit juices. However, remember that you can only have 125ml at a time. It’s always better to dilute 100% fruit juice with some water as it’s very concentrated. Drinking yoghurt, Milo and flavoured milk are also fine, as long as you make sure it’s made with low-fat milk, low-GI and lower in kilojoules like the In Shape range, otherwise it's too concentrated and better to dilute it with low-fat milk," Delport advises.
You can also bake some snacks in advance. Spoil your kid with Banana Muffins (they are great with peanut butter), crispy Crunchies or decadent Chocolate Brownies. Try the easy recipes from Snacks and Treats for Sustained Energy and Eating for Sustained Energy 2 by dieticians Gabi Steenkamp, Liesbet Delport and Jeske Wellmann below. The muffins freeze well for up to three months and the brownies will keep well in the fridge for a few days, while the crunchies can be stored in an airtight container for up to one month.
(For a comprehensive GI and GL list of most foods eaten in South Africa visit www.gifoundation.com where you can also order a copy of the newly updated South African Glycemic Index and Load Guide)
- Banana Muffins
- Chocolate Brownies