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Nutrition & Meal Planning


Clinic Advice:

One of the most important aspects of diabetes management is nutrition. Here at the U-M Pediatric Diabetes Clinic, our team of dietitians is equipped to handle any diet questions you may have. Below, you can find answers to our most common nutrition questions.

Health & Safety Tips



World of Flavors

As we always emphasize, there is no diabetic diet, and we encourage the whole family to have balanced meals. Although the Healthy Plate method seems to fit the typical American diet the most, we can apply it to any cuisine of your choice! The main message of the healthy eating plate is:

  1. Choose food groups with dense nutrition

  2. Eat different food groups proportionally. 

The healthy eating plate doesn't even have to be an actual plate! You can use bowls or whatever dinnerware your cuisine uses. Food doesn't have to be plated separately either. It can be a dish mixed with different food groups. Fruits can be eaten as a snack in between meals as well. Check out some examples:

  • A Mexican breakfast can be Chilaquiles with shredded chicken or beans and crumbles of cheese (healthy protein), 2 small corn tortillas (whole grain), and onions and cilantro (non-starchy vegetables) with 1 cup of berries (fruit).

  • A Lebanese lunch can be Kousa Mahshi (1-2 squash) stuffed with lean ground beef, brown rice (lean ground beef = healthy protein, squash = vegetables, brown rice = whole grain), 3/4 cup of brown rice Mujadara (brown ricer = whole grain, lentil = healthy protein), and Fattoush salad (vegetables).

  • A Chinese dinner can be snow pea stir-fry (vegetable) with 1/2 cup of brown rice (whole grain), and a piece of steamed fish (healthy protein).

Fruit and Veggie Tips!

  • Eat a rainbow: Fruits and vegetables have different vitamins and minerals, so it is important to eat a variety of them to ensure you are receiving all of their benefits. Try choosing fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors, like red tomatoes, orange carrots, yellow bell peppers, green spinach, blueberries, and purple grapes, for example. If you need ideas, the ADA provides a long list of common fruits and non-starchy vegetables


  • Keep it simple: It can be fun to get creative and try new recipes, but sometimes this can be overwhelming, especially if you are in a hurry. Remember, you can always keep it simple! Try steaming fresh or frozen vegetables in the microwave in minutes for a quick and healthy side dish or addition to any meal. Just add a small amount of water to the bowl with the vegetable before placing it in the microwave. Many frozen vegetables come in ready-to-steam packages that can be cooked in the microwave with no need for preparation. Be sure to look for items without added salt, sugars, creams, or sauces. You will find this information in the ingredients list on the package.


  • Always be prepared: Adding fruits and vegetables to your snacks is a good way to increase your intake. But if you are on the go, you may not have time to prepare a snack that includes fruits and vegetables. To help with this, you could take a few minutes at the beginning of the week to prepare a few snack options in advance. For example, try cutting up carrot sticks or red bell peppers that can easily be dipped in hummus later.


  • Don't break the bank: Many fruits and vegetables are in season in the summer, like apricots, cherries, and tomatoes, and a lot of in-season produce is grown here in Michigan. Buying in-season produce is often less expensive and can be more flavorful. Also, if you use the Bridge card or SNAP, there's a program called Double Up Food Bucks which can double your spending power on fresh produce (learn more about how the program works). Frozen fruits and vegetables can also be a less expensive alternative to fresh produce. You can also use canned vegetables for a longer shelf life. When purchasing frozen or canned fruits and vegetables, be sure to look for items without added salt, sugars, creams, or sauces. 


  • Involve the whole family: Involving young kids in the cooking process could get them more excited about eating fruits and vegetables. Try bringing them along to the grocery store so they can pick out the produce they want to eat. If age appropriate, have them do some supervised meal preparation, like helping to wash the produce.

Visit these USDA resources for more tips on increasing fruit and vegetable intake: 

Setting SMART Goals

The best kind of goal is the SMART goal. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timebound. Research has found that people who set SMART goals are more likely to achieve them. 

Here are some examples of SMART goals for inspiration:

  • I will fill half of my dinner plate with non-starchy vegetables at least 4 nights per week.

  • I will sit down with my parents every Sunday afternoon to plan my lunches for the week and write a grocery list.

  • I will dance in my room for 5 songs every other day 30 minutes after I come home from school.

  • I will use measuring cups and the food scale to measure the carbs in my dinner every night whenever I eat at home.

  • I will set an alarm for 6:45am on school days to remind myself to take insulin 15 minutes before eating breakfast. 


What SMART goals will you set this year? 

Glycemic Index

Have you heard about the GI or Glycemic Index? It's a rating system for food containing carbohydrates. The lower the score, the slower the increase of blood sugar after eating. Low-glycemic foods have a rating of 55 or less, medium-level foods have a glycemic index of 56-69, and foods rated 70-100 are considered high-glycemic foods. Typically, foods with lower glycemic scores are higher in fiber, protein, and/or fat. Foods with higher scores are often more processed, quickly digested, or more sugary. However, the glycemic index can be confusing at times. Some seemingly healthy options might have a higher glycemic score than foods that are considered carb-dense. For example, ice cream has a glycemic index of 57, but watermelon has a glycemic score of 72. Does that mean we should eat ice cream for all snacks instead of watermelon? (No, although that would be a dream come true!)

Why does the GI seem misleading? There are two reasons:

  1. The glycemic index doesn't count how much we are eating. 1 cup of Ben and Jerry's chocolate ice cream has 50g of carbs, but 1 cup of watermelon cubes has only 11g of carbs.

  2. The glycemic index assumes food is eaten on an empty stomach and with nothing else. Most of us don't eat just one food at a time. Mixing different food groups can slow down the increase in blood sugar. For instance, cooked white rice has a glycemic score of 87, which is high on the glycemic index. But we can pair it with grilled chicken (GI=0) and asparagus (GI=15) to lower the overall glycemic effect.

 So is the glycemic index useless then?

No, the glycemic index still provides guidance when we're comparing similar food. For example, instant oatmeal's GI score is 83, but oatmeal made from old-fashioned oats (rolled oats) has a GI score of 55. That is part of the reason that most of us see a sharp increase in blood sugar after instant oatmeal, but not so much when having old-fashioned oats. 
Although the glycemic index may be an imperfect system, it is a helpful tool to guide us toward healthy eating. Lower-glycemic foods are usually more nutrient-dense. We can also GI scores to make food pairings that can lower the spike of blood sugar after eating, like the chicken + rice example above.

Holiday Eating


October is a month when sugar and carbs like to come out to play - whether we’re preparing for Halloween craziness or looking to buy warm fall drinks, sugar seems to be present in all of our favorite holiday treats. Not to worry! The U-M Pediatric Diabetes team has some tips and tricks to help you stay in range.

Not-So-Scary Halloween


October is a month when sugar and carbs like to come out to play - whether we’re preparing for Halloween craziness or looking to buy warm fall drinks, sugar seems to be present in all of our favorite holiday treats. Not to worry! The U-M Pediatric Diabetes team has some tips and tricks to help you stay in range.

Fall is in full swing and Halloween is just around the corner! For many people, this can be a sugar-rush time of year which can be a bit challenging for individuals with diabetes. But, even though your child may have diabetes, it doesn't mean they have to miss out on fun experiences. Here are some tips to have a 'not-so-scary' Halloween:

  1. Make a plan. Talk with your child about any concerns you have and invite them to help make a plan for managing their blood sugar during festivities. Check out this Halloween candy carb count guide from JDRF to help with insulin dosing!

  2. Eat a healthy, balanced meal ahead of time. Don’t go trick-or-treating on an empty stomach. Be sure to have a meal with high-fiber carbohydrates, vegetables, and healthy protein before heading out. Trick-or-treating involves a lot of walking and extra playing, and a balanced dinner will help prevent low blood sugar.

  3. Portion out candy. Let your child pick their favorite candy and teach them to set an amount to eat each day. Apply this portion size to everyone in the household, not just the child with diabetes. Being overly restrictive can increase the chance that your child will try to sneak food.

  4. Donate extra candy. Did you know you can trade in candy for cash, goods, coupons, or services? Candy buyback programs are held at participating local businesses and dental offices around Halloween time, and the candy collected is sent to troops overseas as a sweet thank you. If you don't have a participating program in your area, you could also suggest your child trade their candy for a toy or a fun activity.

  5. Change the focus. Halloween is more than just candy! There are many other fun activities including costume contests, carving pumpkins, haunted houses, hay rides, and making Halloween-themed snacks.

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