Back to Parents' Voices Clare Pattison

Diet Management

At the beginning, I found the meal planning was the most difficult thing because we were the type of family without a weight problem but we had a sweet tooth. Desserts were common after supper. Learning and experimenting with sugar-free desserts were a challenge for me. I quickly learned how to prepare delicious desserts completely sugar free.

Our whole family eats the same food. I do 100% diabetic cooking and baking. If he can't have it, I don't make it. By doing this, it becomes our food, not "his" food. My husband lost 15 pounds in 2 months and I lost 30 pounds. Who said there isn't a good side to all of this?

We coped with the diet end of things by going back to the basics of cooking. Plain meat dishes, plain vegetables, rice or potatoes or pasta, and pieces of fruit. It doesn't sound very exciting, but plain food can be really tasty, good food. That way we didn't have to fuss around with complicated carbohydrate counting at the beginning.

The first time I went shopping after bringing our toddler home from the hospital, I felt like I was walking a mine field. If anyone had been watching me they would have thought I was having a nervous breakdown. I cruised the aisles, read hundreds of packages, backtracked and re-read some of them. I silently blessed the people who developed the new nutritional information labels. I bought more snack foods than my cupboards could hold. It took me over an hour to buy four bags of groceries.

Now I have an arsenal of crackers and cookies and I put masking tape on the outside of each package in the cupboard stating how many she can have of each kind in a serving. If she is really hungry, then she can have 20 of those. If she is not at all hungry but still has to eat, then I pick one with a higher count so she only needs one or two. I know this will all get simpler as she gets past the toddler stage, but for now, I think we're doing fine.

While we were still learning about the diet in the hospital, we had some funny times. The kitchen sent all of our baby's food ground up. It said roast chicken, or pork chops, but it all looked exactly the same: one scoop of mush. She, of course, insisted on feeding herself so at the end of every meal, the nurse and I would be on the floor scraping up globs of guck so we could measure how much she ate. One of my favourite photographs from the hospital is of her absolutely dripping with gray slimy stuff. Yes, in diabetes, food is a very big part of the care. We even wear it!

We have been dealing with diabetes for almost a year now and I have completely shied away from having company over for meals. But it was our son's birthday and we always have a big barbecue. Making big meals for lots of people used to be something I loved doing. I didn't let people bring salads because I really enjoyed doing it myself.

This time, when people offered, I accepted. Our guests brought potato salad, fruit salad, pickles and buns. I bought frozen hamburger patties. Then, as I was making the rest of the meal, I began to enjoy myself. I tried a new noodle salad and called a friend for her pea salad recipe. I had fun.

It took me a long time to clue in to why I was having such a very hard time shopping and cooking - two things I always enjoyed before. I had to bake squares for a function and I was creaming the sugar and butter together. It actually turned my stomach. It was like handling poison. I felt utter revulsion and I couldn't continue. My husband had to do it for me. (He was worried I was pregnant!)

I know a lot of parents of diabetic children really work hard at adjusting recipes and trying new things. I can't. Food is no longer just for nourishment and pleasure. Food for us is now a cautious ally, or a dangerous enemy - and there's a very fine line between the two. It is difficult to take pleasure in drawing my son's insulin, it is also difficult to take pleasure in preparing and measuring his food.

But a few days after the squares incident, I tried again and made the birthday cake with four different colours of "icing"! Yes I can so do it. Anyway, our son had a wonderful birthday surrounded by people who love him and lots of good food.

As our two diabetic children get older (they are now 8 and 14) they are taking more and more responsibility for their own care including what they eat. Of course, I plan what's for supper, but they decide what and how much of it they eat. Most of the time, they make very sensible choices. When I say "Leave room for dessert!" at our house, it means in the meal plan, not in the stomach.

Having them take on this responsibility has made it much easier for us to let them have supper or sleep over at friends' houses. We know that they know what they are doing because we see them doing it by themselves every day at home.

I hated making school lunches even before diabetes came into the picture! Our daughter was a picky eater to start with and often brought her lunch home uneaten. I sure had to be creative in making sure she had enough interesting snacks to pick from. It was such a worry that she would just skip her snack and no one would notice.

Now that she is getting older, she is a lot more sensible about following her meal plan. I think the threat of being "embarrassed" by a reaction in front of her friends has had a lot more impact than anything the Doctor or we have ever said!

At first I thought I would be looking everything up in the books for ever. Now, after three years, my wife and I just know how much of different foods she can have. We have also learned to guess pretty accurately with new foods and combination dishes. It doesn't seem like work any more. Maybe it's kind of like riding a bike: you work and concentrate so hard to learn, then after a while, you just do it without thinking.

Food, diabetes, and a pre-schooler. What a combination. We have had to be very careful about not turning food into a battle ground at our house. When our two year old would push her uneaten meal away or, better yet, tip it upside down on the floor, we really didn't know what to do.

Our nurse helped us through it by asking what we would do if any of our other children did that. We would say, "I see you are finished your supper. Please leave the table now." But how could we do that knowing that she had to eat? Well, we did it a couple of times (and of course, watched her carefully and made sure she had her snack on time) and it worked just as it had worked with our non-diabetic children.

It taught us a valuable lesson. She is no different from the other kids in terms of discipline and manners. We have learned to treat her just the same. And so far, we have managed to keep the power struggle out of meal time.

For the first few months, we avoided eating out completely. But because we live out of town and come to the city regularly, we couldn't avoid it forever. At first we went mainly to fast food restaurants and took fruit along, but now we'll go just about anywhere.

We have learned to be very assertive about what we want for our daughter. (She is not old enough to order for herself yet.) If we want something that is not on the menu, we ask for it and tell them how we want it made. Once when we were on a weekend trip, our daughter stopped eating almost completely. It was getting a little desparate, so I ordered what I knew she would eat. Porridge and a slice of cheese. The waitress thought it was a very odd supper, but they made it, and our daughter ate it!

We are also very careful when we order diet pop. When it comes, I always ask again, "is this DIET coke?" If the waiter hesitates even for a second, I ask him to take it back and get another one. We are always very pleasant about our requests and usually explain a little why we are being so fussy, and we have never had any trouble. actually, they are usually very happy to accommodate her needs.

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Last Updated: Wednesday March 16, 2005 16:44:50
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