Snacking is an important way to make sure kids are getting enough energy and nutrients. While many adults simply eat three square meals per day, growing children need to eat more often to keep up with the body’s energy demands. For youth with diabetes, snacking can be a strategy to control blood glucose levels. It can also be a way to get kids with diabetes to eat all of the food in their meal plan with a little more flexibility. However, snacks also need to be matched to their insulin.

What’s in a Good Snack?

Snacks that have a good balance of carbohydrate, protein, and fat are best for controlling appetite and blood glucose. Most protein sources already naturally have some fat, so fat is not usually added to balance the snack. Here are some examples of carbohydrate and protein sources. Have your child choose one item from each column to make a balanced snack that they like.

Carbohydrate SourceChips, Candy, All the Snacks

  • Whole grain crackers
  • Whole grain bread or pita
  • Dry cereal
  • Air-popped popcorn
  • Fresh fruit
  • Tortilla
  • Oatmeal
  • Whole grain bagel

Protein Source

  • String cheese
  • Peanut butter
  • Reduced-fat hard cheese (Cheddar, Swiss, etc.)
  • Low-fat milk
  • Low-fat cottage cheese
  • Sliced chicken or turkey breast
  • Hummus
  • Scrambled eggs

When To Snack

The overall meal and insulin plans should match, but in general, children should snack midway between meals. This helps keep hunger at bay and prevents spikes in blood glucose. If there is a long stretch of time between meals, your child may need to get two snacks. Often, the second snack should have mostly carbohydrates. This will help keep blood glucose levels controlled before the next meal. In addition, a snack with mostly carbohydrates won’t spoil your child’s appetite for the next meal.

Snacking on the Go

Unexpected things happen, and kids might not always get a chance to snack on schedule. If blood sugar gets too low, treat the blood sugar, and then give the snack. The amount of protein may need to be adjusted depending on how soon the next meal will be. Again, less protein and more carbohydrates should be given if the next meal will be soon. This will help stabilize blood glucose without hurting the appetite. To avoid these issues, the caregiver should plan ahead as much as possible. Portable carbohydrate sources like apples, bananas, granola bars, and crackers can be stashed in the car or the child’s backpack. Individual containers of peanut butter, nuts, or even canned tuna are nonperishable protein sources and can be stored without refrigeration.

Balancing Snacks with Blood glucose

As always, the blood glucose should be monitored to determine how much insulin should be given to cover the snack. Your child may need an extra dose of insulin if blood glucose is too high. The composition of the snack can also be changed, giving more protein and less carbohydrate. Consult with the child’s diabetes care team to figure out the best way to balance hunger, blood glucose, and insulin.