A Sugar-Free Life?: My Mom’s A Diabetic

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Ellie with the spaghetti pie she helped make with lentil pasta and lots of veggies.
Maisy with the Chicken Pot Pie she helped make

My children do not live a sugar-free life. Instead my kids live what I like to think of as a “balanced” life. There are certianly things that perhaps they are not exposed to as much as they would be if their mom had a working pancreas but for the most part they live in a world of food that very mch resembles one of a “normal” kid.

My children are foodies. Since the age of four my children have preferred to watch the Food Network or the Cooking Channel instead of cartoons. They love shows like Kid’s Baking Championship, Chopped Junior, Home Cooking with Valerie, and Ace of Cakes. They may not know the names of Disney characters but they can tell you that Valerie Bertinelli’s favorite flavor is lemon and that Duff Goldman has a unicorn cake tattoo on his arm.

Their all-time favorite thing to play over the last three years has been Chopped Junior. They get out their Play Doh and slime and “cook” dishes in a set period of time. We are constantly asked “how much time is left?”. Finally, when time is up they bring us their creations complete with “berry compotes”, “grilled steaks”, “fried dumplings”, “cakes with fondant and royal icing”, and “homemade ice cream with a fresh raspberry coolie (This is one of their favorite terms. I had to look it up because I didn’t even know how to spell it!). My kids love food, watching it, making it, and eating it and both my kids have favorite foods.

Maisy: candy, fancy chocolates, root beer, Baby Bell cheese, fish with lots and lots of lemon juice, chicken pot pie, tortellini, strawberries, Nutella, cherry tomatoes, any pepper but the green ones (they taste the worst), and fruit salad.

Ellie: Oatmeal, ice cream, bacon, almost all raw veggies, peanut butter and marshmallow fluff sandwiches, salads, German pancakes with cinnamon apples, tortellini, cookies, pizza, popsicles, fruit salad, trail mix, BLT sandwiches.

As you can see their lists include a wide range of foods and yes they absolutely include a fair amount of sweets. They are seven and they are kids and having a diabetic mom does not change that.

When we sit down at the dinner table more often than not my kids eat what we eat. Our family meals are certainly more on the low carb side than a family without a diabetic but I focus more on providing a vast selection of the things they need to grow healthy and strong rather than draw attention to the things that we tend to avoid. Veggies and protein have a place at our table for every dinner and, on occasion a sweet potato or tater tot wanders over too but we keep the focus on the veggies and the protein.

The other night we had one of my husband’s favorite dinners, pork tenderloin. We had steamed broccoli, roasted asparagus and potatoes. (Best thing about asparagus? I’m the only one who likes it so it is all mine!!!!)

Notice no asparagus

The same focus applies to my kids’ lunches. A typical lunch always has protein and a veggie or fruit. Of course there are the yummy veggie straws or pirate’s booty salty snacks but always a good balance of the three. And while my kids like sandwiches there are many more days that they prefer to take just the meat and cheese and skip the bread. Again, this was not forced on them, just a matter of preference.

The lunch Maisy packed. We call it a lunchable lunch

My kids come home from school hungry and when they are home with my on weekends they are no stranger to snacking. I have found that if I offer to cut up an apple or cheese or make trail mix my kids will almost always say “yes” and I will have avoided the need to say no to choosing sweets as an after school snack. The key is in the timing. Fill their mouths with the good stuff so they can’t ask for the crummy stuff. The same goes when we go to the zoo, sporting events, the park, etc., I bring snacks so that before the vicious seven year hunger monster shows up I’m fueling them up with good stuff and saving money at the concession stand in the process. (Maybe they’ll bury me with my lunchbox…full of snacks. Seems only fitting as I am beginning to realize that it is seriously always with me)

Do my kids still ask for foods that are made of more fake stuff than real stuff? Absolutely! They are kids and marketing companies don’t get paid the big bucks because they are bad at their jobs. We do the occasional splurge on some foods that have more bright colors than a box of crayons, but for the most part we stick to foods that have some nutritional value, will cause more good than harm, and are organic when possible.

We also try our best to talk to them about why a particular food is not the best choice and try to avoid labeling a food as a “bad” food. Let’s face it I grew up eating McDonald’s Happy Meals on special occasions and going out for ice cream and I’m still standing. The key back then was balance and it still is in my house. My kids don’t need to be first grade nutritionists but they can certainly be given an understanding of what foods have protein to fill their bellies and make them strong and what foods have good vitamins to help them grow. The other foods we describe as foods that taste good but aren’t the best workers. They are great to have once in awhile but only after you’ve put all the hard working food in you first.

Is this an easy discussion every time? Do they still serve up a full glass of whine after realizing mom and dad are still not budging? Yes. Again, they are kids. You stand your ground, keep things balanced and live to eat another meal.

And then there is the topic of dessert. As you can see from my girl’s favorite foods, they are no stranger to sweets. Maisy has a sweet tooth for candy something awful and when she was 4 we used to find candy wrappers under her bed only to learn she had a secret stash in her bedroom. (Cue panicking mother thought: My daughter is most certainly headed for a life of crime as she seems to already be honing her embezzling skills.) We have since put a stop to her looting ways with some careful discussions about the differences between healthy and unhealthy foods and what our bodies need versus what we just really like.

My kids have a small treat every day in their lunch and they have a small treat after dinner. Feel free to think this is wrong. I will not judge how things are done in your house but I do not see the harm in a small piece of candy or a cookie after finishing a balanced meal. Not to mention, it would be pretty hard for mom and dad to say no to a treat when my husband and I also have something sweet after dinner. We always joke in our house that we know it is time to make a Costco run when the 48oz. bag of chocolate chips in the fridge is empty. We don’t eat bowl full of chocolate chips but learning to have the will power for moderation is a life skill we practice in our house.

Do we go out for ice cream (or frozen custard, because we live in WI where frozen custard is king)??? YES!!!!! Ice cream is one of the easier desserts for me to calculate in terms of insulin. I abandoned cakes and most baked goods long ago as they proved just too hard to calculate in terms of insulin.

Treating myself to the occasional dish of my favorite flavor is something that did not come naturally to me when I was first diagnosed. I remember my husband begging me to go out to Culver’s for frozen custard and I just flat out refused. Finally he said, very matter of factly, “were going out to Culver’s”. What a horrible guy, saying such harsh words to this new diabetic!!! He promised to take me on a long walk afterwards to ensure my blood sugars stayed in range. So we went for out first scoop and guess what…I lived!!

I needed someone to give me that slight, but forceful, push in the beginning to remind me that even though I had diabetes the new life that I was living was still fairly similar to the one I lived before I was diagnosed. It was ok to still enjoy my life. I just had to make some adjustments and adaptations.

It took more practice, but overtime I learned how to handle these sweet situations and while there are certainly times when my sugars are on a roller coaster after a bit too much fun I take a deep breath, yell at my insulin pump, my husband rolls his eyes, I take another deep breath, and patiently (or not so patiently) let myself get back on track.

Are there some things that kids of a diabetic have to miss out on? Maybe a few.

We don’t go out for pizza because I can’t eat restaurant pizza (unless it’s MOD Pizza).

MOD Pizza: A family favorite because it tastes amazing and their carb counts on their website speak the truth making for an easy insulin dosing.

We do however have lots of pizza nights at home where Tim picks up a pizza from our favorite local spot and I make my own pizza at home while he is picking it up. (I also always steal a tiny sliver thinner than your finger from their pizza because its soooo good!).

We don’t go out for Chinese food. We tried that once and after two days of high sugars mostly from the combo of high calories, carbs and MSG, we decided that perhaps it was not worth it.

We do however have a fantastic fried rice recipe that we make at home that is one our favorite dinners and gives every one ample time practicing their chopstick skills.

We typically don’t have birthday cake on mom’s birthday.

Instead we go out for ice cream or get caramel apples from the local chocolate shop which I have found to be fairly kind and forgiving n the sugars department. This year, while the girls were at school, I enjoyed my free birthday scoop of custard at Culver’s with a healthy mountain of whipped cream on top while reading my book. It was nirvana-like.

Happy Birthday To Me!! Custard, a Book and Peace and Quiet!! (The pint was an added birthday freebie for me to take home)

We don’t eat real pasta in our house unless its ravioli, which I make for the kids while I make myself eggplant parmesan (again, the only one who likes it, yipppee!!).

When making pasta for our whole family we opt for the lentil pastas or Dreamfields brand pasta which is very high in fiber and causes a very gradual and easy to control rise in my sugars rather than the immediate, unpredictable spike of regular pasta.

I don’t expect my kids to have a full understanding of why we eat a little bit different or why there are some foods that mom can’t eat or restaurants we can’t go to but I do hope that I give my kids a sense of balance when it comes to eating. Just because they live in a house with a diabetic does not mean they have to eat exactly the way I do but kids are perfectly capable of understanding of what foods fit on a list of “always” foods versus the ones on the “sometimes” list and this is important as it helps them to grow to be healthy adults raising their own kids someday. My mom did it for me and I hope to be doing the same.

We spend a lot of time thinking, planning, preparing and talking about food in our house thanks to diabetes and working out as much as we do and through it all I make a conscience effort to help my kids learn about food, experience it with all their senses and enjoy it.

Diabetic Mama of Twins fueled by my family, working out, eating, dog walking, getting lost in the woods and insulin. Writing to share the journey this Type 1 diagnosis has taken me on since 2007.

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