Jen: Birthday Parties and Type 1 Diabetes

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  • I love it!
  • I like it a lot!
  • I like it.
  • Just okay.
  • Not for me.

We just had a huge party at our house this last weekend. It was a ton of work, but it really paid off. We had about sixty guests, half adults and half kids, come for a birthday party and really, it couldn't have gone better. While you'll have to excuse my rosy sentiments (I am writing even as we are still cleaning up!), I'm just so thrilled to realize that our successful little party was very diabetes-friendly!

I get asked often what makes something diabetes-friendly. Often, I'll get a question on social media about what to feed kids with diabetes or how to handle social occasions where kids with type 1 will be present. The simple answer is that, thanks in large measure to modern insulin regimens, kids with type 1 can eat and do pretty much what any other kid can do.

But most of the time, the people who ask me these questions are looking for ways to make the experience easier for the kids with diabetes and their parents. And I have a hard time coming up with specifics. But I think I've finally hit on something that might help a prospective host somewhere out there.

A diabetes-friendly party is one that doesn't have to be all about the treats. One of James' little friends was recently invited to a candy party. The theme was candy. The decorations were adorable -- hey, candy is cute and tasty. But the activity was… eating candy. I can't say my kids wouldn't have loved attending that party, but it just isn't diabetes-friendly. It's all about the food, particularly a food that is inherently unhealthy. In my mind, there is a distinction between offering cupcakes and having open access to candy snacks. The parties at which we've felt most at home have always had activities that weren't centered on food. In my experience, happily playing kids are too busy to be overly interested in eating candy.

On the other hand, I think a party that is most friendly to kids with type 1 is a party that doesn't single them out by providing alternative sweets for them. Sure, I personally like the idea of reducing carbs and sugar in James' diet -- I often make meals that are lower in carbs, and having carb-free snacks available at home is essential! But having them at a birthday party as a separate option for our kids with type 1 isn't the best solution. Neither is entirely excluding sweets from the celebration. It would seem odd to have a birthday party with no cupcakes or ice cream, or no treats altogether. Moderation is key!

In sum, the kind of party that I like attending with James is a party that has treats, but also a purpose other than solely to consume them. It's also easier when healthy, kid-friendly foods are there as well -- snacks intended for all the children, not just those with diabetes. I think it ultimately comes down to simple choices, like having water for kids to drink instead of only soda and playing "Pin the tail on the donkey" instead of having a piñata full of candy.

In the end, all of the suggestions for making a party diabetes-friendly pertain to making it healthy for all kids. So really, the answer, "You don't need to do anything special for my child" is still accurate!


About the author: My name is Jennifer, and I live in Southern California with my husband, Craig, and our three boys. Our oldest son James has been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. I’m thankful for this opportunity -- along with my sister-in-law Kim and her daughter Kaitlyn, who also has type 1 diabetes -- to share our struggles and triumphs with our friends in the diabetes community.

Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the "typical" experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring. Jen and Kim are real moms of kids with type 1 diabetes and have been compensated for their contributions to this site.

Related topics:
In the Spotlight: Birthday Parties and Classroom Parties
People in the Know: Birthday Parties
People in the Know: Getting Back on the Play-Date Circuit

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