Finding the time to cook dinner for a family each and every night is always a juggling act. It requires even more forethought and planning when you have a child with type 1 diabetes. How many times have you searched your fridge or pantry, looking fruitlessly for something that's easy and tasty and healthy?
Meal planning for the entire week can help alleviate some of that pre-dinner anxiety and aggravation. If you take the time to cook a few "big batch" meals on the weekends, determine the carbohydrate value, and then freeze or refrigerate, Monday through Friday can be more relaxed. When you're shuttling kids between school and extracurricular activities, all you'll have to do is reheat when you get home, and voila -- you've got a hot, nutritious, homemade dinner in no time flat.
"There are 21 meals in the coming week, and knowing what you'll eat (and when) will not only help with healthier choices, but it's a great stress reliever and a big money saver," says Tim Harlan, M.D., a chef, diet book author, and associate chief of general internal medicine at Tulane University in New Orleans. "This is doubly important for those with type 1 diabetes, since their diets need to be more regimented. If you plan ahead and also have healthy ingredients on hand for the occasional last-minute meal, there's less chance for problems and much better control of blood sugar."
Family physician Maiysha Clairborne, M.D., who specializes in healthy eating for disease control and maintenance, says meal planning can also be a family-bonding experience. "You can do this as a group project," she says. "Look for recipes together in cookbooks or online and plan your menu for the week. Make sure everyone has a say! There are so many great recipe websites out there. You can make almost any entree diabetes-friendly with a few modifications." She suggests grocery shopping as a family and then cooking the meals together. Kids love to help cook, and tweens and teens are much more likely to be enthusiastic about new foods if they helped make them.
One of Clairborne's favorite entrees to prepare in advance is chili, since it freezes well. Another favorite is lettuce wraps -- make the filling in advance, then refrigerate. Reheat and serve in fresh lettuce wedges when you're ready.
Harlan recommends slow-cooker stews, roast chicken, hearty soups, meatloaf, and tuna noodle salad. "These sorts of recipes lend themselves to making a larger batch," he says. "And they're generally tastier as leftovers anyway." Choosing recipes that already list the carbohydrate values saves time as well.
Once you're done cooking, you'll need to store your entrees effectively. Clairborne recommends portioning out food before freezing. Labeling containers with carb counts is also convenient and helps kids learn to make informed nutritional decisions.
If you know another family nearby who has a child with type 1 diabetes, you could even propose the idea of a "meal swap." They cook two nights (Monday and Wednesday, for example), and you cook two nights (such as Tuesday and Thursday). When mom Michele Ashamalla did this with her next-door neighbor, it made her life much easier. "Just knowing someone else was delivering dinner two nights a week took a huge weight off of my shoulders!," she says. "And it really wasn't much work to cook extra meals for them -- I just doubled recipes when I was doing my big-batch cooking for the week."
Some families even plan meals two weeks in advance. "Creating a 14-day cycle of menu templates is a great idea," says Harlan. This plan can provide family members with a variety of dishes so nobody gets bored, and it can also help keep nutrients balanced. I also love two-week planning because it allows for leftovers to be used more thoughtfully."
By using these timesavers, the dinner hour will be less stressful and chaotic, so you can spend more time and energy actually enjoying your food -- and each other's company. And isn't that what family meals are all about?
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.