Kim: Tips and Tricks for Counting Carbs

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I have a lot of opportunities to discuss Kaitlyn's diabetes care with family, friends, and others. Most of the time people tend to ask a lot of questions about the kinds of foods that she may or may not be able to have rather than the amounts. In fact, most times I hear something like, "Wow, she has diabetes? How do you handle sugary treats?" Caretakers of kids with type 1 know the reality of constant carb counting -- it goes way beyond junk food management.

When Kaitlyn was first diagnosed, I felt like it took me all day just to manage her blood glucose, count carbs and give her insulin. I remember feeling that the only way to cope was to serve her prepackaged foods that had the carb info already figured out. Not only am I getting better about knowing how many carbohydrates are in the foods Kaitlyn typically eats, but I'm pretty good about estimating how many grams are in a portion, just by looking at it. As I get more used to counting carbs, my goal has been to make things faster and easier without sacrificing accuracy and precision. Here are a few tricks I've learned over the last couple of years.

  1. Know your kitchenware. We have some favorite bowls and dishes at our house, and I've learned exactly how much they hold so I can save time by not having to use measuring cups and dirtying extra dishes. Our little plastic bowls from Ikea® are (conveniently) almost exactly one cup when filled all the way to the top, so a half-cup is just about halfway full. I also have a ladle that measures one half-cup, and our spoons measure a perfect tablespoon.
  2. Get a good food scale. I've found that my scale is very valuable in helping me save time counting carbs. It's frustrating looking at the nutritional information on the back of the Goldfish® cracker box and seeing 55 crackers per serving. Instead of counting out 55 crackers, it's much easier plopping a bowl on the scale and filling it up until I get to the right amount of ounces or grams! There are also certain foods that are pretty much always the same carb-to-weight ratio. For example, I learned from Jen that you can get a pretty accurate estimate on any type of baked good, like bread or bagels, by counting 15 carbs for every ounce.
  3. Watch how your child eats. Jen and I know that James is not going to eat the crust on his pizza and Kaitlyn will never drink the milk from her bowl after she finishes her cereal. A lot of times, we can dose them for the amount they're going to eat even before we see the end result on their plates.
  4. Know when the "right" number of carbs isn't right. This is the one tip that is the most complicated and takes the most practice. There are a lot of foods for which I dose either more or less than the "textbook" number of carbs, just because I know how Kaitlyn in particular responds to them. Kaitlyn always needs extra insulin for certain breakfast cereals and for foods that are high in both carbs and fat like pizza, French fries or ice cream.

 

I'm constantly learning, and I'm sure there will be more tips to share in the future. Happy carb counting!

 

About the author: My name is Kim. My daughter Kaitlyn (the third of our five children) was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes just a few years after my nephew James was diagnosed with the same disease. I'm excited to pair up with my sister-in-law, Jen, to share our story with you!

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.

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