For parents and kids with type 1 diabetes, Halloween can be a scary time—and not because of the frightening costumes. Here's how to get through the day without having a blood sugar emergency.
Written by Marina Chaparro, RD, CDE, MPH
You heard it right. For parents and kids with type 1 diabetes, Halloween can be a scary time (no pun intended). Not because of the frightening costumes or haunted houses, but because it could be a day of high blood sugars and unexpected lack of diabetes control.
As a certified diabetes educator who works with children with diabetes and a type 1 myself, I think it’s important for kids to feel “normal” on this day. That said, “normal” does not mean children get to eat 1,000 pieces of candy, just because they are kids. NO.
It means children can enjoy a few treats in moderation. For the child with type 1 diabetes, you might need to make a few adjustments including medication, activities, and carbohydrates.
If you are planning to go trick or treating this season but have reservations, consider the following tricks to help your child have a happy Halloween without causing a blood glucose emergency:
#1. Set limits
Allow a maximum number of treats for the day or week. The same rule applies to kids with and without diabetes says Sarah Hart Unger, MD, Pediatric Endocrinologist at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital. “Halloween should not be a stigma for children with diabetes.”Considering that many young Americans are overweight, this is a good practice for ALL children to follow. “Halloween candy can be enjoyed in moderation for kids with or without diabetes”. Consider donating the rest of the candy to local dentist office or even to US troops.
#2. Plan ahead
As with everything in diabetes, planning for the unexpected can avoid a day of really high blood sugars or crashing blood glucose numbers. Plan when dinner is served and when trick or treating will begin. Bring supplies with you or pack them in your child’s bag to facilitate continuous monitoring.
#3. Go with the minis
Mini chocolate bars are your best when it comes to candies because they usually have a lower amount of carbohydrates: 1 mini chocolate has 5-6 grams of carbohydrate whereas a fun size candy tends to yield slightly more carbs, 10-15 grams.
#4. Consider timing
Give candy as part of a meal so you can include the carbs in your total insulin calculation. Avoid candy in between meals as it can interfere hunger and cause spikes in blood glucose.
#5. Count carbs like a pro
Counting carbohydrates becomes challenging with bite-size candy because they often lack nutrition labels on the packaging. Check out this popular candy guide from Beyond Type 1 Carb Counting Guide with the most popular candy. Also you may check this carb counting guide if you need to expand on this subject.
#6. Do the trade-in thing
There is no better incentive for an older kid than money. For a younger child consider trading in candy for a much-anticipated toy.
#7. Go with chocolate—it beats candy corn everytime
Believe it or not, chocolate may be a slightly better nutritional choice for diabetes management because it contains fat and protein, which will minimize blood glucose peaks. It’s best to choose candy with some fat and protein like mini snickers instead jelly beans or smarties as those are made up of all simple sugars,” explains Dr. Hart Unger.
#8. Fill their bellies
Before your child goes trick or treating make sure he has a balanced meal that includes protein, healthy fat and carbs. You never want to send your child walking on an empty stomach. Moreover, having a hearty meal can help mitigate some of the high blood sugars that can occur when eating sweets.
#9. Stockpile some treats for low BGs in your future
Keep some of the candy for later. Hard candy like jolly ranchers or jelly beans can be a good option for treating a low in an emergency. They are portable and non-perishable. But Dr. Hart-Unger warns against using this technique all the time. “Ideally, you want to treat a low with glucose tabs or juice—something that doesn’t reward a behavior. It’s ok to use candy once in awhile, but try not to make it a habit."
#10. Make sure it’s not ALL about the candy
Yes, Halloween candy can be fun. But the real charm of Halloween is the costumes, horror nights and dress-ups. Don’t make this fun night just about the candy. Instead focus on decorations, pumpkin carving, haunted houses and more.
Don’t let diabetes get in the way of your child’s enjoyment. Plan for the best, but don’t expect perfection. Make Halloween a memorable family time that your kid will remember. The world won’t end if you give your child with diabetes some candy, just keep it in check and cover the candy with insulin. Kid comes first, diabetes comes second.
Originally published in On Track Diabetes