Celebrations & Eating Out

Special Occasions tips for celebrations & eating out

adapted from the AB Children's Hospital Diabetes Clinic handouts

You may be wondering how to manage treats and desserts served at birthdays, school parties, religious/cultural or special events your family celebrates. Your family doesn't have to skip favourite holiday foods; the diabetes dragon doesn’t have to keep your family homebound.

Read on for guidelines for celebrations and eating out: tips for planning ahead, accessing resources while on the go, and asking your host the critical questions to smooth out the glucose bumps, so you and your family can enjoy the celebration.

Basic Guidelines for Special Occasions

A good place to start is by planning ahead: know what is being served and when it will be eaten. If your child is a patient at Alberta Children’s Hospital, your dietitian can help you plan for special occasions.

Myth: Kids with type 1 diabetes can’t eat sugar.
Fact: Kids with type 1 diabetes have the same needs for healthy eating as those without diabetes, which may include some treats and sugary foods, in balance with healthy food choices – you just need to match carb/sugar intake with insulin.
Your decisions regarding what treats your child with type 1 diabetes may eat (how much and how often) can be based on the same family rules and values you would have for your child without diabetes.

Wondering about the carb content?

Holiday Treat Carb Count Cheat Sheet

Waltzing The Dragon Inc

Tips from the Trenches

In our family, we don’t focus on providing a low carb / reduced-sugar diet. Instead we place emphasis on eating nutritious food first, with treats now and then for special occasions. Within this “treats allowed” approach, however, there are times when sweets are not an option, or when our son needs to wait until his blood sugar is in range before eating sweets. And there are other times when we decide he can eat that cupcake, even though his blood sugar is high, because the cost of missing out is greater than we’re willing for him to have to pay. For us it’s about balance, and judging each situation on its own based on the moment-to-moment pros and cons. ~Michelle

However, if you choose to restrict your child’s sugar intake, you could make food less of a focus for holiday celebrations. For example, an Easter basket could include a small amount of chocolate, plus non-food items like hair barrettes, hockey cards, and small toys, or “free” foods such as sugarless gum and diet pop.

Sugar-free chocolates and candies are becoming more and more readily available.

  • We have found a good selection at places like diabetes specialty stores in Calgary, and at Walmart everywhere. Walmart, for example, carries a variety of chocolates and candies in “no sugar added” format which contain sugar alcohols, making them lower carb, including: Russell Stover® (Peanut Butter Crunch, Chocolate-covered Coconut, Pecan Delight, Mint Patties); Werther’s® (Caramel Coffee, Caramel Mint), Hershey’s® (Caramel-Filled Chocolaty Candy), Reese’s® (mini Peanut Butter Cups®); Twizzler’s® (red licorice); Campino® (fruit and yogurt hard candies); and Life Savers® (WintOGreen® candies).
  • To calculate how much carb is available in a product containing sugar alcohol, simply take the total amount of sugar alcohol and divide by 2 then subtract this from the total carb to find how much carb will actually be used by your body.
  • If a product also contains polydextrose, you need to subtract all of this from the total carb because like fibre, your body cannot absorb any of this.
    **Warning**: Products containing sorbitol can cause stomach upset and diarrhea, especially if eaten in large quantities. It is recommended by the Diabetes Canada not to exceed more than 10 grams of sugar alcohols per day.

Tips from the Trenches

In our house, both kids love Kinder® Surprise eggs – a relatively small amount of chocolate (10g) is eaten and then the focus changes to assembling and playing with the toy.

Basic Guidelines for Eating Out

Eating out can refer to eating at restaurants or any time you are away from home for meals and snacks (for example: family gatherings; lunch at a friend’s house).

How to calculate the carb content of mixed recipes:

Introduction to Counting Carbohydrates

Myth: Now that your child has diabetes, your days of eating out as a family are over.

Fact: Again, kids with type 1 diabetes have the same needs for healthy eating as those without diabetes, which may include some restaurant meals (fast food or otherwise), in balance with healthy food choices. If you ate out as a family before diabetes, you can continue to do so with diabetes — you just need to match carb content with insulin, a task that may require a bit more preparation for food prepared away from home.

These basic guidelines will allow your child to enjoy eating out:

  • Plan ahead when possible. Know what is being served and when it will be eaten.

Tips from the Trenches

When my 7-year-old son is going to a birthday party, I contact the other parents ahead of time to let them know that my son has diabetes and to fill them in on what he will need to be safe, healthy and happy at the party. I describe the signs he typically shows when he’s low, and ask them if they would be comfortable keeping an eye out for those symptoms. (If they’re not, and there is not a responsible adult there who could take on this role, I would not be comfortable with my son attending.) I also ask them what they plan on serving. If the party is at the friend’s home, I ask if I can check out the snacks when I drop my son off, to set aside a portion of his choosing, and to draw up a carb list for him to use when it’s time to eat. If the party is at a restaurant (ex. Chuck E. Cheese is a popular spot for kids’ parties) I check the company’s website and/or call the restaurant to determine the carb content for the foods my son may eat at the party (ex. cheese pizza, pop, fries). Then I make a carb list (with a total) of the items and amounts he is likely to eat (again, of his choosing), and leave my cell phone number for the parents to call me if he changes his mind or wants additional servings. I take a copy of the carb amounts with me so I can make adjustments without having to return to the restaurant. Then we check his BG as soon as I pick him up after the party, and as frequently as needed for the few hours following, to see how well reality matches the plan.
~ Michelle

  • Consult with your child’s dietician to help you plan for special occasions.


  • If your child uses a meal plan, know it well off the top of your head.


  • Regular pop or sugar-free? Though I'm not usually a fan of artificial sweeteners, kids parties are one place where I make an exception. Not having to count the carbs in that partially-consumed can really help avoid post-party glucose spikes. If your host asks if your T1D child would prefer sugar-free pop, feel free to say yes. Or bring your own Coke Zero. Or pre-research the amount of carbs in a can of your child's favourite pop so you're ready when the party starts.


  • Be familiar with portion sizes visually. If you're not confident doing this, you can learn to visually estimate carbs in a given portion. This comes with practice by weighing and measuring at home...

Tips from the Trenches

This has been an extremely helpful tip for me and has greatly reduced the stress of counting carbs away from home –but don’t worry if you aren’t already able to accurately “guesstimate” just by looking at the food – it took me several months to feel comfortable doing this. I practiced by visually estimating the carb content of foods at home, then weighing or measuring them and seeing how close my estimate was. Over time, I gained confidence when I saw that my estimates were getting closer and closer to the “actual” number.

  • If you’re not yet adept at visual estimation of portion sizes, or not comfortable with the imprecision of estimation, you can bring collapsible measuring cups and a portable scale with you.


  • Ask family and friends ahead of time to set aside boxes/bags that outline the nutritional info, so you can SWAG more accurately.

(swag verb 1.  to make a Scientific Wild Ass Guess, in this case, regarding the unknown carb content of a given food or foods.)


  • Develop some useful Rules of Thumb that you can pull out when needed. Here's the guideline that I use for cake and cupcakes...

Tips from the Trenches

Despite the seemingly endless variety of iced cakes and cupcakes served at family gatherings and birthday parties (chocolate, white, carrot, spice, marble, cake pop), we have always used a standard 25g of carbs as the count for a regular cupcake, or cupcake-sized piece of cake, and have never had a problem as a result. This includes 15g for the cake and 10g for about a tablespoon of icing. (So if the cake isn’t iced, we use 15g as the carb count.) It’s a relief to have at least one food item that we don’t have to research or meticulously measure!
~ Michelle

  • Use available food values for fast food and chain restaurants. Many have carb values available in-house or on their websites – you can Google the restaurant name and “nutrition info” and then print off the nutrition guide to carry with you when you go out to eat. Or simply access the nutritional info from your mobile device while you’re at the restaurant.

Tips from the Trenches

I keep a copy in the diaper bag all the time; for you lucky parents who no longer have to lug around a diaper bag, throw a copy in your purse, glove box of the car, or keep a small notebook by the door to grab on your way out. If you use a smartphone, you can even look up the info right at the restaurant. For non-brand name foods, I keep a list of the foods our family eats regularly, with the carb content cited for each food, and leave a copy of this list in our outing bag by the back door. We have easily found carb info for Wendy’s, Tim Horton’s, Opa, Edo, and Boston Pizza, just to name a few. ~Michelle

The above information was significantly modified with permission from The Alberta Children’s Hospital Diabetes Clinic information handouts.

The above information was reviewed for content accuracy by clinical staff of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Diabetes Clinic.