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Navigating Halloween and diabetes: 6 tips for parents

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Dan Fleshler

If you're the parent or guardian of a child living with type 1 diabetes (T1D), Halloween and its sugary temptations might seem like a daunting challenge. But it doesn't have to be.

Kids with type 1 diabetes can — and should — have a happy Halloween and enjoy seasonal snacks along with creative costumes, even if you decide against trick-or-treating this year because of COVID-19.

Like most of their peers, children with T1D will probably want to indulge their sweet tooth on (and well after) October 31. Fortunately, Halloween and diabetes management don't need to be in conflict. What's more, if you prefer to avoid sugary treats, there are plenty of low-carb alternatives that can make Halloween celebrations fun and memorable.

With a little planning and careful monitoring of blood sugar levels, kids don't have to feel deprived.

Here are six tips to help parents get ready for Halloween and diabetes management:

1. Prepare an action plan

Sit down with your child in advance of the holiday and review the range of Halloween treats they could eat. You can do this if you plan to purchase the snacks yourself or if the candy comes from safely trick-or-treating with their friends. To help, JDRF prepared a handy reference guide of popular candies with exact carbohydrate counts. It can be fun to review the choices and select special snacks in advance.

You can create excitement about the upcoming holiday by asking questions like, "Do you want a fun-sized Snickers bar with 12 grams of carbs or a Tootsie Pop with 16 grams?"

The planning process also provides a good opportunity to review diabetes basics, like how to use an insulin pump or how much bolus (short-acting) insulin is needed to cover specific amounts of carbohydrates, which Parenting Diabetes explained. In addition, if you've been thinking about using a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) which monitors fluctuations in blood sugar, that technology can be especially helpful during Halloween.

2. Set limits on portion sizes

It's important to set expectations and remind your child with diabetes to eat small portions of candy during Halloween. That shouldn't be a big deal, since kids with T1D should be accustomed to limiting the amounts of food they consume. As they get older, they can learn to manage their own levels by eating a few pieces of candy and then bolusing a little extra.

Again, you can use JDRF's list of candy carb counts to prepare a menu of candies with small portions, such as one Smarties roll (8 grams of carbs) or one Dum-Dum pop (6 grams). You can work with your kids to plan out the times they can have a treat — and how much they should eat.

3. Try low-carb desserts

If you're not comfortable with adding candy to your kid's diet, you can still make Halloween feel like a special holiday by offering them other low-carb desserts. According to Diabetes Strong, peanut butter cookies, pumpkin and raspberry muffins, and low-carb cheesecake are among the most popular easy-to-prepare treats that can be incorporated into a Halloween eating plan for kids with diabetes.

If you're worried your kids won't be excited about homemade, low-carb fare, when all their friends will be chowing down on candy, get them involved in planning for special treats they don't ordinarily eat. You can look through low-carb recipes and even help them create their own Halloween cookbook!

4. Watch out for lows

If kids are walking around during the holiday — even if it's a private Halloween "parade" — keep in mind that extra activity can cause low blood sugar. Don't make the common mistake of relying on chocolate candy or ice cream to counter lows. These foods generally don't act quickly enough to elevate blood sugar levels because of their high fat content, as UCSF Health noted.

Instead, keep glucose tablets or gels on hand to raise blood sugar rapidly. You can also use hard candy, fruit juice, and other sources of carbs that enter the bloodstream quickly. Hard fruit chews and gummy bears are go-to snacks for many adults living with diabetes, and this time of year provides the perfect excuse to keep some on hand.

To keep track of your child's glucose levels when they're out on their own, consider using a CGM app. For example, the Dexcom G6 enables parents to use a mobile device to monitor their kids' blood sugars.

5. Exchange the candy

Another way to cope with a bunch of new candy in the house is to exchange it for something else. Some creative families tell their children that candy can be given to the "Halloween fairy" in exchange for a little toy or fun game. If they want to take their selflessness to the next level, those toys and games can then be donated to others.

To help kids give something back during this holiday, check out Operation Gratitude, which donates Halloween candy to troops, veterans, and first responders. Your family can also donate leftover candy to community groups, children's hospitals, and other worthy causes.

6. Consider alternative Halloween activities

While children with diabetes can enjoy Halloween sweets in moderation, trick-or-treating doesn't need to be the only focus of the holiday. For example, you can join in the fun by planning a costume party and playing games, carving pumpkins, and creating Halloween decorations for your home.

This year, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, many parents are thinking carefully about whether to let their kids go trick-or-treating at all. Recent research has demonstrated most parents are determined to find creative ways to enjoy Halloween.

Looking for help in managing diabetes during other times of the year? Explore the Edgepark Health Insights blog to learn more and find actionable advice.

Dan Fleshler

Dan Fleshler, a freelance writer, has lived and thrived with Type 1 diabetes since 1962. His articles on diabetes and other health topics have been published in the New York Times, Diabetes Forecast, Diabetes Mine, and Leapsmag. He blogs at The Insulin Chronicles. Twitter handle: @fleshlerd.

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