I’ve been away from my desk, my notebooks, this blog for two weeks now. I never expected to be–it’s become a weekly adventure to seek out new topics in food, food politics, nutrition, and alternate methods for cooking real food faster. And then last week my daughter was diagnosed with Type I diabetes.
Diabetes is one hell of a verdict when you think your kid is just growing, and then just has a simple stomach virus, and it turns out to be neither of those things. It was also one of those strange fairytale paradoxes by which a cursed or poisoned feather turns out to save the princess in rags. She’d come home from school three weeks ago with what seemed like a routine stomach bug, but it wasn’t. Instead of a bit of fever, antsy impatience at having to rest and then bouncing back, she was cool, sleeping around the clock, drinking a lot even when she couldn’t stand to eat, and losing weight fast. Taking her back to the doctor the second week, we were thinking anemia, mono–afraid to think anything worse. Thank god our doctor threw in a glucose test along with the usual suspects. By afternoon he’d called and told us to get her down to the ER.
A night in the hospital is no picnic, even if all they’re doing to your kid is putting her on an i.v. and pricking her fingers with a lancet for testing once in a while. The second night is no fun either–everything the doctors have been telling you goes in one ear and slides right out the other as you wonder what your kid will ever be able to do normally again, and how much you’ll have to worry for her the rest of her life, and how you’re going to keep from laying those worries on her. And yet–at some point in the middle of the second night, unable to sleep much between nurse interruptions–I started to realize my daughter’s legs and arms and face were already filling back out, and in fact she had spent a good part of the second day sitting up reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for all she was worth, reading me her favorite bits in a silly voice and cackling every once in a while. More energy than I’d seen in three weeks. Whatever they’d done to lower her sugars and balance her electrolytes again was really working. She was reappearing before my eyes. I had no idea how to feel anymore except shocked, grateful and slightly absurd.
Furthermore, every time the orderly came by to pick up a menu or leave a meal, my daughter tucked into the food as though it had been catered by Daniel Boulud. (Of course, most of the meals featured meat, which she loves but I don’t make very often.) It is fairly humiliating to have your kid announce that the hospital meals are better than those at home…
Then she started talking about which kinds of potatoes she likes or doesn’t, whether and how soon she can have pizza, how will she ever be able to go to a birthday party and stand not having cake or candy or ice cream without having to figure out the carbs and the insulin beforehand, what about Valentine’s Day and on and on. Somehow oatmeal raisin cookies became the benchmark of whether she was going to be able to eat like a person or not–and she hasn’t even had a taste for them in at least six months.
The shrinkage, the re-blossoming, and the total fixation on treats and sweets, all within a few days in a hospital bed–suddenly Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, with its exaggerated swellings and shrinkings and bad-egg characters being rolled down the hallway to be juiced or stretched like gum or extracted from pipes, all seemed to make so much sense. Jarring and surreal under any other circumstances, Roald Dahl’s masterpiece is the perfect read for this situation. (We favor the 1970s Gene Wilder version for the movie, even though my daughter notes that the Johnny Depp version sticks closer to the original events.)
So here we are at home again, a week into learning how to manage for survival, trainees of the do-it-or-else school of diabetes care, and it’s a totally foreign way of thinking about eating.
Unlike most people, an insulin-dependent diabetic person HAS to eat carbs. Plan for them, calculate the right amount of insulin for them, get the injection, and then eat all the carbs he or she has committed to. Snacks are no longer extras or optional–they’re as necessary as meals. To the point that it can seem like a lot more food than usual, especially for a kid. Eating strategies and parental nagging (ahem) have to be backward as well: If you get full while eating a sandwich, you need to skip the filling and eat the bread.
The surreality continues into the kitchen: the first thing you learn is that carbs are hard to predict from looks or weight alone. So are the actual carbs in packaged foods, despite their labels. Different breads have different densities–a two-inch scrap of artisan sourdough may have fewer grams of carbohydrates than a two-to-three-inch mini-pita. Something that says on the package 5 grams may act more like 15 when it’s eaten. A 1/3 c. serving of noodles isn’t quite enough pasta, but 1/3 c. of hummus with the same 15-gram carb count is a lot of hummus.
But back to sweets. We discovered a couple of baking books for diabetics in the local library–handily, they’ve calculated the carbs per serving. But they rely heavily on sugar substitutes like Splenda to make things work. Nutrasweet (aspartame) poses some dose-related problems with mood swings and the like for kids and small adults, and its breakdown products make it a bad choice for phenylketonurics.
Splenda (sucralose) supposedly doesn’t break down much at all in the body, tastes realistic and bakes up nicely, but whether it’s really safe for kids in quantities for baking is another matter. A number of adult friends use it regularly and happily–but is it what I want? In this case, I don’t think so. I want sweets with known and perhaps limited carb counts, but without ingredients I’d feel uneasy serving to other kids at a party, even if sugar substitutes were the answer for my daughter.
So for now I think I’ll work on a regular oatmeal cookie recipe, minus the raisins (grapes and raisins are about 1 gram of sugar each), and just figure out how much cookie gives you 15 grams of carbohydrates, so that my daughter can eventually have one with a glass of milk (12 g/8 oz.) without going completely overboard. After that, I feel confident, she’ll finally stop pestering me for oatmeal cookies and take up her guinea pig campaign yet again.
Filed under: Beans and legumes, cooking, Desserts, Eating out, Grains, kid food, nutrition, Odd food, Pasta, Revised recipes | Tagged: artificial sweeteners, baking, carb counting, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, juvenile diabetes, NutraSweet, Roald Dahl, Splenda, sugar substitutes, Type I diabetes |