Diabetes Meal Planning

What to know

  • A meal plan helps you get the nutrition you need and manage your blood sugar levels.
  • Counting carbs and using the plate method can make meal planning easier.
  • Ask for a referral to diabetes education for more help with meal planning.
weekly meal plan

Why a meal plan is important

A meal plan is your guide for when, what, and how much to eat. Your plan will help make sure you get the nutrition you need while keeping your blood sugar levels on target. A good meal plan will consider your goals, tastes, and lifestyle, as well as any medicines you take.

A good meal plan will also:

  • Include more nonstarchy vegetables, such as broccoli, spinach, and green beans.
  • Include fewer added sugars and refined grains, such as white bread, rice, and pasta.
  • Focus on whole foods instead of highly processed foods as much as possible.

Carbohydrates in the food you eat raise your blood sugar levels. How fast carbs raise your blood sugar depends on what the food is and what you eat with it. For example, drinking fruit juice raises blood sugar faster than eating whole fruit. Eating carbs with foods that have protein, fat, or fiber slows down how quickly your blood sugar rises.

Keep Reading: Carb Counting

You'll want to plan for regular, balanced meals to avoid high or low blood sugar levels. Eating about the same amount of carbs at each meal can be helpful. Counting carbs and using the plate method can make planning meals easier too.


Counting carbs

Keeping track of and limiting how many carbs you eat at each meal can help manage your blood sugar levels. Work with your doctor or a registered dietitian to find out how many carbs you should aim for. Then refer to this list of common foods that contain carbs and serving sizes.

The plate method

It's easy to eat more food than you need without realizing it. Try the plate method to balance the amounts of vegetables, lean protein, and carb foods in your meal.

Start with a 9-inch dinner plate (about the length of a business envelope):

  • Fill half with nonstarchy veggies, such as salad, green beans, and broccoli.
  • Fill one quarter with a lean protein, such as chicken, beans, tofu, or eggs.
  • Fill one quarter with carb foods.

Foods higher in carbs include grains, starchy vegetables (such as potatoes and peas), rice, pasta, beans, fruit, and yogurt. A cup of milk also counts as a carb food.

Then choose water or a low-calorie drink such as unsweetened iced tea to go with your meal.

Plate with veggies, protein and carb foods plus a glass of water
Use the plate method to balance veggies, protein, and carbs in your meals.

About portion size

Portion size and serving size aren't always the same. A portion is the amount of food you choose to eat at one time. A serving is a specific amount of food, such as one slice of bread or 8 ounces (1 cup) of milk.

These days, portions at restaurants are quite a bit larger than they were several years ago. One entrée can equal 3 or 4 servings! Studies show that people tend to eat more when they're served more food. Getting portions under control is really important for managing weight and blood sugar.

If you're eating out, ask for half of your meal to be wrapped up to go so you can enjoy it later. At home, measure out snacks; don't eat straight from the bag or box. At dinnertime, reduce the temptation to go back for seconds by keeping the serving bowls out of reach. And with this "handy" guide, you'll always have a way to estimate portion size at your fingertips:

  1. 3 ounces of meat, fish, or poultry: palm of hand (no fingers)
  2. 1 ounce of cheese or meat: thumb (tip to base)
  3. 1 cup or 1 medium fruit: fist
  4. 1–2 ounces of nuts or pretzels: cupped hand
  5. 1 tablespoon: thumb tip (tip to 1st joint)
  6. 1 teaspoon: fingertip (tip to 1st joint)
Part of hands and fingers used to show portion sizes
Use the handy method to estimate portion sizes on the go.

Get support

Tasty recipes‎

This recipe booklet will help you create healthy meals and learn how to follow a healthy eating plan.

Planning meals that fit your health needs, tastes, budget, and schedule can be complicated. Ask your doctor to refer you to diabetes self-management education and support (DSMES) services. Through DSMES, you'll work with a diabetes educator to create a healthy meal plan just for you. You can also visit the Find a Diabetes Education Program in Your Area locator for DSMES services near you.