25 Lunch Ideas for People With Diabetes

Eating a healthy lunch is vital when managing diabetes. It keeps blood sugar levels in control and adds important diversity to your nutrient intake.

Healthy lunch ideas don't have to be difficult to achieve, even on the busiest days. They can limit the number of midday meals that are rushed—eaten on the go or at a desk—and make it all too easy to resort to carbohydrate-laden fast or processed foods.

This article will provide advice on how to create a diabetes-friendly lunch, whether you're making your meal at home or eating out. It also provides a list of healthy lunch suggestions.

Quinoa salad on a table with a striped napkin and cherry tomatoes
Natasa Mandic / Stocksy United

Balancing Nutrients in a Healthy Lunch

Macronutrients—protein, fat, and carbohydrates—provide the body with energy. For diabetes management, it can be helpful to reduce your carbohydrate intake to decrease potential blood sugar spikes.

Everyone has different needs when it comes to macronutrients. Factors that can affect the right macronutrient balance for you include:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Activity level
  • Blood glucose control
  • Your medication regimen

It is important to work with a nutritionist or certified diabetes educator to determine the ideal macronutrient ratio for you. A personalized regimen can help you achieve your specific treatment goals. Medicare, Medicaid in some states, and most insurance plans cover diabetes nutrition therapy.

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) says there is no one ideal macronutrient breakdown of calories among carbohydrates, fat, and protein for people living with diabetes. Meal plans should be tailored to align with calorie, weight loss, and metabolic goals.

It's important to recognize that not all macronutrients are created equal. Highly processed foods often found in traditional lunches such as lunchmeats, white bread, canned soups, and sugary yogurts are low in nutrient density. They are filling but lack the nutrients found in unrefined foods, like whole grains and leafy greens.

Carbohydrates

When planning a diabetes-friendly lunch, look for high-quality carbs that are rich in fiber to help prevent blood sugar spikes. The ADA recommends people with diabetes consume at least 25 grams of fiber per day (the standard amount recommended for adults in the general population). Ideal sources are beans and lentils, vegetables, fruit, and whole grains.

Improving your lunch is as simple as swapping in smart choices. One strategy is to consciously incorporate foods rich in fiber. These foods take longer to break down and metabolize due to their complex starch structure.

This slower breakdown helps to prevent flooding of the bloodstream with glucose all at once. Studies suggest increased dietary fiber can have modest effects in lowering A1C.

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Protein

Lean protein, including sources like fish, chicken, turkey, eggs, beans, tofu, and nuts and seeds, is a healthy bet for a balanced lunch.

Eating protein from whole food sources is best. Be sure to work with your healthcare provider or certified diabetes educator to determine your daily protein goals.

Fish is a great option for a healthy fat source. The ADA recommends consuming fatty fish such as salmon, anchovies, mackerel, and sardines an average of twice per week.

Fat

Fat is essential for hormone production, heart and brain function, absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, and the structural integrity of every cellular membrane in the body.

A diet rich in plant-based, monounsaturated fats such as avocado, olives, and nuts may also help improve blood sugar metabolism and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Processed foods containing trans fats, sometimes found in shelf-stable baked goods, should be avoided. You also want to limit high amounts of saturated fats from animal or dairy sources. This will help to limit the stress they put on the cardiovascular system. Choose low-fat dairy, fish, lean meats, and foods in their natural state instead.

Four Components of a Healthy Diabetes Lunch

Employing a mental checklist is a smart approach to stay mindful of what's actually on your plate. This technique can be useful both at home and when you're looking at the menu when eating out.

Keep a list in your head of the four main components of a diabetes-friendly lunch, with the three macronutrients plus veggies:

  • Fiber (oats, whole wheat, brown rice, quinoa)
  • Lean protein (chicken, turkey, eggs, fish, beans, or tofu)
  • Healthy fats (olive oil, avocado, grass-fed butter)
  • Vegetables, especially dark leafy greens

Eating Out

When you're in a rush, you'll have to choose a diabetes-friendly lunch on the go. Takeout or fast food that's laden with saturated fat, refined carbohydrates, and added sugar may not be the ideal choice.

There are menu items that are more diabetes-friendly than others. These include salads with grilled chicken (rather than fried), fruit or soup on the side instead of fries, and water or unsweetened iced tea instead of soda or diet soda.

It pays to be mindful of portions when eating out, too. If you order a full meal complete with sides, divide each part of the meal in half and save the rest for another meal. Or, use the Plate Method, in which half your plate is reserved for veggies, one quarter is reserved for lean protein, and one quarter is reserved for complex carbohydrates.

Tips For Keeping Portions in Check

When you're out to eat and unable to weigh your food, or if you're cooking at home and don't have access to a food scale, it can be helpful to know how to visually gauge portion sizes. You can use your hands as visual cues:

  • Grain portions should be about 1/2 cup—about as much as will fit in one cupped hand.
  • Portions of lean protein should be around 3 ounces, which looks equivalent to the approximate size of your open palm or a deck of cards.
  • A serving of fats such as olive oil or butter is usually one teaspoon and is approximately visually equal to the top section of your thumb.

Meal Prep

Preparing meals ahead of time is an easy way to always have diabetes-friendly lunch options on hand. Take the time to plan recipes, shop with a grocery list, and cook meals ahead. Here are a few meal prepping techniques to try:

  • Fire up your oven: Roast one baking sheet tray of veggies such as broccoli, red onions, and Brussels sprouts, simply tossed in olive oil and salt and pepper. Roast a second baking sheet with your protein for the week, such as salmon fillets or chicken thighs.
  • Stir up a sauce or two: Having sauces and dressings waiting for you in the fridge can help you make a meal out of just about anything. Try a lemony salad dressing or a basil pesto.
  • Go for the grains: Making a big pot of brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, or other grain can serve as a great meal base for three to five days. Just top with some greens and protein and you've got a meal. Switch up your grains each week for variety.
  • Count on leftovers: Double recipes and eat leftovers for lunch the next day, or freeze the excess and save it for dinner next week.

25 Lunch Ideas

One way to set yourself up for success is to include a wide variety of foods when planning your meals.

In the mood for a sandwich? Try a cold cut sandwich on whole-grain bread with lettuce, tomato, and crunchy red peppers and a smear of hummus to add extra fiber and protein. Going out for burgers? Ask for no bun or choose a lettuce wrap instead to keep carb counts low.

Some specific lunch ideas and recipes you can try, both at home or on the go, include:

  • Salmon cakes with dill aioli
  • Savory oatmeal bowl with eggs and spinach
  • Kale-stuffed sweet potato
  • Beef and brown rice soup
  • Spinach and blueberry salad with hard-boiled egg
  • Open-faced tuna sandwich
  • French toast with whole grain bread
  • Cobb salad with turkey and hard-boiled egg
  • Salmon burgers
  • Lean pork and veggie tacos or quesadillas
  • Vegetable omelet with a side salad
  • Whole wheat pasta salad with veggies
  • Chickpea stew
  • Caesar salad topped with chicken
  • Strawberry chicken salad
  • Grilled shrimp quinoa bowl
  • Yogurt with fruit and nuts
  • Spaghetti squash boats
  • Sweet potato bowl with black beans and quinoa
  • Tofu stir-fry with brown rice and broccoli
  • Cauliflower crust mini-pizzas
  • Grilled chicken parmesan with vegetables
  • Lentil burger
  • Chickpeas with couscous
  • Whole grain pita and hummus with cucumber

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can people with diabetes have sandwiches?

    Yes, sandwiches are fine in moderation. Keep in mind that whole grain breads, soft taco shells, and wraps are better choices for controlling blood sugar than white bread. Lean meats, low-fat cheese, and plenty of vegetables make good sandwich choices.

  • Is salad a good lunch if you have diabetes?

    Salads are an excellent choice, so long as you remember to avoid high-fat or sugary dressings, or too many processed toppings. Add tuna, egg, or lean meat to boost the protein alongside your vegetables.

  • Is fast food OK for lunch if you have diabetes?

    Possibly, depending on what you choose from the menu. Burgers, fries, and a giant soda aren't good ideas but most restaurants, including fast food places, have more diabetes-friendly menu options.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. NIH National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Carbohydrate counting & diabetes.

  2. American Diabetes Association. 5. Facilitating Behavior Change and Well-being to Improve Health Outcomes: Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes—2022. Diabetes Care. 2022;45(Supplement 1):S60–S82. doi:10.2337/dc22-S005

  3. Evert AB, Dennison M, Gardner CD, et al. Nutrition therapy for adults with diabetes or prediabetes: A consensus report. Diabetes Care. 2019;42(5):731-754. doi:10.2337/dci19-0014

  4. The American Diabetes Association. Diabetes superfoods.

  5. Harvard School of Public Health. Types of fat.

  6. American Heart Association. Suggested servings from each food group.

  7. Diabetes Meal Planning. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

By Barbie Cervoni MS, RD, CDCES, CDN
Barbie Cervoni MS, RD, CDCES, CDN, is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist.