Crafting a Meal Plan for People With Type 2 Diabetes

A food diary.
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Following a healthy meal plan when you have diabetes is a great tool to help manage your disease. Because food and lifestyle changes can have such a positive effect on your blood sugar control, it's important to craft a meal plan that's attainable and sustainable for your needs.

However, there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach. Each meal plan will be different for each person, depending on your age, sex, activity level, medications, and other factors. Read up on best practices below, but seek out a nutritionist or dietitian who can help you cater a meal plan to your specific requirements, too.

The Value of Planning Ahead

Going into the week ahead armed with a meal plan can take a lot of the guesswork out of what you'll eat each day, and makes it easy to stay on top of your blood sugar control. Meal planning doesn't have to be exclusive to home-cooked meals, however: it can incorporate both prep work at home and pinpointing which meals you'll eat out.

Selecting your food in advance helps you get an accurate count of approximate calories (if you're tracking), stay on top of portions, and make sure your blood sugar can stay as balanced as possible. It'll also help you make healthier decisions now than when you're in the throes of hunger.

To make meal planning a little easier, create a chart and follow these simple steps.

Meal Planner
Meal Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Breakfast              
Lunch              
Snack              
Dinner              
Snack              
  • Plot it out: Using a notebook or spreadsheet, map out the days of the week and the meals you'll eat each day, leaving room for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.
  • Find your recipes: Select a few diabetes-friendly recipes you love using a cookbook or website, or simply pick from your standbys. A good rule of thumb is to plan to make just two to three recipes per week, then prepare to cook up enough for leftovers or find healthy takeout options to fill in the gaps. Cooking any more than three times per week when you're not used to it can be a big commitment.
  • Make a grocery list: Using your recipes, compile a list of all the ingredients you'll need to purchase at the store, then schedule a time in your calendar to go shopping.
  • Make a prep-ahead list: It can be helpful to take a look at the recipes beforehand and figure out what you can prep in the days ahead. For example, you might be able to cook up a pot of beans or grains the day before, roast some veggies in the morning while you're getting ready for work, or even poach some chicken ahead of time. Then store it in the fridge in food-safe containers so it's ready to assemble and reheat.
  • Make a meals-out list: Keep a list of healthy, satisfying meals that you can eat out, such as the hot bar and salad bars at your local health food store, fast-casual spots with low-carb offerings, and local restaurants with veggie-centric plates. This can be your go-to list when you're not feeling in the mood to cook, but still want something that fits into your healthy lifestyle.

Diabetes Diet Basics

Here's a breakdown of the foods you'll want to prioritize in your meal plan.

Carbohydrates

Aim for 45 to 60 grams of carbs per meal, and around 15 grams per snack. Remember that your personal needs may be slightly different. Be sure to work under the guidance of a healthcare professional if you're interested in cutting back on carbs even more.

Examples of carbohydrate foods:

  • Starchy foods like bread, cereal, rice, and crackers
  • Fruit and juice
  • Legumes like beans, lentils, soy
  • Starchy vegetables, like potatoes, winter squash, and corn
  • Sweets and snack foods

Fats

A well-balanced diet should contain approximately 20% to 35% of calories from fat. That looks like 15 to 25 grams of fat per meal, based on a 2,000-calorie diet.

Examples of fat-based foods:

  • Avocado
  • Olives and olive oil
  • Canola oil
  • Coconut and coconut oil
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Full-fat or whole milk dairy
  • Beef, pork, lamb, veal, poultry skin

Protein

Protein needs are highly variable depending on the person, but on average, adults should look for 45 to 60 grams per day. That breaks down to 15 to 20 grams per meal.

Examples of protein-rich foods:

  • Meat, poultry, and fish
  • Eggs
  • Beans and lentils
  • Soy, tofu, tempeh
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Dairy
  • Quinoa

Fiber

Fiber is an important nutrient to account for when planning your diabetes-friendly meals, as it helps slow the rise of blood glucose levels thanks to its complex structure that takes longer to digest.

Fiber-rich foods include vegetables, beans, lentils, starches like sweet potatoes and squash, fruit like apples and berries, whole grains like brown rice, oats, and buckwheat, to name a few. Adults with diabetes should aim for 35 grams of fiber per day.

Vegetables

These plant foods are powerhouses of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and potent compounds called phytochemicals that may help reduce chronic disease. Look for leafy greens like kale, spinach, arugula, romaine, and choose from a veritable rainbow of veggies like tomatoes, peppers, onions, eggplant, zucchini, etc.

Pack your plate full of these good-for-you foods: seek out plant-based recipes and products, and incorporate them into everything from breakfast (spinach omelets) to dessert (zucchini-chocolate cupcakes). Aim for five to 10 servings per day.

Foods to Limit

Because certain foods may raise your blood sugar level more than others, there are a few food groups that should be enjoyed in moderation—but they still have a place in a diabetes-based diet.

Dairy

When following a diabetes-based meal plan, dairy can be a good source of protein and fat, but it also contains some carbohydrates. Plan meals around high-quality, grass-fed butter, milk, cheese, and yogurt (look for full-fat, plain varieties with no added sugar). For example, if you love fruit-based yogurts, try adding your own frozen fruit to plain, full-fat yogurt. That way, you can control the sugar content but still enjoy a sweet treat. Aim for one to two servings per day, depending on your carbohydrate requirements.

Starchy Vegetables

Potatoes, yams, squash, and corn are considered starchy vegetables and should take up a smaller portion of your plate. While they have great nutrient density, they contain more carbohydrates than non-starchy vegetables, and should be eaten in smaller amounts if you have diabetes, as they may raise your blood sugar. Aim for just one or two servings per day.

Fruit

Fructose, the sugar found in fruit, can be metabolized quickly by the liver and may cause a spike in blood sugar. But avoiding it all together means you'll miss out on some good fiber, vitamins like vitamin C and A, and minerals like potassium and magnesium.

The key to keeping fruit in a diabetes-friendly diet is to eat whole, fresh or frozen fruit, and eat it with a protein or fat (like cheese, nut butter, or avocado—try it with grapefruit!) to help slow down the sugar absorption. Berries and citrus fruits are a great choice, as they have lots of fiber and are slightly lower on the glycemic index (a ranking of how certain foods will raise blood sugar). Aim for just one or two servings per day, and ask your health team for more guidance on incorporating fruit.

Sweets

Even small amounts of sugar-laden snacks and desserts may quickly cause a spike in blood glucose levels, as the sugar in these foods is more readily available to be absorbed quickly by the body. For that reason, cookies, cakes, candy, and sugary drinks should be very limited in a diabetes-friendly diet.

If you have a celebration coming up where you know you'll be partaking in a bit of cake, for example, be sure to plan around these instances by limiting your carb intake in other areas (such as skipping fruit at breakfast).

Alcohol

Beer, wine, and liquor shouldn't have a major place in any diabetes-friendly diet, especially if you're taking any type of blood sugar management medication. Alcohol can cause low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), so it's best to limit your intake and be sure to talk to your physician before you drink.

The Plate Method for Meal Planning with Diabetes

If you'd like a form of meal planning that's a little less structured, you may prefer to start out with the Plate Method. It's a simple formula that doesn't require counting carbohydrates or grams of protein, but it does require that you learn which foods belong in which category. Here's how it works.

Using a standard dinner plate:

  • Fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables
  • Fill one-quarter of your plate with lean protein
  • Fill one-quarter of your plate with grains or starchy vegetables

Incorporate one or two servings of fats with each meal (one serving is equal to one teaspoon of liquid fat, like olive oil, or one tablespoon of solid fat, like sesame seeds), and you may be able to incorporate one or two servings of fruit per day (one serving is equal to 1/2 cup or 1 piece of whole, fresh fruit). depending on your personal blood sugar management.

Starchy Foods

  • Bread, rolls, tortillas, pita bread, English muffin, or bagel
  • Rice or pasta
  • Oatmeal or unsweetened dry cereal
  • Crackers
  • White or sweet potato
  • Winter squash
  • Peas, corn, beans, and lentils

Non-Starchy Vegetables

  • Asparagus
  • Green beans
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Cucumber
  • Eggplant, summer squash or zucchini
  • Salad greens
  • Mushrooms
  • Peppers
  • Tomatoes

Lean Protein Foods

  • Chicken or turkey with skin removed
  • Lean beef such as round, sirloin, flank steak, tenderloin or ground round
  • Lean pork such as ham, Canadian bacon, tenderloin, or center loin chops
  • Fish such as salmon, cod, haddock, halibut, trout, tuna, tinned tuna or tinned salmon, anchovies, mackerel, sardines
  • Eggs
  • Grass-fed dairy products
  • Tofu, tempeh, seitan, and edamame

A Word From Verywell

Meal planning is a great way to help yourself stay on top of your blood sugar control. Ask your physician, find a certified diabetes educator, or seek out a nutritionist for resources they may have to help you with meal planning. You can also look online for meal planning templates, charts, diabetes-friendly recipe ideas, and shopping lists to make things more streamlined.

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Article Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. 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.

  2. National Academy of Sciences. Institute of Medicine. Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids.

  3. USDA. Dietary Guidelines for America 2015–2020 (Fifth Edition)

  4. Diabetes Teaching Center at the University of California, San Francisco. Diabetes & Alcohol.

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

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