The busier your week, the easier it is to forget to have the right amount of balanced meals each day. For those with diabetes, good nutrition helps you maintain healthy blood sugar levels in your target range. Meal planning is just one more way to regulate your body and continue a healthy lifestyle.
Those with diabetes do not need to eat meals that look drastically different from what their other family members eat. Focus on having three, balanced meals a day. Proper portion control, consuming nutrient-dense foods, having a balanced plate, and minimizing processed foods are all ways to eat healthy with diabetes. While your portions might look different than your family members, you should still be able to enjoy all the foods you love with family and friends.
Knowing what’s on your plate is an important step towards better nutrition. The plate method is a good way for a diabetic to create a balanced plate. A balanced, nutrient-dense plate for each meal is healthy for people of all ages. A quarter of your plate or meal should include a lean protein like fish or chicken breast, another quarter should have a starch or carbohydrate like rice or grains, and the last half of your plate should include non-starchy vegetables like artichokes or asparagus. This does not mean you have to separate every meal into quadrants, but you can plan to include the right ingredients in a dish to make sure you are filling your plate properly.
When you plan your meals, avoid things that are high in sugar like sweets, cookies, candies, desserts, chocolate, or sugar-sweetened beverages like soda or sweet tea. Be cautious of sugary beverages, in particular, because drinking carbohydrates will not fill you up as fast as eating them will, which means you can easily consume more than you need. Cutting down on sugar doe not mean diabetics can never have a cookie or a slice of thanksgiving pie, but consider where the majority of your carbohydrates come from and make healthier choices for dessert or snacks.
There are tons of healthy food choices that also taste delicious. Try adding more variety in your fruits and vegetables. Shop the rainbow, by choosing vegetables and fruits with a range of different colors you can ensure you are receiving a wide array of nutrients. If you have difficulty adding a variety of colored foods to your meals, try rotating your color patterns. One week you can try dark greens and purples. The next week, try yellows and oranges. By changing up which fruits and vegetables you eat, you’re also rotating your intake of vitamins and minerals.
Remember your meals should not look drastically different than someone without diabetes, but you have to make sure you maintain proper portion control. You can still enjoy grandma’s macaroni and cheese or your family’s southern collards, but your portions need to balance things that are not necessarily nutritional by putting healthy options on the plate. Portion control also means making sure you eat well at different times during the week, and not all at once.
“It’s like money,” said registered dietitian, Mary Roberts-Curran of TPMG Nutrition Services in Chesapeake and Virginia Beach. Think about each meal, food consumption the same way you would a budget. Women should have around 30-45g of carbohydrates per meal. Using the money method, you could treat those 45g of carbohydrates like 45 dollars. If you spend some of your 45 dollars on a soda, you’ll have less to spend on nutritional food and often spend more than budgeted. Ultimately, use portion control, limit total carbohydrates per meal, and aim to choose healthier carbohydrates, limiting or avoiding less healthy carbohydrates it is your decision what you choose to spend (what foods/drinks are in front of you) and how you spend it (what foods you eat or drink).
Planning meals in advance is a way to balance and portion control your meals as a diabetic. When we forget to plan, it’s easy for us to skip meals, make impulsive and unhealthy choices, and grab what is quick and often unhealthy. Planning ahead gives you time to consider your food choices and make informed, nutritional decisions about your diet. Maybe plan out your breakfast choices during for the upcoming work week or portion out snacks such as raw vegetables and hummus or crackers and cheese.
Meal planning is not just beneficial for diabetics, either. Mapping out meals is a great strategy for those looking to lose weight or for people with other chronic diseases like heart disease. The more we plan our meals and develop healthy eating habits, the less our eating will feel like a diet. Often we feel like dieting means giving stuff up for a short time, whereas meal planning can make the process of healthy eating more natural and routine. Developing long-lasting habits will lead to long-lasting results instead of short-term changes. Meal planning also makes it easier to identify nutritional issues quicker. Having regular checks with a physician or dietician is good for those with diabetes. Meal planning will give you and your doctor or dietitian a better idea of what you are eating on a weekly basis, which can help them focus on what needs improvement and what doesn’t.
Meal planning can be a challenging process, however, the benefits for diabetics are often worth the effort. If you’re interested in ways to start planning your meals around your diabetes or another chronic disease, talk to a TPMG dietician today to see how they can get you started on a path towards better nutrition.
About Mary Roberts-Curran, MA, RDN, CHES
Mary Roberts-Curran, MA, RDN, CHES, is a registered dietitian in Chesapeake at TPMG Nutrition Services. She utilized her years of education to learn about all aspects of health, including wellness, nutrition, and fitness, and works to educate patients on the true meaning of “healthy living.” She finds satisfaction in treating diabetes, cholesterol, heart disease, weight loss, and weight management.