Diabetic Meals: 11 Tasty Menu Plans

Good news! We took the guesswork out of following a diabetic diet by putting together 11 delicious meals that include key vitamins and minerals plus all of the nutrition information you need to manage your blood glucose. Try one of these good-for-you dinner menus tonight, or mix and match your favorite parts to create something all your own.
  • Delicious Diabetes Meals

    One of the most common questions people with diabetes ask is: How can I put together nutritionally balanced yet delicious dinners that satisfy me and my whole family?

    To help, we've put together 11 diabetes meals that you can enjoy any night of the week. Each meal tastes great, has 600-700 calories, includes detailed nutrition information, and comes with a helpful tip to make planning your meals easier every day.

    Our goal? To help you see just how easy it is to put together healthy meals for everyone who pulls a chair up to your table.

    Note: All meals in this story include nutrition information furnished by Diabetic Living and/or the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 21.

    The USDA National Nutrient Database

  • Calories: Just How Many?

    If you're like most Americans, you want to save and savor the maximum number of calories you have at dinnertime. We understand that. It's often easier to go on autopilot for quick and easy breakfasts and lunches, but at dinner we want to relish variety and taste. With that in mind, we created these diabetes menus with dinner as the main meal and allotted calories accordingly.

    Each of these dinners is between 600 and 700 calories, based on a range of 1,400-1,600 calories a day. If you are a woman who wants to shed a few pounds over time, this level is appropriate for you. If you are a smaller woman or larger man, you may need fewer or more calories, respectively. Talk with a registered dietitian to get your personalized calorie profile.

  • Nutrient Know-How

    We looked at more than calories when we put together these well-balanced meals. We also made sure they contain the right amount of carbohydrate, protein, and fat (the major, or macro, nutrients) recommended by the American Diabetes Association, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and the way many Americans divvy up their calories.

    Nutrients recommended for each meal:
    60-80 grams (40-50 percent of calories)*
    Protein: 30-40 grams (20-25 percent of calories)
    Fat: 20-30 grams (30-40 percent of calories)

    As you slowly make changes in your food choices to eat healthier, don't try to change too much. Studies show that even when people try to dramatically change the percent of calories they eat, they can't budge the division of nutrients much.

    We've also kept an eye on sodium, with each menu providing about 1,100 milligrams. Ideally it would be lower, but it's hard work to keep sodium consumption close to the recommended 2,300 milligrams per day. These meals are light on salt and processed foods -- which contain lots of hidden sodium. With the help of Diabetic Living's delicious recipes, we've found ways to make lower-sodium meals that also taste great.

    *If any of these meals contains too much carbohydrate based on recommendations from your health-care provider, consider minimizing carbs by omitting or eating a smaller portion of one or more of the carb-containing foods.

  • Measure Your Portions

    Take out and dust off your measuring cups, spoons, and food scale. The surefire way to know you are eating proper portions of foods is to weigh and measure them. You don't need to do this endlessly, but it's important to do it regularly -- a few times a month -- to remind yourself of proper sizes.

    Weighing and measuring your foods trains your eyes and keeps you honest. Plus, the better you train your eyes to estimate portions, the more exact you'll be when you eat away from home.

    Eat and Enjoy Mindfully
    To successfully and permanently transition to healthier eating habits, it's critical to seek and maintain pleasure in eating. In fact, this is so important that it's one of the goals of the latest iteration of the American Diabetes Association's Nutrition Recommendations.

    To maintain your pleasure in eating, find new and healthier ways to prepare your favorite foods or fit in the less-healthy foods you can't live without -- just eat them in smaller portions and less often. Then make sure to sit down and eat; don't stand up and nibble. Focus on the food in front of you. Don't be distracted by your computer, TV, or mobile device.

    Eat slowly and savor every bite. Feeling satisfied and eating slowly can help control your calorie tally.

  • Chicken Salad Wraps with Corn, Carrots, and Yogurt

    Diabetes Meal Idea 1:
    1 Curried Chicken Salad Wrap
    1/2 cup frozen corn with 2 teaspoons margarine spread
    1 cup baby carrots and celery sticks with 1 tablespoon ranch dressing
    1/2 cup fat-free plain yogurt with 1 cup raspberries

    Meal-Planning Tip: Plot Your Meals Ahead of Time
    Preplanning -- choosing recipes, planning meals, and shopping -- is job number one to eat healthier. "Planning for the week ahead helps prevent multiple trips to the grocery store, which saves time and money and reduces temptation to buy too much or stop at restaurants or convenience stores on your way home from work," says Brenda Ponichtera, R.D., dietitian and author of Quick & Healthy Recipes and Ideas (Small Steps Press, 2008).

    Ponichtera offers these tips to help you eat healthier:

    • Develop a permanent shopping list on your computer, and organize it according to the layout of the supermarket where you shop.
    • Keep your shopping list in your kitchen so you can add items as they come to mind or you get low or run out of them.
    • Make sure your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer are always stocked with common cooking ingredients, from onions and garlic to healthy oils and frozen vegetables.
    • Always keep ingredients on hand for three quick and easy-to-make dinner entrees. Choose recipes that don't require a lot of fresh ingredients so it's easier to keep the components on hand.
    Curried Chicken Salad Wrap Recipe
  • Salmon, Rice, Summer Squash, Salad, and Tropical Fruit

    Diabetes Meal Idea 2:
    1 serving Spice-Rubbed Salmon with Tropical Rice
    1 cup steamed summer squash and onions with 2 teaspoons margarine spread
    1-1/2 cups salad (lettuce, cucumbers, sliced peppers, tomatoes, and shredded carrots) with 2 teaspoons olive oil and 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar dressing
    1/2 cup mango slices
    1/2 cup pineapple slices

    Meal-Planning Tip: Rate Your Plate
    Is your dinner divided up right? Rate your dinner to see if you are implementing healthy eating principles.

    • Vegetables (the nonstarchy variety) should take up about half of your plate.
    • Starches -- that's whole grains, starchy vegetables, breads, etc. -- should occupy no more than a quarter of your plate.
    • Meat, which includes lean red meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, and cheese, should take up about a quarter of your plate. That means on the side as opposed to the focus of the meal. Start asking "Where's the vegetables?" rather than "Where's the beef?"
    • Ideally, a selection from the dairy case and a serving of fruit should accompany at least a couple of meals each day.

    As you rate your plates, think about simple changes you can make to improve your ratings. A few more veggies here and a little less meat there can make a big difference over time.

    Spice-Rubbed Salmon with Tropical Rice Recipe
  • Quinoa Pilaf, Spinach, Chicken Drumsticks, and Peaches

    Diabetes Meal Idea 3:
    2 servings Corn and Bean Quinoa Pilaf
    1 cup steamed spinach (fresh or frozen) with 2 teaspoons olive oil
    2 small grilled chicken legs
    1/2 cup canned peaches in light syrup

    Meal-Planning Tip: Try Whole Grains
    Steer your supermarket cart toward healthier starches, including whole grains, to have them at the ready in your cupboard. "Whole grains offer more nutrition bang for your calories with their vitamin, mineral, and fiber counts. They can hold down the rise of blood glucose a few points and help you feel more full after eating," says Rani Polak, M.D., a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef, a physician, director of the Center for Healthy Cooking at Hadassah University Hospital in Israel, and author of Delicious Diabetic Recipes (Imagine Publishing, 2009).

    Try quick-to-cook whole grains such as whole wheat couscous or bulgur. For whole grains that require longer cooking times, cook a large batch and use it a few times during the week; try brown rice, millet, or barley.

    Corn and Bean Quinoa Pilaf Recipe
  • Tomato and Veggie Soup, Dinner Roll, Salad, Cheese, and Apple

    Diabetes Meal Idea 4:
    1 serving Roasted Tomato and Vegetable Soup
    1 whole wheat dinner roll
    1-1/2 cups salad (lettuce, cucumbers, sliced peppers, tomatoes, and shredded carrots) with 2 teaspoons olive oil and 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar dressing
    1 cup fat-free milk
    2 ounces low-fat Swiss cheese
    1 medium sliced apple

    Meal-Planning Tip: Think Variety and Volume with Veggies
    "Vegetables come to your aid in three ways: They're high in volume (lots to chew), low in calories, and offer a hefty supply of essential vitamins and minerals," says Jackie Newgent, R.D., author of Big Green Cookbook (Wiley, 2009) and The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook (American Diabetes Association, 2007).

    Vegetables vary in their nutritional strengths. That's why you want to choose a wide variety: green, leafy vegetables with calcium and vitamin A; tomatoes with vitamin C and potassium; and orange vegetables such as carrots and winter squash, which provide vitamin A.

    Another benefit of vegetables? They're quick to cook. Stir-fry spinach in a snap. Blanch a head of broccoli and stash it in the refrigerator to nibble hot or cold. Slice red peppers and dip them in a light salad dressing for a snack or extra vegetable at dinner.

    Newgent suggests jazzing up vegetables with herbs. Try tarragon with snow or snap peas, rosemary with zucchini or broccoli, and mint on carrots or cauliflower.

    Roasted Tomato and Vegetable Soup Recipe
  • Beef and Rice, Root Veggies, and Yogurt

    Diabetes Meal Idea 5:
    1 serving Sesame Orange Beef
    1/2 cup beets and 1/2 cup carrots roasted with 2 teaspoons oil
    1/2 cup fat-free plain yogurt with 1 cup sliced strawberries

    Meal-Planning Tip: A Little Meat Goes a Long Way
    Lighten your meat portions by s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g them. Find dishes where you cut meat into small pieces and mix it up with vegetables, whole grains, and/or legumes. This Sesame Orange Beef recipe does just this. Fajitas, kabobs, burritos, soups, and stews are other examples.

    Another idea to stretch the meat: Sneak vegetables into meat dishes and eat more vegetables in the process, suggests Dr. Rani Polak, director of the Center for Healthy Cooking at Hadassah University Hospital in Israel. He adds pureed, sauteed, or grated vegetables to hamburger patties and meatballs.

    So what's the health benefit of minimizing meat? "It helps people eat less total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol in one fell swoop," Polak says.

    Sesame Orange Beef Recipe
  • Tostada, Cheese, and Milk

    Diabetes Meal Idea 6:
    1 serving Vegetarian Tostada on 1 whole wheat tortilla
    1 ounce shredded cheddar cheese
    1 cup fat-free milk

    Meal-Planning Tip: Opt for Occasional Meatless Meals
    Consider going meatless sometimes. There's no rule in diabetes meal planning that meat be front and center at every meal. Research shows that the protein in meat is neither converted into glucose nor keeps your blood glucose from rising after eating.

    Cutting back on meat may benefit your health and your pocketbook, too. Meatless meals can require a bit more prep time, so think about making a vegetarian casserole on the weekend to use for a couple of quick meals during the week (like the Provencal Vegetable Stew on the next page). Pair a serving with a salad, and you'll fill at least half your plate with vegetables. Or build a quick-to-fix entree like this Vegetarian Tostada.

    Vegetarian Tostada Recipe
  • Veggie Soup, Cabbage, Tilapia, Cantaloupe, and Gingersnaps

    Diabetes Meal Idea 7:
    1 serving Provencal Vegetable Stew
    1 cup braised cabbage with 2 teaspoons spread margarine
    3 ounces pan-fried tilapia with 2 teaspoons oil and lemon juice
    1 cup cantaloupe cubes
    3 gingersnaps

    Meal-Planning Tip: Discover the Benefits of Beans
    Beans in a rainbow of colors, from white (cannellini) to red (kidney) to navy to black, as well as lentils and peas, offer nutritional and blood glucose benefits. Yet Americans shy away from this category of foods, noting they're time-consuming to prepare, contain too much carbohydrate, and cause intestinal gas.

    Consider introducing more beans and peas into your menus to take advantage of their nutritional goodness and versatility. Don't feel you need to start with dry beans if they take too long to prepare. Stock a variety of canned beans instead. Drain and wash them to get rid of some sodium. Use beans in soups and stews, such as this Provencal Vegetable Stew. Toss beans or green peas on green salads, or mix them into marinated vegetables.

    Dry lentils can be cooked up lickety-split and work well in soups and cold salads and pureed for dips.

    Provencal Vegetable Soup Recipe
  • Tuna Salad Pockets, Waldorf Salad, and Orange Slices

    Diabetes Meal Idea 8:
    1 serving Tuna Salad Pockets
    1 serving Barley Waldorf Salad
    1 cup fat-free milk
    2/3 cup orange sections with 1 teaspoon sherry

    Meal-Planning Tip: Use Healthy Oils in Moderation
    A dizzying array of oils greets you at the supermarket. Which one is best for what purposes? Pour a liquid oil rather than using butter or margarine whenever you can, even when scrambling or frying eggs. That's not because oil contains fewer calories than stick butter or margarine, but it's likely to contain less saturated and trans fat (though there are trans fat-free spreads).

    Jackie Newgent, R.D., author of Big Green Cookbook (Wiley, 2009) and The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook (American Diabetes Association, 2007), suggests always having canola oil on hand. "It's versatile because it has minimal flavor and a high smoke point. It works well in baking and sauteing, and it doesn't overshadow other foods' flavors." Canola oil is low in saturated fat, high in monounsaturated fat, and provides vitamin E and some healthy omega-3 polyunsaturated fats.

    Olive oil is another heart-healthy option, whether it's extra virgin with its green cast and olivelike flavor or light with its yellow cast. Olive oil works well for sauteing and for dressing salads like the one used in this Tuna Salad Pockets recipe.

    Tuna Salad Pockets RecipeBarley Waldorf Salad Recipe
  • Apple-Spinach Salad, Hamburger, Chickpea Salad, and Applesauce

    Diabetes Meal Idea 9:
    1 serving Apple-Spinach Salad with Thyme-Dijon Vinaigrette
    3 ounces cooked 90 percent lean hamburger patty
    1 whole wheat hamburger roll
    1/2 cup chickpeas mixed with 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes and red onions
    1 cup fat-free milk
    1/2 cup applesauce mixed with 1 tablespoon dried cranberries and 1 tablespoon chopped walnuts

    Meal-Planning Tip: Use Fruit in Fun Ways
    Do you have a hard time fitting in the few fruit servings you need each day? That might be because it's hard to find fruit in restaurants, and you don't think to include it as part of your meals.

    Begin to think about how you can integrate fruit into your meals. This Apple-Spinach Salad with Thyme-Dijon Vinaigrette is a good example of using fruit on a salad. Sliced pears work well on salads, too.

    Consider adding dried fruit, such as raisins, cranberries, or chopped apricots, to salads, rice and grain dishes, and casseroles.

    Just as you grill your chicken, fish, or red meat, you can grill pineapple slices, peach halves, or vertically sliced bananas. Brush them with a mixture of orange juice and bit of brown sugar or maple syrup to get a tasty glaze and sweet taste.

    Find ways to serve side dishes that contain fruit: sliced strawberries or orange sections marinated in balsamic vinegar or sherry, cubes of watermelon tossed with crumbled feta cheese, or cantaloupe wrapped with a sliver of ham.

    Apple-Spinach Salad with Thyme-Dijon Vinaigrette Recipe
  • Salmon, Couscous, Salad, Kiwi, and Blueberry Pudding

    Diabetes Meal Idea 10:
    1 serving Blueberry Pudding
    3 ounces grilled salmon with fresh lemon
    2/3 cup whole wheat couscous with 2 teaspoons raisins and 1/2 cup sauteed onions, peppers, and mushrooms
    1-1/2 cups salad (lettuce, cucumbers, sliced peppers, tomatoes, and shredded carrots) with 2 teaspoons olive oil and 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar dressing
    1 sliced kiwi

    Meal-Planning Tip: Don't Leave Out Dairy
    Do you delete dairy foods, thinking you no longer need them? Dairy foods are important throughout your life. They provide the most concentrated sources of calcium and vitamin D -- two nutrients that adults commonly lack. Insufficient calcium and vitamin D put you at risk for osteoporosis and bone fractures. And a growing body of research points to the role insufficient vitamin D plays in the development of type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

    Think about how you can drink more fat-free milk, eat more fat-free yogurt, or nibble on reduced-fat cheese.

    For a sweet treat, make a batch of custard or pudding. This meal includes a serving of Blueberry Pudding. Mix yogurt with your favorite fruit and use a sugar substitute or no-sugar jam to sweeten it. Instead of meat, include an ounce or two of cheese for your protein or pair a serving of fruit with cheese.

    Blueberry Pudding Recipe
  • Salad, Pita Bread, and Yogurt with Fruit and Pecans

    Diabetes Meal Idea 11:
    1 serving Chicken, Pear, and Parmesan Salad
    1 whole wheat pita bread
    1/2 cup fat-free plain yogurt with 1/3 cup blueberries and 2 tablespoons pecans

    Meal-Planning Tip: Control Your Sodium
    It's tough for Americans to stay below 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, let alone follow the 1,500-milligram recommendation for people with diabetes and high blood pressure. It's easy to get this amount of sodium in one restaurant meal. Brenda Ponichtera, R.D., dietitian and author of Quick & Healthy Recipes and Ideas (Small Steps Press, 2008), offers solutions to taper your sodium count:

    • Lighten up on processed foods, such as prepared entrees, cold cuts, soups, and vegetables with sauces. Processed food is Americans' main source of sodium.
    • Halt the salt, garlic or onion salt, lemon pepper, and other flavorings that contain salt. Use a variety of mustards, vinegars, lemon, lime, herbs, and spices to flavor your foods.

    Make your own salad dressing with a healthy oil, a flavorful vinegar, fresh garlic, and your favorite fresh or dried herbs. Make a large batch and keep it in a jar in the refrigerator. Take it out and bring it to room temperature a few minutes before you eat.

    Chicken, Pear, and Parmesan Salad Recipe
  • Eat What You Love!

    Food -- sugar, carbohydrate, fiber, protein--is not your enemy. With the help of a wide variety of tasty, low-carb recipes and quick tips to help you eat more healthfully, you can take control of your diabetes with every bite.

    What to Eat with Diabetes

    Top 20 Foods for Diabetes

    Dinner Tonight! Menu Options to Please the Whole Family

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