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The Ultimate Meal Guide for Meal Planning with Diabetes

Published on
Updated on
The Ultimate Meal Guide for Meal Planning with Diabetes

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways

  • Meal prep, or cooking and assembling meals and snacks in advance, can make it easier to eat more nutritious foods for blood sugar management. 
  • Start by planning simple, balanced meals with the help of a registered dietitian specializing in diabetes care. 
  • Then, make a grocery list and pick a day to prepare one or more recipes for the week. Ensure your plan fits with your lifestyle and is sustainable for you. 

If you have diabetes, it might feel overwhelming to figure out how to cook balanced meals to support healthy blood sugar levels.

Meal preparation, or “meal prep,” is one strategy to help set you up for success at the start of each week. 

There are many methods for meal-prepping, which is a strategy that involves cooking food in advance to save you time and energy during the week.

Continue reading to learn more about how to get started with meal prep for diabetes and build long-lasting habits. 

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Benefits of Meal Prepping for Diabetes

Research shows that people who prepare most of their meals at home have higher-quality diets and spend less money on food than those who regularly eat restaurant or prepared meals. 

Restaurant and fast food meals tend to contain more calories, processed meats, refined carbohydrates, and saturated fat, which can negatively impact blood sugar control and heart health in diabetes. 

By cooking more meals at home, you can focus on healthier food choices like those found in the Mediterranean diet, which contains nutrients that can help to balance blood sugar levels

Getting Started with Meal Prep

You may imagine spending your entire Sunday cooking when you think of meal prep.

However, many different strategies exist to make meal prepping fit your lifestyle and become a long-lasting habit. 

Before you get started, reflect on your schedule and lifestyle.

Which meal is most difficult for you to make at home?

How much time are you willing and able to dedicate to meal planning, grocery shopping, and meal prepping each week? 

Think about your motivation for meal prepping, whether it’s improving your health, saving money, or minimizing stress. 

Next, create an action plan to begin meal prepping.

Remember to start small and set realistic goals that you can build on over time. 

Some ideas for simple diabetes meal prepping include:

  • Chop up fruits and veggies for the week.
  • Prepare a double batch of dinner to have leftovers for lunch the next day. 
  • Start by meal prepping for half of the week instead of all seven days. For example, on Sunday, cook lunches for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. You can add more days once the habit is built. 

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Step-by-Step Guide to Meal Prep for Beginners 

When you’re ready to begin meal prepping, follow these tips to make the process as easy as possible. 

Plan Your Meals Ahead of Time 

The first step in meal prepping is meal planning.

Knowing in advance what foods you need to shop for and prepare is essential. 

Start by planning a couple of days each week. Aim for two or three days of dinner or lunch options.

Starting slow will give you time to figure out what works best for you. 

Over time, you'll be able to compile your best recipes into a book or folder in order to quickly select your meals each week.

Consider saving your meal plans so you can reuse them for future weeks.   

Create a Grocery List with Healthy, Diabetes-Friendly Foods

Next, make a list of the ingredients to prepare the meals you’ve planned.

Ensure you include a variety of the following foods to meet your nutritional needs and for optimal blood sugar control

  • Lean proteins. 
  • Whole grains. 
  • Fruits. 
  • Vegetables.
  • Legumes.
  • Healthy fats. 

Going to the store with a grocery list can help you focus your shopping, save time and money, and reduce food waste.

Consider grocery delivery services if finding time to get to the store is a barrier. 

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Set Aside Time for Meal Prep

Schedule a time each week that you know you will be available to meal prep.

Making this a recurring calendar event or reminder on your phone can be helpful. 

Starting meal prep after you get home from grocery shopping can be a good way to keep up your momentum.

Even spending 15 minutes to chop some produce and organize your fridge and pantry can go a long way in helping you make nutritious choices during the week. 

Invest in Meal Prep Containers 

Though you don’t need to purchase anything to get started with meal prepping, many people find it helpful to buy containers specifically designed for meal preparation.

Some of these have compartments to make it easy to portion out your meals.

Others are disposable for easy cleanup. 

Consider investing in glass or stainless steel food storage containers to reduce your exposure to BPA, a chemical found in certain plastics. 

Keep it Simple With Balanced Meals 

Try not to overcomplicate things by choosing elaborate recipes that require significant time and cleanup.

Simplify by trying sheet pan or one-pot meals, or shop for prepared meal components like rotisserie chicken and salad kits. 

Work With a Registered Dietitian 

When starting to meal prep, it can be useful to see a registered dietitian specializing in diabetes management to guide your meal planning and food choices.

They can help you understand which foods to focus on and teach you strategies like carbohydrate counting or the diabetic exchange list.

Tips for Success with Diabetes Meal Prep

To ensure your meal prep routine turns into a long-term habit, stay consistent every week and recognize that meal prepping does not have to be all or nothing.

Think about how your plan can be flexible to accommodate your lifestyle.  

A backup plan will help you stay on track even when life gets busy.

This may look like:

  • Scheduling a grocery delivery on your way home from a trip. 
  • Making sandwiches instead of cooking your lunches. 
  • Keeping balanced frozen meals on hand as a backup. 
  • Utilizing meal delivery services on busy weeks. 

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Quick Meal Prep Ideas

Try following our easy meal prep examples to get started.

Breakfast 

  • Make five jars of overnight oats made with Greek yogurt on Sunday night to have an easy, high-protein, fiber-rich breakfast on-the-go option for the week. 
  • Make egg cups by baking eggs and veggies in a muffin tin. Serve with whole-grain toast or an English muffin for a balanced meal.
  • Prepare a batch of baked oatmeal with oats, milk, fruit, and nuts for a hearty and satisfying breakfast you can reheat throughout the week. Freeze any leftovers in single-serve portions.

Lunch 

  • Prepare “snack lunches” for the week consisting of no-cook items like deli meat, cheese, whole grain crackers, berries, and baby carrots. 
  • Make burrito bowls using canned beans, quick-cooking brown rice, rotisserie chicken, avocado, and salsa. 
  • Make mason jar salads for the week by layering a dressing, protein, whole grain, raw veggies, and lettuce in a large jar or container. Simply shake up to enjoy a delicious, nutrient-dense lunch. 

Dinner

  • Make a large pot of soup that will last for a few dinners. You can use canned beans and frozen veggies to reduce the prep time. 
  • Prepare a grain bowl recipe using a roasted protein of your choice, add veggies, and serve on a bed of whole grains. 
  • Utilize a slow cooker or instant pot to reduce the time you need to spend cooking. 

Snacks

  • Make a batch of peanut butter energy balls (peanut butter, honey, dry oats, and chocolate chips) and store them in the fridge or freezer. 
  • Prep mason jars with fruit and yogurt parfaits. 
  • Try single-serve hummus cups with veggies from a store-bought veggie tray. 
  • Make a batch of hard-boiled eggs to enjoy with whole-grain crackers during the week. 
  • Use bulk bins to create your own trail mix and store in single-serve bags or containers. 

Takeaway

Preparing your meals and snacks in advance can help you stick with your nutrition goals and manage your blood sugar levels.

Focus on simple recipes and set realistic expectations for your meal prep goal. 

Start practicing a routine of meal planning, grocery shopping, and meal prepping each week.

You can prepare as much or as little as you have time for.

It can be a good idea to have backup options that are low- to no-prep for when life gets busy. 

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How a Dietitian Can Help

As you start your meal prep journey, a diabetes dietitian can teach you how to plan and prepare balanced meals and snacks.

They can also give you recipe ideas and help you make realistic and sustainable meal prep goals. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is meal prepping good for diabetes?

Meal prepping can be an excellent way for people with diabetes to ensure they eat balanced meals throughout the week. Research shows that minimizing restaurant and fast food and instead focusing on home-cooked meals can help improve blood sugar control and heart health. 

Focus on whole grain carbs, lean proteins, healthy fats, and plenty of fruits and vegetables in your meal prep recipes. Talk to a registered dietitian specializing in diabetes for more guidance.

What is the best food preparation for people with diabetes?

When meal prepping for diabetes, you can use the plate method to help you balance your plate. Aim for ½ your plate to be non-starchy vegetables, ¼ lean protein, and ¼ high-fiber carbohydrates. 

In general, try to limit highly processed foods, added sugars, and refined carbohydrates

What foods can people with diabetes eat freely?

Free foods for diabetes contain few carbohydrates and calories. These include: 

  • Non-starchy vegetables, such as leafy greens, broccoli, and cucumber.
  • Low sodium broth.
  • Condiments such as vinegar, herbs, and salsa.
  • Unsweetened coffee and tea. 

Experts recommend dietary patterns emphasizing overall quality rather than a focus on consuming large quantities of free foods for diabetes management. Fill your diet with high-fiber, nutrient-dense foods, such as:

  • Lean proteins–poultry, fish, greek yogurt, and beans. 
  • Healthy fats–nuts, olive oil, and avocados. 
  • Whole grain carbohydrates–brown rice, quinoa, and whole grain pasta. 
  • Fruits and vegetables–eat a variety of colors.

References

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