Managing blood sugar levels is key to living well with diabetes and avoiding some of its complications. Maintaining a healthful diet can help.

Following a diabetes meal plan can help make sure that a person is getting their daily nutritional needs. It can also ensure variety and help a person lose weight, if necessary.

In addition, a diabetes meal plan can help an individual keep track of carbs and calories and make healthful eating more interesting by introducing some new ideas to the diet.

No one plan will suit everyone. Ultimately, each person should work out their own meal plan with help from a doctor or dietitian.

This article provides two healthful 7-day meal plans that are suitable for people on a calorie-controlled diet. One provides 1,200 calories per day and the other provides 1,600 per day.

Below are also tips and strategies that can help a person set up their own meal plan.

The following meal plans also include the number of carbohydrates for each meal and each day, based on calculations by the United States Department of Agriculture.

Consult a doctor about whether the amounts are suitable or whether to make adjustments.

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Planning in advance can help ensure a balanced diet while managing diabetes.

Planning meals in advance is a good way to ensure that people managing diabetes eat a balanced and nutritious diet.

Factors that affect dietary choices for people with diabetes include:

  • balancing carbohydrate intake with activity levels and the use of insulin and other medications
  • consuming plenty of fiber to help manage blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of high cholesterol, weight gain, cardiovascular disease, and other health issues
  • limiting processed carbohydrates and foods with added sugars — such as candies, cookies, and sodas — which are more likely to cause a sugar spike than whole grains and vegetables, for example
  • understanding how dietary choices can impact the complications of diabetes, for example, the fact that salt increases the risk of high blood pressure
  • managing weight, as this can help a person manage the development of diabetes and its complications
  • taking into account individual treatment plans, which will contain recommendations from a doctor or dietitian

The ideal diabetes meal plan will offer menus for three meals a day, plus snacks. The two 7-day meal plans below, based on 1,200 and 1,600 calories per day, provide a maximum of 3 servings of healthful, high-fiber carbohydrate choices at each meal or snack.

Monday

Breakfast: One poached egg and half a small avocado spread on one slice of Ezekiel bread, one orange. Total carbs: Approximately 39

Lunch: Mexican bowl: two-thirds of a cup low-sodium canned pinto beans, 1 cup chopped spinach, a quarter cup chopped tomatoes, a quarter cup bell peppers, 1 ounce (oz) cheese, 1 tablespoon (tbsp) salsa as sauce. Total carbs: Approximately 30.

Snack: 20 1-gram baby carrots with 2 tbsp hummus. Total carbs: Approximately 21.

Dinner: 1 cup cooked lentil penne pasta, 1.5 cups veggie tomato sauce (cook garlic, mushrooms, greens, zucchini, and eggplant into it), 2 oz ground lean turkey. Total carbs: Approximately 35.

Total carbs for the day: 125.

Tuesday

Breakfast: 1 cup (100g) cooked oatmeal, three-quarters of a cup blueberries, 1 oz almonds, 1 teaspoon (tsp) chia seeds. Total carbs: Approximately 34

Lunch: Salad: 2 cups fresh spinach, 2 oz grilled chicken breast, half a cup chickpeas, half a small avocado, a half cup sliced strawberries, one quarter cup shredded carrots, 2 tbsp dressing. Total carbs: Approximately 52.

Snack: One small peach diced into one-third cup 2% cottage cheese. Total carbs: Approximately 16.

Dinner: Mediterranean couscous: two-thirds cup whole wheat cooked couscous, half a cup sautéed eggplant, four sundried tomatoes, five jumbo olives chopped, half a diced cucumber, 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, fresh basil. Total carbs: Approximately 38.

Total carbs for the day: Approximately 140.

Wednesday

Breakfast: Two-egg veggie omelet (spinach, mushrooms, bell pepper, avocado) with a half cup black beans, three-quarters cup blueberries. Total carbs: Approximately 34.

Lunch: Sandwich: two regular slices high-fiber whole grain bread, 1 tbsp plain, no-fat Greek yogurt and 1 tbsp mustard, 2 oz canned tuna in water mixed with a quarter cup of shredded carrots, 1 tbsp dill relish, 1 cup sliced tomato, half a medium apple. Total carbs: Approximately 40.

Snack: 1 cup unsweetened kefir. Total carbs: Approximately 12.

Dinner: Half a cup (50g) succotash, 1 tsp butter, 2 oz pork tenderloin, 1 cup cooked asparagus, half a cup fresh pineapple. Total carbs: Approximately 34.

Total carbs for the day: Approximately 120.

Thursday

Breakfast: Sweet potato toast: two slices (100 g) toasted sweet potato, topped with 1 oz goat cheese, spinach, and 1 tsp sprinkled flaxseed. Total carbs: Approximately 44.

Lunch: 2 oz roast chicken, 1 cup raw cauliflower, 1 tbsp low-fat French dressing, 1 cup fresh strawberries. Total carbs: Approximately 23.

Snack: 1 cup low-fat plain Greek yogurt mixed with half a small banana. Total carbs: Approximately 15.

Dinner: A two-thirds cup of quinoa, 8 oz silken tofu, 1 cup cooked bok choy, 1 cup steamed broccoli, 2 tsp olive oil, one kiwi. Total carbs: Approximately 44.

Total carbs for the day: Approximately 126.

Friday

Breakfast: A one-third cup of Grape-Nuts (or similar high-fiber cereal), half a cup blueberries, 1 cup unsweetened almond milk. Total carbs: Approximately 41.

Lunch: Salad: 2 cups spinach, a quarter cup tomatoes, 1 oz cheddar cheese, one boiled chopped egg, 2 tbsp yogurt dressing, a quarter cup grapes, 1 tsp pumpkin seeds, 2 oz roasted chickpeas. Total carbs: Approximately 47.

Snack: 1 cup celery with 1 tbsp peanut butter. Total carbs: Approximately 6.

Dinner: 2 oz salmon filet, one medium baked potato, 1 tsp butter, 1.5 cups steamed asparagus. Total carbs: Approximately 39.

Total carbs for the day: Approximately 133.

Saturday

Breakfast: 1 cup low-fat plain Greek yogurt sweetened with half a banana mashed, 1 cup strawberries, 1 tbsp chia seeds. Total carbs: Approximately 32.

Lunch: Tacos: two corn tortillas, a one-third cup cooked black beans, 1 oz low-fat cheese, 2 tbsp avocado, 1 cup coleslaw, salsa as dressing. Total carbs: Approximately 70.

Snack: One cherry tomato and 10 baby carrots with 2 tbsp hummus. Total carbs: Approximately 14.

Dinner: Half medium baked potato with skin, 2 oz broiled beef, 1 tsp butter, 1.5 cups steamed broccoli with 1 tsp nutritional yeast sprinkled on top, three-quarters cup whole strawberries. Total carbs: Approximately 41.

Total carbs for the day: Approximately 157.

Sunday

Breakfast: Chocolate peanut oatmeal: 1 cup cooked oatmeal, 1 scoop chocolate vegan or whey protein powder, 1 tbsp peanut butter, 1 tbsp chia seeds. Total carbs: Approximately 21.

Lunch: One small whole wheat pita pocket, half a cup cucumber, half a cup tomatoes, half a cup lentils, half a cup leafy greens, 2 tbsp salad dressing. Total carbs: Approximately 30.

Snack: 1 oz almonds, one small grapefruit. Total carbs: Approximately 26.

Dinner: 2 oz boiled shrimp, 1 cup green peas, 1 tsp butter, half a cup cooked beets, 1 cup sauteed Swiss chard, 1 tsp balsamic vinegar. Total carbs: Approximately 39.

Total carbs for the day: Approximately 116.

Monday

Breakfast: One poached egg and half a small avocado spread on one slice of Ezekiel bread, one orange. Total carbs: Approximately 39.

Lunch: Mexican bowl: a one-third cup brown rice, two-thirds cup home-made baked beans, 1 cup chopped spinach, a quarter cup chopped tomatoes, a quarter cup bell peppers, 1.5 oz cheese, 1 tbsp salsa as sauce. Total carbs: Approximately 43.

Snack: 20 10-gram baby carrots with 2 tbsp hummus. Total carbs: Approximately 21.

Dinner: 1 cup cooked lentil penne pasta, 1.5 cups veggie tomato sauce (cook garlic, mushrooms, greens, zucchini, and eggplant into it), 2 oz ground lean turkey. Total carbs: Approximately 35.

Snack: 1 cup cucumber, 2 tsp tahini. Total carbs: Approximately 3.

Total carbs for the day: Approximately 141.

Tuesday

Breakfast: 1 cup (100 g) cooked oatmeal, three-quarters cup blueberries, 1 oz almonds, 2 tsp chia seeds. Total carbs: Approximately 39.

Lunch: Salad: 2 cups fresh spinach, 3 oz grilled chicken breast, half a cup chickpeas, half a small avocado, half a cup sliced strawberries, a quarter cup shredded carrots, 2 tbsp low-fat French dressing. Total carbs: Approximately 49.

Snack: One small peach diced into one third of a cup 2% fat cottage cheese. Total carbs: Approximately 16.

Dinner: Mediterranean couscous: two-thirds cup cooked whole wheat couscous, half a cup sauteed eggplant, four sundried tomatoes, five jumbo olives chopped, half a diced cucumber, 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, fresh basil. Total carbs: Approximately 38.

Snack: One apple with 2 tsp almond butter. Total carbs: Approximately 16.

Total carbs for the day: 158.

Wednesday

Breakfast: Omelet: two-egg veggie omelet (spinach, mushrooms, bell pepper, avocado) with half a cup black beans, 1 cup blueberries. Total carbs: Approximately 43.

Lunch: Sandwich: two regular slices high-fiber whole grain bread, 1 tbsp Greek plain, no-fat yogurt and 1 tbsp mustard, 3 oz canned tuna in water mixed with a quarter cup of shredded carrots, 1 tbsp dill relish, 1 cup sliced tomato, half a medium apple. Total carbs: Approximately 43.

Snack: 1 cup unsweetened kefir. Total carbs: Approximately 16.

Dinner: half a cup (50 g) succotash, 1.5 oz cornbread, 1 tsp butter, 3 oz pork tenderloin, 1 cup cooked asparagus, half a cup fresh pineapple. Total carbs: Approximately 47.

Snack: 20 peanuts, 1 cup carrots. Total carbs: Approximately 15.

Total carbs for the day: 164.

Thursday

Breakfast: Sweet potato toast: two slices (100 g) toasted sweet potato, topped with 1 oz goat cheese, spinach, and 1 tsp sprinkled flaxseed. Total carbs: Approximately 44.

Lunch: 3 oz roast chicken, 1.5 cups raw cauliflower, 1 tbsp salad dressing, 1 cup fresh strawberries. Total carbs: Approximately 23.

Snack: 1 cup low-fat plain Greek yogurt mixed with half a small banana. Total carbs: Approximately 15.

Dinner: Two-thirds cup quinoa, 8 oz silken tofu, 1 cup cooked bok choy, 1 cup steamed broccoli, 2 tsp olive oil, one kiwi. Total carbs: Approximately 44.

Snack: 1 cup celery, 1.5 tsp peanut butter. Total carbs: Approximately 6.

Total carbs for the day: Approximately 132.

Friday

Breakfast: One-third of a cup Grape-Nuts (or similar high-fiber cereal), half a cup blueberries, 1 cup unsweetened almond milk. Total carbs: Approximately 41.

Lunch: Salad: 2 cups spinach, a quarter cup tomatoes, 1 oz cheddar cheese, 1 boiled chopped egg, 2 tbsp yogurt dressing, a quarter cup grapes, 1 tsp pumpkin seeds, 2 oz roasted chickpeas. Total carbs: Approximately 47.

Snack: 1 cup celery with 1 tbsp peanut butter. Total carbs: Approximately 6.

Dinner: 3 oz salmon filet, one medium baked potato, 1 tsp butter, 1.5 cups steamed asparagus. Total carbs: Approximately 39.

Snack: A half cup vegetable juice, 10 stuffed green olives. Total carbs: Approximately 24.

Total carbs for the day: Approximately 157.

Saturday

Breakfast: 1 cup low-fat plain Greek yogurt sweetened with half a banana mashed, 1 cup strawberries, 1 tbsp chia seeds. Total carbs: Approximately 32.

Lunch: Tacos: two corn tortillas, one-third cup cooked black beans, 1 oz low-fat cheese, 4 tbsp avocado, 1 cup coleslaw, salsa as dressing. Total carbs: Approximately 76.

Snack: One cherry tomato and 10 baby carrots with 2 tbsp hummus. Total carbs: Approximately 14.

Dinner: Half a medium baked potato with skin, 2 oz broiled beef, 1 tsp butter, 1.5 cups steamed broccoli with 1 tsp nutritional yeast sprinkled on top, three-quarters cup whole strawberries. Total carbs: Approximately 48.

Snack: Half a small avocado drizzled with hot sauce. Total carbs: Approximately 9.

Total carbs for the day: Approximately 179.

Sunday

Breakfast: Chocolate peanut oatmeal: 1 cup cooked oatmeal, 1 scoop chocolate vegan or whey protein powder, 1.5 tbsp peanut butter, 1 tbsp chia seeds. Total carbs: Approximately 21.

Lunch: One small whole wheat pita pocket, half a cup cucumbers, half a cup tomatoes, half a cup cooked lentils, half a cup leafy greens, 3 tbsp salad dressing. Total carbs: Approximately 30.

Snack: 1 oz pumpkin seeds, one medium apple. Total carbs: Approximately 26.

Dinner: 3 oz boiled shrimp, 1 cup green peas, 1 tsp butter, half a cup cooked beets, 1 cup sauteed Swiss chard, 1 tsp balsamic vinegar. Total carbs: Approximately 39.

Snack: 16 pistachios, 1 cup jicama. Total carbs: Approximately 15.

Total carbs for the day: Approximately 131.

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Measuring portions of food can ensure accurate monitoring of a diet.

Measuring food portions can help with monitoring food intake more accurately.

A person with diabetes can enjoy a healthful, varied diet that helps manage their blood sugar levels. Developing this type of diet involves:

  • balancing carbohydrates, proteins, and fats to meet dietary goals
  • measuring portions accurately
  • planning ahead

With these ideas in mind, the following steps can help a person put together a healthful 7-day meal plan:

  • Note daily targets for calories and carbohydrates.
  • Determine how many portions of carbohydrates and other food components will meet those targets.
  • Divide those portions among a day's meals and snacks.
  • Review the rankings of favorite and familiar foods, and try to incorporate them into meals, considering the information above.
  • Use exchange lists and other resources to fill out a daily schedule. We describe exchange lists below.
  • Plan meals to maximize ingredient use, such as by having roasted chicken one day and chicken soup the next.
  • Repeat the process for each day of the week.
  • Monitor blood sugar levels daily and weight regularly to see if the meal plan is producing the desired results.

Incorporating the various factors below can help when creating a meal plan.

Weight management

There appears to be a link between diabetes and obesity. Many people with diabetes may be aiming to lose weight or prevent weight gain.

One way to manage weight is by counting calories. The number of calories that a person needs each day will depend on factors such as:

  • blood glucose targets
  • activity levels
  • height
  • sex
  • specific plans to lose, gain, or maintain weight
  • the use of insulin and other medications
  • preferences
  • budget

Various dietary approaches can help a person achieve and maintain a healthful weight, and not all of them involve counting calories.

The DASH diet, for example, focuses mainly on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds, as well as dairy products, poultry, and fish that are low in fat or fat-free. It encourages people to avoid added salt, sugars, unhealthful fats, red meats, and processed carbs.

The DASH diet is designed to improve blood pressure levels in people with hypertension, but studies also show that it may help with losing and managing weight.

A doctor can offer further guidance about weight management.

Plate method

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The plate method can help a person get the right amount of each type of food.

Getting the right nutritional contents from food is important for everyone.

The plate method uses the image of a standard 9-inch dinner plate to help people visualize nutritional balance as they plan their meals.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend imagining that a plate full of food includes:

  • 50% nonstarchy vegetables
  • 25% lean protein, such as lentils, tofu, fish, or skinless and fatless chicken or turkey
  • 25% high-fiber carbohydrates, such as whole grains or legumes

A person who needs a higher intake of carbs can add to this plate:

  • a small amount of fresh fruit
  • a glass of 1% milk

Some oils can be healthful and low in carbs, but high in calories. A person can use these oils to prepare food and add flavor, but it is important to consume them in moderation.

Limited amounts of the following types of fats can support health:

  • monounsaturated fats, such as olive and canola oils and avocado
  • polyunsaturated fats, such as sesame seeds and nuts

Saturated fats — present in coconut oil, animal fats, and dairy products — can increase the risk of high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease.

Current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that:

  • 45–65% of an adult's calories come from carbohydrates
  • fewer than 10% of calories come from sugar
  • 20–35% come from fat, with fewer than 10% of these calories coming from saturated fat
  • 10–35% come from protein

Ask a doctor if these guidelines are suitable. Some people with diabetes may need a lower carb intake to manage their blood sugar well.

Carbohydrate control

One way to manage blood sugar levels is to decide how many carbohydrates to consume each day and how to spread those among meals, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

People can then choose how to "spend" their carbohydrates by using a carbohydrates exchange list. It ranks foods according to the number of carbs that they contain, making it simpler to swap one type of food for another.

Experts no longer recommend a standard carb intake for people with diabetes, as each person has different requirements. Speak with a doctor about how many and what type of carbs to consume each day, as well as how to disperse them throughout the day.

The type of carb can also affect the amount that a person can eat. Highly processed carbs and sugars can raise blood glucose levels quickly without offering any nutritional benefits.

Fiber, on the other hand, is slow to digest and can help with weight and glucose management. Current guidelines recommend a fiber intake of 28.0 to 33.6 grams each day for most adults. Males may need up to 38 grams per day.

Glycemic index

The glycemic index (GI) ranks foods according to how quickly they raise blood sugar levels.

Foods with high GI scores increase blood sugar levels rapidly. These foods include sugars and other highly processed carbs.

Foods with low scores contain no or few carbs or they contain fiber, which the body does not absorb as quickly as processed carbs.

Here are some examples of carbohydrate-rich foods and their GI scores:

Low-GI foods (with scores of 55 or less): 100% stone-ground, whole-wheat bread, sweet potato with the skin, most fruits, whole oats

Medium-GI foods (56–69): Quick oats, brown rice, whole-wheat pita bread

High-GI foods (70 and above): white bread, russet potatoes, candies, white rice, melon

People with diabetes need to consider the type of carbs as well as how many they consume. A doctor can give advice about this.

Food exchange lists

One way to keep track of carbs is with a food exchange list.

These lists can also group foods with similar levels of fats and proteins, and they may include subcategories, of starches, fruits, milk, vegetables, meat and meat substitutes, and fat, for example.

A person can use all of the above strategies to create a meal plan.

For example, using the plate method can help when determining portion sizes, and food exchange lists can help ensure nutritional content. Counting carbs and checking GI rankings can help ensure that the diet is healthful.

People with diabetes should consider a number of factors when planning meals. A premade meal plan can help, but a person should adjust it to meet their needs.

A doctor will prepare a treatment plan for diabetes, which will include targets for healthful eating.

Also, the American Diabetes Association provide a meal planning system that can help with developing a healthful diet.

Q:

It can be hard to follow a diet plan precisely if you don't have time for careful shopping and cooking. What is the main thing to keep in mind?

A:

To simplify meal planning when venturing away from a set plan, I recommend making a batch meal and following the plate method for portioning.

For example, cook 4 pieces of salmon, 8 cups of broccoli, and a batch of a high-fiber carb like beans (make at least 2 cups). Each portioned meal would then be a piece of salmon, 2 cups broccoli and a half-cup of beans.

This will ensure that you are maximizing your nutrition and managing your carbohydrate intake while not having to spend an excessive amount of time cooking a new meal each night

Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.