When planning meals, we tend to focus on the main dish. While it’s important to choose lean meats and vegetarian protein to include in your meals, the sides you choose to accompany your main dish can also make or break the nutritional content. See the example below where we’ve chosen a diabetes-friendly chicken dish served with some not-so-healthy sides.
1 serving of Oven Barbequed Chicken, 2 ounces of potato chips, and 1 cup of creamed spinach (heated from frozen).
Nutrition Information: 800 calories, 56 grams of carbohydrate, 10 grams of saturated fat, and 1300 mg of sodium
As you can see, choosing a healthy entrée will only get you so far when served with high-fat, high-calorie side dishes. While this menu does include some spinach, it comes from a frozen convenience product and contains a lot of saturated fat. When you can, try to prepare vegetable sides from fresh ingredients and choose a healthy cooking method. If your budget is tight, buying canned and frozen vegetables without added fats and salt is also a great option.
Use the Diabetes Plate Method as a guide when planning meals. It will help you keep portions under control. Fill ½ of your plate with non-starchy vegetables, ¼ of your plate with a whole grain or starchy vegetable, and the last ¼ of your plate with a lean meat. You can also add a side of low-fat milk and/or a serving of fruit.
With that in mind, here are some healthier substitutions you can make to the meal above:
Nutrition Information: 370 calories, 43 grams of carbohydrate, 1.7 grams of saturated fat, and 445 mg of sodium
OR try this combination:
1 serving of Oven Barbequed Chicken, ½ cup brown rice, and 1 cup Broccoli Almondine
Nutrition Information: 410 calories, 39 grams of carbohydrate, 2.3 grams of saturated fat, and 420 mg of sodium
Choosing these healthier sides would help you decrease the calories in the dinner above by more than half. It can also help you drastically cut your saturated fat and sodium intake. Carefully controlling portions can also help you control your carb intake.
So, choose your sides carefully and get creative with your meals. We’ve provided a list of our favorite spring side dishes below along with entrees that you can pair them with. Remember that these are just suggestions – you can also mix and match!
by Chris Smith
Looking for inspiration to cook more healthy meals at home? This cookbook offers 125 tasty recipes that feature fresh, seasonal foods for all times of the year.
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