When Meal Planning Gets Complicated… A Simple Solution

Diabetes Plate Method

Looking for a simple solution to diabetes meal planning? The Diabetes Plate Method can be a good place to start for many people with diabetes.

Often, when people are diagnosed with diabetes, they don't know where to begin. One way is to change the amount of food you are already eating, and to change the proportions of different foods on your plate. Focus on filling your plate with more nonstarchy vegetables and having smaller portions of starchy foods and protein foods

The Diabetes Plate Method is an easy way to plan meals, and it doesn’t require any counting or measuring. It can help with controlling carb intake, and can also help with portion and calorie control, which may help with weight loss. And the best part? You can use it almost anywhere. Use it when you eat out, at holidays or special events, and most important – when you cook at home for yourself!

Note: There are many ways to plan meals and there is no one diet or eating pattern that is ideal for everyone with diabetes. Work with your health care provider to determine what is right for you.

How Does it Work?

There are seven simple steps to using this method:

  1. Using your dinner plate, put an imaginary line down the middle of the plate. Then on one half, draw another imaginary line so you will have three sections on your plate.
  2. Fill the largest section (1/2 of the plate) with nonstarchy vegetables such as:
    • spinach, carrots, lettuce, greens, cabbage, bok choy
    • green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, asparagus
    • vegetable juice, vegetable soup, salsa, onion, cucumber, beets, okra
    • mushrooms, peppers, turnips
  3. Now in one of the small sections (1/4 of the plate), put grains and starchy foods. The best choices are:
    • whole grain breads, such as whole wheat or rye
    • whole grain, high-fiber cereal
    • cooked cereal such as oatmeal, grits, hominy or cream of wheat
    • rice, pasta, dal, tortillas
    • cooked beans and peas, such as pinto beans or black-eyed peas
    • potatoes, green peas, corn, lima beans, sweet potatoes, winter squash
    • low-fat crackers, snack chips, pretzels, and light popcorn
  4. And then in the other small section (1/4 of the plate), put your protein. The best choices are:
    • plant-based protein like tofu, tempeh, veggie burgers, and beans
    • eggs, reduced-fat cheese
    • chicken or turkey without the skin
    • fish such as tuna, salmon, cod, or catfish
    • other seafood such as shrimp, clams, oysters, crab, or mussels
    • lean cuts of beef and pork such as sirloin or pork loin
  5. Add a serving of fruit, a serving of dairy, or both as your meal plan allows.
  6. You can also add healthy fats in small amounts to your meals. For cooking, use oils. For salads and vegetables, try some healthy additions such as nuts, seeds, avocado, and vinaigrettes.
  7. To complete your meal, add a low-calorie drink like water, unsweetened tea, or coffee.

The plate allows you to keep portions, and therefore calories, under control. Fill your plate like this at lunch and dinner, and it could make a big difference!

What about Breakfast?

Most people do not eat a lot of nonstarchy vegetables at breakfast. This can make the Diabetes Plate hard to use when planning the first meal of the day. However, it is still very important to start your day off with a nutritious meal.

Some people may be able to have more carbohydrate than others at breakfast. The amount of carbohydrate you can eat will depend on your individual meal plan. However, a good general rule is to include healthy choices from a few different food groups. Be sure to include a source of protein, which may help you feel full for longer.

There are many quick and healthy breakfast options. Check out our Quick Breakfast Ideas to learn more about planning a healthy breakfast and for some tasty meal ideas.

How do foods like lasagna fit?

A lot of foods are a mix of starch and protein. Some good examples might be lasagna, which is mostly noodles, cheese, and meat. Another example might be tacos, which are mostly tortillas and ground beef. For combination foods like these, simply fill half of your plate with the combo of meat and starch, and then fill the other half of your plate with nonstarchy vegetables.

You may also come across foods that include all three parts of the plate in one dish. An example might be chili with nonstarchy vegetables, meat (protein), and beans (starch). In this case, make sure you add plenty of nonstarchy vegetables to your chili, so that the proportions of food in the chili are similar to the plate.

How do you fit in your favorites?

You might be wondering how to fit in some of your favorites, like pizza or something sweet. For foods like pizza, simply put it in the right section of the plate. (It is mostly starch from the crust and some protein from the cheese.) Then, fill the rest of your plate as you normally would. If possible, add some lean protein or nonstarchy vegetables to your pizza to increase the nutritional value.

To include something sweet, cut back on another other carb-containing food at the same meal. For example, if you'd like to have a small piece of pie after dinner, you'll need to swap out another carbohydrate food. So, you could skip your fruit, yogurt, and/or starchy food, and then enjoy your pie after dinner. This allows you to keep the amount of carbohydrate in your meal about the same.

Check out our Sugar and Desserts page for more information on fitting in sweets.

More on the Diabetes Plate

You can find a great example of the Diabetes Plate Method at work in the photo above this article. You can also browse our meal plans to find examples of the plate method used throughout a day of meals.

For more information, check out the What Can I Eat? and Meal Planning sections on diabetes.org.

You may also be interested in Diabetes Forecast’s By the Plate feature, which incorporates recipes and simple sides to reflect the Diabetes Plate.

How to Fill Half Your Plate with Nonstarchy Veggies

Find lots of ideas to help you eat more nonstarchy veggies, which are low in carbohydrate, low in calories, and packed with nutrients.

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Create Your Plate

This meal plan’s lunch and dinner are great examples of the diabetes plate method at work. The addition of a balanced breakfast and nutritious snacks help to round out your day.

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