A sample diabetic meal plan is an effective way to control diabetes. Managing type 2 diabetes diet and meal plans are extremely important when treating yourself with insulin or taking any other medication to lower the blood glucose level. With an online sample diabetic meal plan, you can learn how to manage diet and diabetes medications together to get your blood glucose level normal.
Create Your Unique Type 2 Diabetes Meal Plan
Type 2 diabetes occurs when your body’s cells are insulin-resistant, making your pancreas work harder to keep your blood sugar (glucose) levels within a healthy range. Type 2 diabetes develops over time.
Risk factors for type 2 diabetes include:
- Family history
- Lack of exercise
The disease is manageable — and sometimes reversed — through medication, an active lifestyle, and healthy eating.
Building a type 2 diabetes meal plan involves getting the right balance of calories and carbohydrates from different foods at regular times each day to keep your glucose levels steady.
Glucose comes from the carbohydrates in the foods we eat, fueling our bodies with energy in much the way we fuel our cars.
Type 2 diabetes meal planning
Many people with type 2 diabetes suffer from comorbidities (two or more diseases in the same person) such as heart and kidney diseases, obesity, and NAFLD. This can make meal planning confusing, as there are dietary guidelines for each condition.
Following one over the other can leave a gap in your nutritional approach. It’s best to work with a dietician to ensure that you incorporate healthy choices from each set of guidelines.
What is a good diet for type 2 diabetes?
The DASH diet
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet is a low-sodium plan that promotes healthy eating to reduce high blood pressure. The DASH diet contains foods high in potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Saturated fat, sodium, and sugars are limited as they can raise blood sugar, blood pressure, and LDL cholesterol, which are the main risks for heart disease and stroke. DASH limits sodium to 2,300mg daily.
That’s about the amount of sodium in one can of condensed chicken noodle soup or one teaspoon of table salt.
There is a DASH diet with an even more restrictive sodium recommendation (1,500 mg per day) for those who need to lower their sodium intake even further.
The Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet has become popular in the US. It is a nutritional approach that promotes foods traditionally consumed in Mediterranean countries like France, Greece, Spain, and Italy.
High in healthy fats like extra virgin olive oil, this diet includes fruit and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and oily fish like salmon. Eggs and cheese are eaten in moderation. Red meat, processed foods, and refined oils and grains are rarely eaten.
Studies¹ have shown that people with diabetes who eat the Mediterranean diet have lower insulin resistance and lower A1C (test that measures blood sugar over the past three months) levels. What’s more, according to another study,² the Mediterranean diet may protect your brain’s cognitive function. This could mean:
- Improved memory
- Increased processing speed
- Lower risk of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia
This approach reminds us that the best ‘diet’ for managing diabetes is not just a diet but a lifestyle change.
How meal planning can help you manage type 2 diabetes
Consistency is important in diabetes management. Meal planning helps you to be consistent in your eating habits while balancing your daily intake of carbohydrates. This is especially important if your treatment plan includes insulin injections, as insulin doses may need to change depending on your food intake.
Meal planning also provides a visual representation of how many calories and carbohydrates each food choice contains, whether you manually write a list or chart your consumption in an app.
Benefits of a diabetes meal plan
By mapping out what foods you are eating at each meal, along with portion sizes, calories, and carbohydrates, you can see at a glance what foods work together for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack.
Some doctors may recommend eating up to six smaller meals a day, depending on other conditions that you may have. If you need to lose weight, your meal plan may provide between 1,200 and 1,600 calories per day.
Benefits of sticking to your type 2 diabetes meal plan include:
- Glucose control
- Weight management
- Lower need for diabetic medication
- Reduced risk of heart conditions like high blood pressure
- Reduced risk of high cholesterol
You can include in your diet any food under 20 calories a serving and less than 5g carbs per serving (‘free’ foods). Pay attention to what constitutes a serving size for any free food.
Foods for type 2 diabetic patients
Portion control and carb counting are imperative no matter what foods you choose. If you are not familiar with portion sizes, portion control can seem subjective. You may find sizing up your portions confusing or tricky.
You can use your hand to illustrate portion sizes. Let’s take a look at some examples of foods for each size:
- A fingertip portion is about one teaspoon. Think mayonnaise, oils, butter, and margarine.
- A thumb portion is around one tablespoon. Nut butter, cheese sticks, sour cream, and salad dressings are examples of thumb portions.
- One handful is approximately one to two ounces. Nuts, pretzels, and snack crackers fit into the average size palm (2.91 to 3.30 inches depending on gender) without filling it.
- A palm portion is three to four ounces, which fits completely in your palm up to your fingers and thumb. Serving sizes of fish, meat, poultry, pasta, cooked vegetables, and potatoes fit the average palm portion. To get an idea of the rough size, imagine holding a deck of cards in your palm.
- A fistful is about one cup or eight ounces. This could be one cup of soup, raw vegetables, salad, or cereal.
US portion sizes are larger than European ones. Our plate sizes have grown over 36% during the last 50 years. We’ve gone from nine-inch to 1ft diameter plates, especially in restaurants where portion sizes are often two to three times the average serving size.
Now that you have a better understanding of portion and plate sizes let’s look at what types of food you should eat.
The glycemic index (GI)
Every food that contains carbohydrates can potentially increase your glucose levels. The glycemic index was developed to categorize foods as low, medium, or high, based on how fast they raise your blood sugar, using a scale from 1 to 100.
Low levels indicate less potential to raise your glucose level quickly.
Foods can be classified as:
- Low glycemic: GI of 50 or less
- Medium glycemic: GI of 50–70
- High glycemic: GI of 70 or above
Foods like prepackaged and flavored oatmeal tend to have a GI of around 80. On the other hand, steel-cut rolled oats lower the GI to 55, making it a better choice for your meal plan.
Bread, grains, and pasta
Look for whole grains, non-white bread, and whole-grain or vegetable pasta that contain complex carbohydrates over simple ones.
- Pita bread
- Whole-wheat bread
- Non-instant oatmeal
- Brown rice
Complex carbohydrates take longer to break down than simple carbs that quickly turn to sugar. Whole grains are also high in fiber and help you feel full faster, but watch portion sizes since they may also be higher in calories.
Nuts and legumes
Nuts are high in protein and can be high in calories. Legumes, represented especially by beans, are a great source of protein but tend to be relatively lower in calories.
- Black beans
- Pinto beans
Keep in mind that peanuts, and therefore peanut butter, are legumes.
Starch is the type of carbohydrate that is stored by vegetables. The following starchy vegetables should be consumed in moderation, or they will raise your blood glucose levels:
When it comes to starchy vegetables, make good choices and practice portion control. Instead of a white baked potato, choose a sweet potato or a yam. Instead of french fries, choose sweet potato fries or baked radish slices.
There is no need to avoid all ‘white’ foods. You need a diversity of foods in your meal plan.
Vegetables low in starch tend to be dark, leafy, and green, although they can also be light in color, like cauliflower and bamboo shoots.
Cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli and cabbage, contain a lot of water, fiber, and glucosinolates. Glucosinolates are known to inhibit cancer cell growth and act against inflammatory disease. They include:
- Brussel sprouts
- Bamboo shoots
- Artichoke hearts
- Green beans
- Dark-green, leafy vegetables
- Root vegetables
For the most variety in your meal plan, choose both starchy and non-starchy vegetables daily.
Milk and yogurt
Stick to low-fat dairy products over full-fat offerings. Foods in this category include:
- Nut milk
- Cow milk
- Soy milk
Watch out for hidden sugars in flavored dairy products. A single serving of flavored yogurt may contain 40g of sugar. After you factor out the natural sugar, lactose, you are left with five to seven teaspoons of hidden sugar.
Fruit naturally contains fructose, which causes a low rise in blood sugar levels compared to glucose. However, you need to include fruit in your meal plan since it contains fiber and phytochemicals.³
Fiber slows the digestive process and helps alleviate blood sugar spikes. Phytochemicals stimulate the immune system and slow cancer cell growth.
Fruits you can eat include:
- Fruit cocktail
A good snack will satisfy food cravings while keeping carbs at a minimum level. It’s important to add snacks into your meal planning each day to maintain a variety of your favorite foods.
Some ideas for snacks are:
- Crackers (whole-grain, baked)
- French fries (baked)
- Popcorn (air-popped or microwave, no butter)
- Potato chips (whole-grain, baked)
Snacking should have the purpose of keeping your glucose normalized and your energy levels up.
Sauces and condiments
Foods without condiments can be very plain, making it difficult to stick to a healthy diet. Sauces and condiments should be a fingertip or thumb portion in your diabetic meal plan.
Some examples include:
- BBQ sauce
- Fruit jam
- Nut butter
- Ranch dressing
‘Low sugar’ does not mean ‘no calories’. Read your labels and choose your extras with care. Smothering whole-grain waffles with syrup won’t keep blood sugar at healthy levels. Try fruit jam for a sweet change-up or salsa for a savory treat.
Foods to avoid for type 2 diabetes patients
People with diabetes should avoid processed foods like prepackaged deli meat, cheese, chips, and convenience meals. Other foods to avoid include:
- High-fat meat, especially beef, duck, skin-on poultry, dark meat
- Full-fat dairy like whole milk, sour cream, butter
- Non-diet sodas and sugar-sweetened fruit juices
- Sugars, especially table sugar, honey, molasses, and brown sugar
- Foods high in trans fat like shortening, dairy-free creamers, and anything containing partially hydrogenated oils
- Fried foods, unless you fry them in olive oil or use an air fryer
If you just can’t do without some of these foods, eat them sparingly and together with healthier foods.
When choosing foods for your type 2 diabetes meal plan, it’s important to learn how to read food labels. This is especially important if you have food allergies to consider.
When choosing which foods to include in your meal plan, read the labels for their ingredients, carbs, fiber, and fat content.
- Ingredients are listed in descending order, with the most-used ingredient to the least.
- Look at the total grams of carbohydrates on the label. This is divided into added sugars, complex carbohydrates, and fiber. Check if the carbohydrates are natural sugars or processed. Natural sugars like those in milk and fruit are better choices than the sugars in cereals. If your label says ‘sugar-free,’ it isn’t necessarily carb-free. Sugar-free labels mean that there is less than 0.5g of sugar in one serving.
- Fat-free foods may still have carbohydrates. Fat has more than twice the calories of either carbs or sugars. Trans fats and saturated fats can raise cholesterol. Choose mono- or polyunsaturated fats as they are heart-friendly.
How to make a healthy meal plan for type 2 diabetes
It can seem overwhelming to create suitable meals from scratch, especially if you are newly diagnosed and are just learning about diabetes. However, general rules of thumb can make meal planning easier.
- 45–60g of carbs per meal
- 15–25g of carbs per snack
- Whole foods over processed ones
- A variety of food choices
- Inclusion of healthy foods you love
- More protein, more fiber, and fewer sweet foods
Note that the level of carbohydrates in a type 2 diabetes diet can vary depending on factors such as weight, age, and physical activity level. The best starting point is to consult a dietician experienced in diabetes diet planning.
If you have comorbidities to consider, it is also helpful to have an experienced dietician’s input.
Type 2 diabetes plan examples
- 2 scrambled eggs
- 1/2 medium banana (14g)
- 2 slices of whole-wheat bread (30g)
- 2 tablespoons walnuts (2g)
Total carbs: 46g
- 1 slice of whole-wheat bread (15g)
- 1 tablespoon almond butter (3g)
- 4oz low-fat yogurt (9g)
- 1/2 cup raw carrots (9g)
- 2 tablespoons low-fat ranch dressing (6g)
Total carbs: 42g
- 3oz roast chicken without skin
- 1/2 large baked potato (32g)
- 1 cup fresh cherries (12)
Total carbs: 44g
- 1/2 cup strawberries (11g)
- 2 pieces of dark chocolate (10g)
Total carbs: 21g
The key to designing your unique type 2 diabetes meal plan is to educate yourself about your diabetes and other conditions you may have (comorbidities), know which foods to eat and which to avoid, and carefully read food labels.
Creating your unique type 2 diabetes meal plan doesn’t have to be cumbersome or overwhelming. Educate yourself, make good food choices based upon your dietician’s recommendations for your diabetes and other medical conditions, practice portion control, and count carbohydrates and calories.
Diet planning is a therapeutic tool that will help you maintain stable glucose levels but can become a lifestyle that will affect your health for the rest of your life. It can help you to manage your diabetes rather than it managing you.
Crafting a Meal Plan for People With Type 2 Diabetes
Following a healthy meal plan is an essential part of managing diabetes. Because food and lifestyle changes can have such a positive effect on your blood sugar control, it’s important to craft a meal plan that’s attainable and sustainable for your needs.
However, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Each meal plan will be different for each person, depending on your age, sex, activity level, medications, and other factors. Read up on best practices below, but seek out a nutritionist or dietitian who can help you cater a meal plan to your specific requirements.
7 Ways to Eat Healthy on a Diabetes Diet
The Value of Planning Ahead
Going into the week ahead armed with a meal plan can take a lot of the guesswork out of what you’ll eat each day, which in turn makes it easy to stay on top of your blood sugar control. Meal planning doesn’t have to be exclusive to home-cooked meals – rather, it can incorporate both prep work at home and pinpointing which meals you’ll eat out.
Selecting your food in advance helps you get an accurate count of approximate calories (if you’re tracking), stay on top of portions, and make sure your blood sugar can stay as balanced as possible. It’ll also help you make healthier decisions now than when you’re in the throes of hunger.
To make meal planning a little easier, create a chart and follow these simple steps.
- Plot it out: Using a notebook or spreadsheet, map out the days of the week and the meals you’ll eat each day, leaving room for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.
- Find your recipes: Select a few diabetes-friendly recipes you love using a cookbook or website, or simply pick from your standbys. A good rule of thumb is to plan to make just two to three recipes per week, then prepare to cook up enough for leftovers or find healthy takeout options to fill in the gaps. Cooking any more than three times per week when you’re not used to it can be a big commitment, and you don’t want to set yourself up for failure.
- Make a grocery list: Using your recipes, compile a list of all the ingredients you’ll need to purchase at the store, then schedule a time in your calendar to go shopping.
- Make a prep-ahead list: It can be helpful to take a look at the recipes beforehand and figure out what you can prep in the days ahead. For example, you might be able to cook up a pot of beans or grains the day before, roast some veggies in the morning while you’re getting ready for work, or even poach some chicken ahead of time. Then store it in the fridge in food-safe containers so it’s ready to assemble and reheat.
- Make a meals-out list: Keep a list of healthy, satisfying meals that you can eat out, such as the hot bar and salad bars at your local health food store, fast-casual spots with low-carb offerings, and local restaurants with veggie-centric plates. This can be your go-to list when you’re not feeling in the mood to cook, but still want something that fits into your healthy lifestyle.
Diabetes Diet Basics
Here’s a breakdown of the foods you’ll want to prioritize in your meal plan.
Aim for 45 to 60 grams of carbs per meal, and around 15 grams per snack. Remember that your personal needs may be slightly different. Be sure to work under the guidance of a healthcare professional if you’re interested in cutting back on carbs even more.
Examples of carbohydrate foods:
- Starchy foods like bread, cereal, rice, and crackers
- Fruit and juice
- Legumes like beans, lentils, soy
- Starchy vegetables, like potatoes, winter squash, and corn
- Sweets and snack foods
A well-balanced diet should contain approximately 20% to 35% of calories from fat. That looks like 15 to 25 grams of fat per meal, based on a 2,000-calorie diet.
Examples of fat-based foods:
- Olives and olive oil
- Canola oil
- Coconut and coconut oil
- Nuts and seeds
- Full-fat or whole milk dairy
- Beef, pork, lamb, veal, poultry skin
Protein needs are highly variable depending on the person, but on average, adults should look for 45 to 60 grams per day. That breaks down to 15 to 20 grams per meal.
Examples of protein-rich foods:
- Meat, poultry, and fish
- Beans and lentils
- Soy, tofu, tempeh
- Nuts and seeds
How to Make Herbed Turkey Meat Loaf with Balsamic Brussels Sprouts
Fiber is an important nutrient to account for when planning your diabetes-friendly meals, as it helps slow the rise of blood glucose levels thanks to its complex structure that takes longer to digest.
Fiber-rich foods include vegetables, beans, lentils, starches like sweet potatoes and squash, fruit like apples and berries, whole grains like brown rice, oats, and buckwheat, to name a few. Adults with diabetes should aim for 35 grams of fiber per day.
These plant foods are powerhouses of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and potent compounds called phytochemicals that may help reduce chronic disease. Look for leafy greens like kale, spinach, arugula, romaine, and choose from a veritable rainbow of veggies like tomatoes, peppers, onions, eggplant, zucchini, etc.
Pack your plate full of these good-for-you foods: seek out plant-based recipes and products, and incorporate them into everything from breakfast (spinach omelets) to dessert (zucchini-chocolate cupcakes). Aim for five to 10 servings per day.
Foods to Limit
Because certain foods may raise your blood sugar level more than others, there are a few food groups that should be enjoyed in moderation—but they still have a place in a diabetes-based diet.
When following a diabetes-based meal plan, dairy can be a good source of protein and fat, but it also contains some carbohydrates. Plan meals around high-quality, grass-fed butter, milk, cheese, and yogurt (look for full-fat, plain varieties with no added sugar). For example, if you love fruit-based yogurts, try adding your own frozen fruit to plain, full-fat yogurt. That way, you can control the sugar content but still enjoy a sweet treat. Aim for one to two servings per day, depending on your carbohydrate requirements.
Potatoes, yams, squash, and corn are considered starchy vegetables and should take up a smaller portion of your plate. While they have great nutrient density, they contain more carbohydrates than non-starchy vegetables, and should be eaten in smaller amounts if you have diabetes, as they may raise your blood sugar. Aim for just one or two servings per day.
Fructose, the sugar found in fruit, can be metabolized quickly by the liver and may cause a spike in blood sugar. But avoiding it all together means you’ll miss out on some good fiber, vitamins like vitamin C and A, and minerals like potassium and magnesium.
The key to keeping fruit in a diabetes-friendly diet is to eat whole, fresh or frozen fruit, and eat it with a protein or fat (like cheese, nut butter, or avocado—try it with grapefruit!) to help slow down the sugar absorption. Berries and citrus fruits are a great choice, as they have lots of fiber and are slightly lower on the glycemic index (a ranking of how certain foods will raise blood sugar). Aim for just one or two servings per day, and ask your health team for more guidance on incorporating fruit.
Even small amounts of sugar-laden snacks and desserts may quickly cause a spike in blood glucose levels, as the sugar in these foods is more readily available to be absorbed quickly by the body. For that reason, cookies, cakes, candy, and sugary drinks should be very limited in a diabetes-friendly diet.
If you have a celebration coming up where you know you’ll be partaking in a bit of cake, for example, be sure to plan around these instances by limiting your carb intake in other areas (such as skipping fruit at breakfast).
Beer, wine, and liquor shouldn’t have a major place in any diabetes-friendly diet, especially if you’re taking any type of blood sugar management medication. Alcohol can cause low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), so it’s best to limit your intake and be sure to talk to your physician before you drink.6
The Plate Method for Meal Planning with Diabetes
If you’d like a form of meal planning that’s a little less structured, you may prefer to start out with the Plate Method. It’s a simple formula that doesn’t require counting carbohydrates or grams of protein, but it does require that you learn which foods belong in which category. Here’s how it works.7
Using a standard dinner plate:
- Fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables
- Fill one-quarter of your plate with lean protein
- Fill one-quarter of your plate with grains or starchy vegetables
Incorporate one or two servings of fats with each meal (one serving is equal to one teaspoon of liquid fat, like olive oil, or one tablespoon of solid fat, like sesame seeds), and you may be able to incorporate one or two servings of fruit per day (one serving is equal to 1/2 cup or 1 piece of whole, fresh fruit). depending on your personal blood sugar management.
- Bread, rolls, tortillas, pita bread, English muffin, or bagel
- Rice or pasta
- Oatmeal or unsweetened dry cereal
- White or sweet potato
- Winter squash
- Peas, corn, beans, and lentils
- Green beans
- Brussels sprouts
- Eggplant, summer squash or zucchini
- Salad greens
Lean Protein Foods
- Chicken or turkey with skin removed
- Lean beef such as round, sirloin, flank steak, tenderloin or ground round
- Lean pork such as ham, Canadian bacon, tenderloin, or center loin chops
- Fish such as salmon, cod, haddock, halibut, trout, tuna, tinned tuna or tinned salmon, anchovies, mackerel, sardines
- Grass-fed dairy products
- Tofu, tempeh, seitan, and edamame
A Word From Verywell
Meal planning is a great way to help yourself stay on top of your blood sugar control. Ask your physician, find a certified diabetes educator, or seek out a nutritionist for resources they may have to help you with meal planning. You can also look online for meal planning templates, charts, diabetes-friendly recipe ideas, and shopping lists to make things more streamlined.
Meal planning with type 2 diabetes
Try these meal tips:
- Make a list of meals for the week.
- Make sure to include all the different food groups.
- Have fruit for dessert instead of something with added sugars.
- Make a grocery list based on these meals and what you already have.
- Do not go grocery shopping on an empty stomach.
- Shop the outside aisles of the store and limit what you buy in the inside aisles.
- Look for canned vegetables with “no added salt.”
- Look for canned fruit with “no sugar added” or “in their own juice.”
- Do not buy chips, sweets, and sweetened drinks.
- When you get home, clean and cut up fruits and vegetables for easy snacks.
- Store healthy snacks at eye level in the pantry and fridge.
Here are some tips for healthy and successful mealtime.
- Eat dinner together as a family at the dinner table.
- Turn off distractions, such as TV, cell phone, tablet.
- Use 10 inch instead of 12 inch plates to help with portion control.
- Do not eat “second helpings.”
- Take a sip of your drink between every few bites to slow down your eating.
- Limit meals to 30 minutes.
Sample meal plan
A healthy meal plan for a child with type 2 diabetes has 55 to 60 grams of carbs for meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner) and 15 grams of carbs for afternoon snack.
- Egg sandwich (whole wheat English muffin and 1 egg)
- 1/2 banana
- 1 cup low fat milk
- Turkey sandwich (2 slices whole wheat bread, 3 ounces of turkey, 1 tablespoon mustard)
- 1 cup baby carrots with 1 tablespoon ranch
- 10 small grapes
- 1 cup low fat milk
- 6 whole wheat crackers
- 1 ounce string cheese
- 3 ounces chicken breast
- 1 cup whole wheat pasta
- 1/2 cup green beans
- 1 cup low fat milk