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Diabetes Plate Method: Meal Planning Made Easy

In my last post, I introduced one of the fundamental elements of effective diabetes management, which consists of knowing and understanding important health indicators (such as your A1c, blood pressure, and cholesterol). Now I will discuss another important skill that will play a massive role in determining whether your diabetes worsens or improves in the future—and that is eating the right way.

While there are many ways to approach meal planning, the Diabetes Plate Method (also called the “Create Your Plate” method) is an incredibly simple way to monitor portions and your carbohydrate intake, even if you are in a situation where you cannot plan ahead of time. 

For those who do not have diabetes, or have been told that they have pre-diabetes, you will find that this method is so simple and practical that you can easily incorporate it into your life to help you eat in a more balanced way. So let’s get started!

The Diabetes Plate Method: A New Mindset

diabetes plate method easy meal planning

A long time ago, there used to be the thought that having diabetes meant that you had to deprive yourself of many of the foods you enjoy. What people eventually found out was that this is not really true.

Rather, research has shown that it is okay to still eat your favorite foods, as long as you are careful of the amount you eat (which means for some people, enjoying those foods in smaller portions or less frequently).

The key to eating with diabetes (or eating to prevent diabetes), therefore, lies in how well you track the foods you eat and how well you plan your meals. Today I am going to introduce one of the simplest ways to plan your meals: the Diabetes Plate Method. The plate method (also called Create Your Plate) is a meal-planning technique that is approved and recommended by the American Diabetes Association and which has the advantage of being less cumbersome than the traditional carbohydrate-counting method.

However, if you already have a good system that you use (such as carbohydrate counting) that works for you…that’s great! Stick with it. But if you don’t have one yet, or are like many people who find diabetic carb-counting tedious, rest assured; this is for you.

Creating Your Plate

Create Your Plate is a simple and effective way to manage your blood sugar levels and also lose weight. With this method, you don’t need special tools or calculations; you simply choose the foods you want to eat and fill your plate in a particular fashion that automatically guides your portion sizes.

The 6 steps of Creating Your Plate:

diabetes plate method easy meal planning

1 – Using a 9-inch (23 cm) dinner plate, put an imaginary line down the middle. Then on one side, halve it again (so you have three sections on your plate).

2 – Now, fill the largest section with non-starchy vegetables.

3 – Then, in one of the small sections, put grains and starchy foods.

4 – In the other small section, put your meat/protein.

5 – Now, add one serving of fruit, one serving of diary, and a small portion of a fatty food (such as butter, cream, etc)

6 – To complete your meal, add a low-calorie drink like water, unsweetened tea, or coffee.

diabetes plate method easy meal planning

As you can see, if you follow this method, you will automatically eat larger portions of non-starchy vegetables (that have little effect on your blood sugar), and smaller portions of both starches and protein (which have larger effects on your blood sugar):

When you are ready, I encourage you to try new foods within each food category. The key is to eat a variety of healthy foods from all food groups—in healthy portions.

Need ideas for new foods or wondering what “one serving” means exactly? The chart below can help you (click to enlarge…also available as a printable pdf):


The Diabetes-Friendly Diet: General Guidelines

Foods and drinks you should try to limit:

  • Fried foods and other foods high in saturated fat and trans fat
  • Foods high in salt (sodium)
  • Sweets, such as baked goods, candy, and ice cream
  • Beverages with added sugars, such as juice, regular soda, and regular sports or energy drinks

For fatty and oily foods, keep this in mind:

  • Choose healthy fats in small amounts
  • Examples of healthy fats:
  • Cooking oils that are liquid at room temperature (such as olive and canola oil)
    • Nuts and seeds
    • Avocado and vinaigrettes
  • Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel (check out this article for more information on healthy, omega-3-rich fats)

And finally, a note on alcohol:

  • If you drink alcohol, drink moderately—no more than 1 drink a day for women or 2 drinks a day for men.
  • If you use insulin or diabetes medicines that increase the amount of insulin your body makes, alcohol can make your blood sugar level drop too low. This is especially true if you haven’t eaten in a while.
  • When you do drink, try to eat a little food (to steady the alcohol absorption).

Here’s to meal planning for good health!

Below are printable PDF files of handouts that consists of the information covered in both this post as well as the last post:



19 replies »

  1. Hi Phoebe! Excellent post – thank you. Question – what are your suggestions for small snacks during the day that would follow these guidelines (and be easy to carry with you!)?

    • Here are some one-serving snacks that are lower in carbs and appropriate for those with diabetes:

      Snacks with less than 5 grams carbs:
      • ¾ cup of light popcorn
      • 1 cup sugar-free gelatin
      • 3 celery sticks + 1 Tablespoon of peanut butter
      • 5 baby carrots
      • 5 cherry tomatoes + 1 Tablespoon ranch dressing
      • 1 hard-boiled egg
      • 1 cup cucumber slices + 1 Tablespoon ranch dressing
      • 10 goldfish crackers
      • 1 string cheese stick

      Snacks with 15-20 grams of carbs:
      • 1 small apple + 1 slice reduced-fat cheese
      • ½ cup plain yogurt + ½ cup canned fruit or fruit cocktail
      • 1/3 cup hummus + 1 cup raw fresh cut veggies
      • 5 whole wheat crackers + 1 piece of light string cheese
      • ¼ cup dried fruit and nut mix
      • ¼ cup cottage cheese + ½ cup canned or fresh fruit
      • 2 rice cakes + 1 Tablespoon peanut butter

      Hope this helps!

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