Meal Planning

Meal Planning

The importance of meal planning in diabetes management

Blood sugar levels can be controlled to a certain extent with proper diet, exercise, and healthy weight maintenance. A healthy lifestyle can also help control or lower blood pressure and control blood fats, thus reducing the risk for heart disease.

Proper meal planning should include spacing out smaller meals throughout the day to maintain steady blood sugar levels. Eating a big meal only once or twice a day can cause extreme high or low blood sugar levels. In addition, if the exercise regimen is changed, changes should be made to the diet accordingly, to maintain weight control and to control blood sugar levels.

What is the Choose My Plate plan?

Whether you do or do not have diabetes, following the Choose My Plate guidelines is beneficial to your health. The Choose My Plate (my plate) plan can help you eat a variety of foods while encouraging the right amount of calories and fat. The USDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have prepared the following food plate to guide you in selecting foods.

The Choose My Plate icon is divided into five food group categories, emphasizing the nutritional intake of the following:

  • Grains. Make half the grains consumed each day whole grains. Whole-grain foods include oatmeal, whole-wheat flour, whole cornmeal, brown rice, and whole-wheat bread. Check the food label on processed foods— the words “whole” or “whole grain” should be listed before the specific grain in the product.
  • Vegetables. Vary your vegetables. Choose a variety of vegetables, including dark green- and orange-colored kinds, legumes (peas and beans), starchy vegetables, and other vegetables.
  • Fruits. Any fruit or 100 percent fruit juice counts as part of the fruit group. Fruits may be fresh, canned, frozen, or dried, and may be whole, cut up, or pureed.
  • Dairy. Milk products and many foods made from milk are considered part of this food group. Focus on fat-free or low-fat products, as well as those that are high in calcium.
  • Protein. Go lean on protein. Choose low-fat or lean meats and poultry. Vary your protein routine—choose more fish, nuts, seeds, peas, and beans.

Oils are not a food group, yet some, such as nut oils, contain essential nutrients and can be included in the diet. Others, such as animal fats, are solid and should be avoided.

Exercise and every day physical activity should also be included with a healthy dietary plan.

To find more information about the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 and to determine the appropriate dietary recommendations for your age, sex, and physical activity level, visit the Online Resources page for the links to the and 2010 Dietary Guidelines sites. Please note that the My Plate plan is designed for people older than age 2 who do not have chronic health conditions.

Although the My Plate plan promotes health, including the prevention of diabetes and its complications, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends individualized meal plans for people with diabetes. People with diabetes should consult their health care providers and registered dietitians (RD) for guidance with meal planning and physical activity.

The number of servings from each food grouping may differ for a person with diabetes, based on his or her recommended treatment plan, diabetic goals, calorie intake, and lifestyle. There are many tools available to help you follow a diabetes meal plan, including, exchange lists, and carbohydrate counting. Always consult your health care provider or RD for dietary recommendations and daily physical exercise requirements for your situation.


Grains provide the body with energy, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Although filled with carbohydrates that raise blood sugar levels quickly, grains are essential to a healthy diet. Grains are divided into two subgroups, whole grains and refined grains. Examples of grains include:

  • Bread
  • Oatmeal
  • Pasta
  • Cereal
  • Rice
  • Cornmeal


Vegetables contain vitamins and minerals essential to the body. Some vegetables also contain fiber. Because they are low in calories when eaten raw or cooked, people with diabetes are encouraged to eat plenty of vegetables. However, people with diabetes still need to count carbohydrates when they eat vegetables, because even non-starchy vegetables contain some carbohydrates.


Fruit can provide energy, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. How and when to eat fruit or drink fruit juices for a person with diabetes is very specific to that individual. Certain fruits can affect blood sugar levels, and a person may need to experiment with various fruits to determine how fruit affects his or her body through regular blood sugar level monitoring.

Milk and yogurt

Fat-free and low-fat milk and yogurt provide energy, protein, calcium, vitamins, and minerals. Fat-free milk or yogurts also are good foods to treat low blood sugar levels, since they contain the same amount of carbohydrates as one serving of fruit or starch.


Foods that contain protein help build muscles and body tissue, in addition to providing vitamins and minerals. Due to the increased risk of heart disease in people with diabetes, the ADA recommends that people cut down on animal protein foods. Animal protein foods such as meats, whole milk products, and high-fat cheeses contain saturated fat. Other examples of protein foods include poultry, eggs, fish, and tofu.

Fats and oils

The total fat and oil intake should be based on the individual's cholesterol levels, blood sugar control, and lifestyle. Some examples of "healthier" fats and oils (lower in saturated fats and cholesterol and more monounsaturated fats) include olive oil, olives, nuts, canola oil, and avocado.

Sugary foods

Because diabetes is associated with glucose (sugar) levels in the blood, some people think sugar should be avoided in their diet. However, table sugar and other sugars in a person's diet do not increase blood glucose levels any faster than carbohydrates, according to the ADA. How much sugar a person with diabetes can consume depends on that person's individual diabetes treatment and nutritional plan, and how well his or her blood sugar levels and blood fats are controlled. Always consult your physician for more specific recommendations.