February 22, 2024

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Diabetes Meal Plan for Beginners

7 min read

Being diagnosed with diabetes can bring with it a rollercoaster of emotions—and a lot of confusion on what to eat. In this healthy diabetes meal plan for beginners, we include a week of simple meals and snacks using recipes that are easy to follow, without long ingredient lists. Whether you’re newly diagnosed or looking to get back on track, this meal plan is uncomplicated and a great place to start.

While this isn’t necessarily a diabetes weight-loss meal plan, research, such as the 2022 study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, suggests that weight loss may help improve blood sugar levels.

If weight loss is your goal, we set the calorie level at 1,500 per day, which is a level where most people lose weight, plus included modifications for 1,200 and 2,000 calories a day, depending on your calorie needs, satiety levels and blood sugar readings.

Diabetes Diet Basics: How to Get Started

Being diagnosed with diabetes can feel overwhelming. It’s difficult to know where to start, what to believe and how to make changes to your routine. As with most health changes that we want to become habits, the trick is to start small.

For example, perhaps begin by swapping one sugar-sweetened drink a day with water and gradually increase the number of drinks you’re replacing until you’ve replaced most or all of them. If you eat out a lot, incorporate more home-cooked meals, starting with one meal at a time. Also consider adding more fruits, non-starchy vegetables, lean protein and whole grains to your plate—which is just what you’ll see in this meal plan.

There are a few key changes that can help improve your blood sugars. They include:

Eating More Protein

Eating protein, like meat, chicken, eggs, fish, Greek yogurt, nuts or other vegetarian proteins with most of your meals will help improve your blood sugars. Protein slows down the digestion of carbohydrates and the absorption of glucose into your bloodstream, which means your blood sugars will stay more stable. Protein also helps increase satiety, helping you feel fuller longer.

So, the next time you opt for a slice of toast for breakfast, consider topping it with natural peanut butter or an egg, instead of jam, for better blood sugar control.

As a general rule, aim to include a protein every time you have a carbohydrate food.

Eating More Fiber

A type of carbohydrate that isn’t digested, fiber helps improve blood sugar levels. Like protein, it’s broken down slowly and prevents blood sugar spikes.

High-fiber foods include whole grains—like quinoa, whole-wheat bread, oatmeal and whole-wheat pasta—plus fruits, vegetables, beans and lentils.

Losing Weight

If you’re overweight, losing 5-10% of your body weight has been correlated with better blood sugar control, according to a 2019 study published in the journal Diabetic Medicine.

Typically, if we focus on healthy nutrition changes to lower our blood sugar, like increasing protein and eating more vegetables, weight loss tends to follow on its own.

With that said, there is some evidence that weight cycling—aka yo-yo dieting—can negatively affect diabetes risk factors, resulting in a higher BMI and larger waist circumference, per a 2022 study in the International Journal of Obesity. What this means is that you want to make lifestyle changes that are sustainable and will help keep your weight stable once you’re in a healthy weight range for you.

Limiting Sugar and Simple Carbohydrates

Because sugary drinks can pack in a ton of sugar, avoiding them is often the best first step to improve your blood sugar control. Stick to drinks that have zero calories, like water, seltzer and unsweetened tea.

Also, try to limit simple carbohydrates, like white flour, white rice, white pasta and sugar. These foods are low in fiber and are quickly digested, releasing sugar into your blood, which causes blood sugar spikes.

Having a Regular Meal Routine

A routine of three meals a day with one or two high-protein or high-fiber snacks will help keep your blood sugars stable. Skipping meals can lead to overeating later, resulting in blood sugar lows and spikes, leaving you feeling lethargic. Eating regular meals and snacks will also prevent you from getting too hungry and make it easier to manage portions.

Exercising

According to the American Diabetes Association, a combination of cardio exercise (like walking, jogging or biking) plus strength training helps lower blood sugars.

Moving more has many health benefits—and it doesn’t have to be an hour of back-breaking exercise at the gym. A 2022 study published in the journal Sports Medicine suggests that walking for just 2-5 minutes after each meal can lower your blood sugar. How much it lowers it will depend on your body and how and what you ate. For this reason, it’s a good idea to check your blood sugar to see how your body responds to the short burst of exercise.

Regardless of how you like to exercise, moving more and sitting less is always a good idea. This same study found that breaking up prolonged periods of sitting with standing also helped manage blood sugar levels—although not as well as exercise did.

What to Eat with Diabetes

Even with diabetes, there are a lot of foods that are available to you, including:

  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Lean beef and pork (try to limit to twice a week)
  • Fish
  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Nuts, peanuts and natural nut butters without added sugar
  • Olive and avocado oil
  • Avocados
  • Fruits, especially fruits with skin and seeds, like berries, apples and pears
  • Vegetables, especially low-carb non-starchy vegetables
  • Higher-fiber complex carbohydrates, like oatmeal, quinoa and starchy vegetables (like winter squash, corn, peas and potatoes)
  • Greek yogurt

How to Meal-Prep Your Week of Meals

  1. Prepare Spinach & Strawberry Meal-Prep Salad for lunch on Days 2 through 5.
  2. Make Muffin-Tin Omelets with Broccoli, Ham & Cheddar to have for breakfast throughout the week.

Day 1

Breakfast (330 calories)

  • 1 cup low-fat plain Greek yogurt
  • ¼ cup blueberries
  • 3 Tbsp. chopped walnuts

A.M. Snack (131 calories)

Lunch (360 calories)

P.M. Snack (170 calories)

  • 22 unsalted dry-roasted almonds

Dinner (522 calories)

Daily Totals: 1,513 calories, 77 g protein, 114 g carbohydrates, 30 g fiber, 91 g fat, 798 mg sodium

To Make It 1,200 Calories: Omit the walnuts at breakfast and change the P.M. snack to 1/2 cup sliced cucumber.

To Make It 2,000 Calories: Increase to 4 Tbsp. chopped walnuts at breakfast, add 1/4 cup unsalted dry-roasted almonds to A.M. snack, and add 1 serving Guacamole Chopped Salad to dinner.

Day 2

Breakfast (295 calories)

A.M. Snack (272 calories)

  • ⅓ cup unsalted dry-roasted almonds

Lunch (374 calories)

P.M. Snack (95 calories)

Dinner (473 calories)

Daily Totals: 1,509 calories, 63 g protein, 148 g carbohydrate, 35 g fiber, 81 g fat, 1,625 mg sodium

To Make It 1,200 Calories: Omit the pear at breakfast and change the A.M. snack to 15 almonds.

To Make It 2,000 Calories: Add 1 1/2 Tbsp. natural peanut butter to breakfast and add 1 whole avocado, sliced, to dinner.

Day 3

Jason Donnelly

Breakfast (295 calories)

A.M. Snack (116 calories)

Lunch (374 calories)

P.M. Snack (268 calories)

  • 1 cup blackberries
  • ¼ cup unsalted dry-roasted almonds

Dinner (425 calories)

Daily Totals: 1,479 calories, 82 g protein, 139 g carbohydrates, 32 g fiber, 69 g fat, 1,271 mg sodium

To Make It 1,200 Calories: Omit the pear at breakfast and reduce to 10 almonds at the P.M. snack.

To Make It 2,000 Calories: Add 2 1/2 Tbsp. natural peanut butter to A.M. snack and add 1 serving Guacamole Chopped Salad to dinner.

Day 4

Breakfast (330 calories)

  • 1 cup low-fat plain Greek yogurt
  • ¼ cup blueberries
  • 3 Tbsp. chopped walnuts

A.M. Snack (131 calories)

Lunch (374 calories)

P.M. Snack (268 calories)

  • 1 cup blackberries
  • ¼ cup unsalted dry-roasted almonds

Dinner (415 calories)

Daily Totals: 1,518 calories, 87 g protein, 120 g carbohydrates, 33 g fiber, 83 g fat, 1,390 mg sodium

To Make It 1,200 Calories: Reduce the walnuts to 1 Tbsp. at breakfast and omit the almonds at the P.M. snack.

To Make It 2,000 Calories: Increase to 4 Tbsp. chopped walnuts at breakfast, add 1/3 cup almonds to A.M. snack, and add 1 serving Everything Bagel Avocado Toast to lunch.

Day 5

Breakfast (330 calories)

  • 1 cup low-fat plain Greek yogurt
  • ¼ cup blueberries
  • 3 Tbsp. chopped walnuts

A.M. Snack (154 calories)

  • 20 unsalted dry-roasted almonds

Lunch (374 calories)

P.M. Snack (141 calories)

  • 1 medium bell pepper, sliced
  • ¼ cup hummus

Dinner (493 calories)

Meal-Prep Tip: Reserve 2 servings of Slow-Cooker Chicken & White Bean Stew to have for lunch on Days 6 & 7.

Daily Totals: 1,493 calories, 107 g protein, 107 g carbohydrates, 44 g fiber, 73 g fat, 1,366 mg sodium

To Make It 1,200 Calories: Omit the walnuts at breakfast and change the A.M. snack to 1/2 cucumber, sliced.

To Make It 2,000 Calories: Add 1 medium apple to A.M. snack, add 1 serving Everything Bagel Avocado Toast to lunch, and add 1 serving Guacamole Chopped Salad to dinner.

Day 6

Breakfast (295 calories)

A.M. Snack (62 calories)

Lunch (493 calories)

P.M. Snack (131 calories)

Dinner (504 calories)

Daily Totals: 1,485 calories, 81 g protein, 170 g carbohydrates, 61 g fiber, 60 g fat, 1,497 mg sodium

To Make It 1,200 Calories: Omit the pear at breakfast and omit the avocado at dinner.

To Make It 2,000 Calories: Add 1/4 cup almonds to A.M. snack, add 1/4 cup walnut halves to P.M. snack, and increase to 1 whole avocado at dinner.

Day 7

Breakfast (330 calories)

  • 1 cup low-fat plain Greek yogurt
  • ¼ cup blueberries
  • 3 Tbsp. chopped walnuts

A.M. Snack (206 calories)

  • ¼ cup unsalted dry-roasted almonds

Lunch (493 calories)

P.M. Snack (62 calories)

Dinner (421 calories)

Daily Totals: 1,512 calories, 99 g protein, 130 g carbohydrates, 44 g fiber, 72 g fat, 1,480 mg sodium

To Make It 1,200 Calories: Omit the walnuts at breakfast and change the A.M. snack to 1 clementine.

To Make It 2,000 Calories: Increase to 4 Tbsp. chopped walnuts at breakfast, increase to 1/3 cup almonds and add 1 large pear at A.M. snack, and add 1 serving Guacamole Chopped Salad to dinner.

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