Meal planning is the first step in healthy eating. It doesn’t matter what diet you are trying to follow you need to meal plan. For people with diabetes this is especially important because food directly impacts blood glucose levels. Meal planning also helps to reduce mindless eating. If you already regularly meal plan, maybe some of these tips will give you new ideas. If you don’t meal plan, now is the time to start.

Set aside time to plan meals

Meal planning does require some time. Try to give yourself 30 minutes one time a week to think about what meals to make. If you need more or less time that’s fine too.

Plan meals around the vegetable

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by planning ahead for meals. Start with planning dinner meals. Instead of 7 meals, think about cooking 3-4 meals and planning for some leftovers. Often we plan meals around the protein. We really should be planning meals around the vegetable. Try Create Your Plate or the diabetes plate method to help with meal planning. This includes all the food groups in a healthy portion-controlled way. When you look at your plate, ½ should be non-starchy vegetables for lunch and dinner (extra credit if you can do that for breakfast). This helps to keep the carbs lower and increases fiber, vitamin and mineral intake. Once you have dinners planned, think about some ideas for breakfast and lunch.

Get creative

Too often we get into a rut of cooking the same foods and we get bored. Make cooking exciting again by trying some new things.

  • Recipes: Look for new recipes online, buy a new cookbook, or try a cooking magazine. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) has several cookbooks that include meal plans and recipes.
  • Kitchen tools: It’s important to have some good tools in your kitchen for making meals. Some of my favorites include: stick blender, julienne peeler, vegetable spiralizer, grill pan, toaster over, food processor, and multi-cooker (slow cooker or pressure cooker).
  • Online meal plans: Many websites offer meal plans, recipes, and cooking videos for various diets. Most of these are subscription based but may be worth the cost if you are feeling stuck. Recipes for Healthy Living is a free resource from ADA that includes diabetes-friendly recipes, meal plans, and cooking videos.
  • Meal kits: This can be a great option for recipes and food delivery to your door. Typically these options are more costly but could help you to get started with some healthy meal ideas. ADA has a meal kit with CHEF’D that isn’t subscription based.

Adapt recipes

Be creative with recipes and swap foods according to your likes and healthier choices. Look for a list of healthy recipe substitutions. Remember, you don’t always need a recipe. A bowl of raw and cooked vegetables with beans and avocado could be a great meal that didn’t require a recipe.

Make a grocery list

Now you know what to cook, so make a list of what you need. Use paper or try an app from your grocery store. If you need a starting place, try ADA’s sample shopping list. If you don’t want to go to the store, try shopping online with your grocery store or online grocery dealer.   

Prep food ahead of time

Make time to prep foods so they are ready to eat. Cook larger batches so you have leftovers. Make the leftovers into a different meal by adding some other foods.

Planning ahead for healthy meals is worth the time. Try some of these tips to help you plan healthy meals.


by Christine McKinney, RD LDN CDE


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