Can a cuisine known for its butter, sauces, croissants, red meats, cream and, well … more butter work with your diabetes meal plan? Here are my tips sure to have you saying “Oui, oui!” These simple swaps will make your French-inspired meals delicious, nutritious and diabetes-friendlier. (Check with your healthcare team before making changes to your meal plan.)
Go south. French cuisine is diverse. Foods from the South of France near the Mediterranean Sea feature tomatoes, olives, lemons, fresh herbs, seafood, fruits and vegetables. Dishes are more likely to be prepared with olive oil than butter. Check with your server about hidden ingredients, but three good restaurant choices are mussels in wine sauce, bouillabaisse (a seafood stew) and zucchini Provençal. In fact, the word Provençal may be a hint at French southern cuisine and healthfulness – but just a hint, so be sure to ask questions.
Eat a composed salad. At home or in a restaurant, enjoy your favorite salad ingredients arranged and layered decoratively on your plate. Composed salads (or “salade composée” in French) are served on individual plates with special attention to presentation. A light vinaigrette is drizzled on top. Try salade niçoise, typically made of steamed green beans, peppers, tomatoes, tiny boiled new potatoes and tuna.
Tame the richness of sauces. In béarnaise and other sauces, trade in the cream for evaporated milk. In an oil-based sauce, save calories by replacing half of the oil with vegetable or chicken broth thickened with cornstarch. When dining out, ask for sauces on the side. Use the dip and stab method: Lightly dip your fork into the sauce, then stab your meat or vegetable.
Skim the fat. Prepare meats and stock a day in advance. Once they are chilled, the fat will rise to the top, making it easy to scrape away.
Load the plate with veggies. Prepare a double batch of haricots verts (thin green beans) or ratatouille (hearty vegetable stew). Serve fish over a vegetable ragù. Surprise your family or guests with lower-carb “cauliflower rice,” using a food processor to give cauliflower the shape and texture of rice. Cook it with olive oil and onions before mixing with prepared rice or eating it alone.
Celebrate the simplicity. Skip the rich sauces and allow the flavors of simple ingredients to pop. Season your dishes with onion, garlic and tomato. Explore the herbs and spices of traditional French cooking. Try tarragon, lavender, rosemary, oregano, marjoram, bay leaf, saffron, parsley and thyme. For simplicity, pick up a bottle of herbes de Provençe, a mixture of several herbs commonly used to season beef, fish, soups and stews.
Wrap it. Cooking “en papillote” means to wrap your food in parchment paper packages. The result is plump steamed chicken or fish and tender vegetables. You don’t need to add much fat, if any at all. For fish, you may need nothing more than fresh lemon slices and your favorite herbs and spices. If you’re not cooking with acids, you can skip the parchment paper in favor of the easier-to-wrap aluminum foil.
Think petite. Even the most buttery croissant may fit into a diabetes meal plan if the portion is small enough. See if you can make just a couple of bites work for you as part of a balanced meal.
Make fruit the pièce de résistance. The French often eat fruit-based desserts or even just fresh fruit to finish the meal. What a delicious, nutritious way to spend your carbohydrate allowance!
Eat like the French. Make your meal an event instead of something you do while driving or watching TV. Think quality, not quantity and treat yourself to delicious food on attractive dishes. Use all of your senses to savor every bite.
Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE*, FAND, is the author of Diabetes Weight Loss Week by Week, The Overworked Person’s Guide to Better Nutrition and 21 Things You Need to Know about Diabetes and Your Heart. She is contributing editor for Environmental Nutrition, and has written for many publications including Eating Well, Diabetic Living, Diabetes Forecast, and Kids Eat Right. She has a private practice in Newport News, VA. Weisenberger is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor and interviewees, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.
*“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.
© 2015 The DX: The Diabetes Experience