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Taking the Mystery out of Meal and Menu Planning

Tips for people living with diabetes

You might know what foods may be best for you, but transforming that knowledge into actually sitting down to delicious, healthful meals is another story. Many declare meal planning a mystery, the very mention of which induces anxiety. A step-by-step approach may help make meal and menu planning feel more doable. (Be sure to check with your diabetes care team before creating or making any changes to a meal plan.)

What is “meal planning”?

All “meal planning” really means is taking a few minutes to decide what to eat ahead of time. From there, you can make a quick shopping list to have the ingredients on hand to prepare those meals. No more extra trips to the store, or wondering what’s for supper. A healthful meal is a few minutes away.

(Get more tips for healthful supermarket shopping.)

If you are new to meal planning, I suggest keeping it manageable by limiting plans to five evening meals – or even three if five seems overwhelming. My clients report that they can plan five meals in 5 to 10 minutes using the following strategies:

Do a little prep work. Think about the favorite foods that you and your family enjoy. To prevent overbuying, check the calendar for the week and determine who will be eating at each meal.

Plan five meals in five steps.

  1. Grab a piece of paper and divide it into three columns (or use an electronic spreadsheet).
  2. Label the first column Protein/Meat. List five or more favorite main dishes. They could be as simple as grilled chicken, or something with beans if you’re avoiding meat. Many prefer recipes with five ingredients or less. Unless otherwise advised, plan a portion of protein about the size of your palm.
  3. Label the second column Non-Starchy Vegetables. List five or more favorites. Include a few that require minimal preparation, such as bagged salad or steam-in-bag veggies. Plan for a portion that covers about half of the plate (a 9-inch plate is the perfect size).
  4. Label the third column Starches/Grains. List five or more favorites. Again, consider options that require minimal preparation, such as a baked sweet potato. Plan for a portion about the size of your fist.
  5. Choose an item from each column to create five menus. To add interest, consider a variety of colors, temperatures and textures. Balance out menus with a fruit serving the size of a tennis ball or a cup of dairy as your carbohydrate goals allow.

(Wondering about portion sizes? View a slideshow showing the portions for red meat, pasta and more.)

Expand these meal planning lists over time with new recipes and other family favorites.

Check what’s on hand and make a list of ingredients to purchase for the meals. Some prefer a written list while others draft a shopping list on their smartphone, or use an app.

(Learn more about stocking your fridge, and stocking your pantry with diabetes-friendlier foods.)

Check out store specials and coupons for items to be purchased to help stay on budget.

Remake family favorites

Do you have favorite family recipes that could use a diabetes-friendlier makeover? Focus on simple swaps aimed to:

•      reduce fat, sugar and salt

•      increase fiber and flavor

Four tips get started:

1. Make only one or two changes at a time to note impact on recipe. For example, trim sugar in a muffin recipe by one-fourth and note the amount of carbs it saves. Pump up flavor with cinnamon and vanilla extract.

2. Change the way you prepare a dish. Grill or roast a 4-ounce chicken breast rather than fry to save calories, and use brown rice instead of white to add fiber.

3. Opt out of “optional” items in your recipe. Cut out salt in your cooking water.  Omit the dollop of sour cream for less fat.

4. Seek small swaps. Swap lower-sodium soy sauce for regular. Swap reduced-fat and lower-sodium cream soup for the regular version in a favorite casserole.

(Learn more about simple swaps you can make while preparing your favorite foods.)

Prep in advance to save additional time and energy

Save your favorite menus in one place; when planning meals ahead of time, refer to the menus for any prep work, like chopping or marinating, you can do in advance. This may save a lot of time and energy at mealtime. And remember to speak with your diabetes care team before making any changes to your eating habits or if you have any questions about meal or menu plans. Happy planning!

Tami A. Ross, RD, LD, CDE*, MLDE is a nationally recognized diabetes educator, spokesperson and author of What Do I Eat Now? A Step-by-Step Guide to Eating Right with Type 2 Diabetes and Diabetes Meals on $7 a Day – Or Less! Ross is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, 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.

© 2016 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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