Healthy Aging Column – What’s for Dinner? Planning Meals for People with Diabetes

Do you, a loved one, a good friend or an acquaintance of yours have diabetes? Diabetes is a disease in which the body does not produce or use insulin correctly. Insulin is an important hormone produced by the body that converts carbohydrates you eat into the energy your body needs for daily living. When insulin is not produced or used correctly by the body, blood glucose (also called blood sugar) levels rise to above-normal levels.

As people age, their risk for developing diabetes increases. In fact, according to the American Diabetes Association, about half of all diabetes cases occur in people over 55 years of age. With diabetes occurring at such an alarming rate, you may well be faced with the task of planning a meal for a person with diabetes.

Whether you are enjoying breakfast with a family member, planning a grab-and-go lunch for yourself or hosting an elegant dinner for your neighbor with diabetes, meal planning is simple. The key is to follow these three simple steps.

Step 1: Divide your plate. The Plate Method is one of the easiest ways to plan meals and snacks for someone with diabetes. With this method, a 9-inch dinner plate serves as a pie chart to show how much of the plate should be covered by various food groups.

Start by dividing the plate in half. One-half of the plate is devoted to vegetables. The other half of the plate should be divided between a starchy food choice and a meat or meat alternative food choice.

If you are planning breakfast, you may skip the vegetables and/or the meat or meat alternative food choice. However, your breakfast should still include a starchy food choice. For example, you could have a cup of cereal, a small reduced-fat muffin or a slice of whole-wheat toast. If you are planning a lunch or dinner, be sure to include all of the food choices suggested with the Plate Method.

Step 2: Add some milk. It’s true – milk really does a body good. Milk and milk products contain calcium that is needed for strong bones and teeth. Add an 8-ounce glass of skim milk or a cup of low-fat yogurt to your meal. If you want something sweeter, try a half-cup of sugar-free pudding or a half-cup of reduced-fat frozen yogurt. But remember, when choosing a dessert, keep it to a minimum.

Pay attention to serving size, calories per serving, and the amount of saturated fat. Keep in mind that sugar-free and fat-free does not always mean calorie-free. If you are lactose intolerant, try replacing a serving of milk or milk products with other calcium rich foods such as broccoli, spinach, salmon with bones or lactose-free milk. Buttermilk and yogurt are other choices for lactose-intolerant individuals.

Step 3: Finish with fruit. Fruits offer a variety of vitamins and minerals important for health. In addition, fruit contains valuable fiber. The recommendations for fiber are the same for people with diabetes as for the general population. It is recommended that everyone get 20 to 35 grams of fiber a day from a variety of food choices. Add a serving of fruit, such as a half-cup of sliced peaches or a medium apple to you meal, and give your body the nutrients and fiber it needs.

If you still need help planning a meal for the person with diabetes in your life, here are simple meals that follow the Menu Planning 1, 2, 3 rules.


Start the day with one scrambled egg, a slice of whole-wheat toast, a half-cup of strawberries and an 8-ounce glass of skim milk.

Try a small reduced-fat bran muffin, a small banana (or half of a large banana), and one cup of low-fat yogurt.

Lunch and dinner:

For lunch on the go, make a small sandwich with mustard, a 1-ounce slice of cheese, and 2 ounces of turkey, all on one slice of whole-wheat bread. Serve this with a cup of raw carrots and celery, a medium sized apple and an 8-ounce carton of skim milk.

Make a half-cup of spaghetti with two meat balls and add 2 cups of tossed salad and an 8-ounce glass of skim milk.

Have a 2- to 3-ounce lean beef steak with a half-cup of rice, 1 cup mixed vegetables, half-cup peach slices and one cup fat-free yogurt.

Serve a half-cup of mashed potatoes, a 2- to 3-ounce pork chop and a cup of cooked vegetables for dinner. For dessert, serve a half-cup of frozen yogurt topped with a half-cup of your favorite berries.

When planning a meal, it is important to make good food choices. Choose a variety of nutrient-rich foods and foods that are lean, low-fat and fat-free. Also, be sure to watch portion sizes. Our eyes often are bigger than our stomachs.

A starch choice serving is equal to 1 cup of cereal or one slice of bread. A serving of vegetables is equal to 1 cup raw or one-half cup cooked vegetables, and a medium size fruit, which is about the size of your fist, is equal to one serving of fruit. Two to 3 ounces of meat, fish or poultry count as one serving of meat, and an 8 ounce glass of milk is a serving from the milk, yogurt, cheese, and calcium-rich food group.

If you need help planning a diabetic meal, contact a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator or the Family and Consumer Cooperative Extension Agent in your county. They can help you discover an eating plan that is right for you or the person in your life who has diabetes.  They also can provide you with information about local programs, such as Dining with Diabetes, and tips on living healthy with diabetes.

For more information about diabetes, visit the American Diabetes Association Web site at, the American Dietetic Association site at, or the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension page at

Additional Healthy Aging articles are available at the Cooperative Extension Web page by going to Family and Consumer and then selecting Healthy Aging.

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by Elizabeth Long, Dietetic Student Intern, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension