Planning Healthy Meals

To create your plate, split your plate down the middle.  Then divide one of the halves into two. Put nonstarchy vegetables (i.e. spinach or broccoli) in the big half.  Put starchy foods (i.e. potatoes or rice) in one of the small sections. Put meat or meat substitute (i.e. eggs or tofu) in the other small section. Add an 8-ounce glass of fat-free milk or low-fat milk and a piece of fruit.

The goals of your meal plan are to help you:

  • Keep your blood sugar within your goal range
  • Manage your weight
  • Manage blood cholesterol and blood fat levels
  • Manage blood pressure


Ask your diabetes care team to refer you to a registered dietitian (RD) if there is not already one on your team. This person can help you make a meal plan. You want to have the right balance of food, medicine, and activity.


It’s also important to include fiber in your meals. Fiber:

  • Helps control blood sugar levels
  • Lowers blood cholesterol levels
  • Reduces blood pressure
  • Helps with weight loss
  • Helps prevent constipation and diarrhea


The American Diabetes Association recommends that you eat 25 to 30 grams of fiber each day.

Good sources of fiber include:

  • Nuts and seeds
  • Beans, peas, and other legumes
  • Grains and whole-grain products
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables

Remember that foods high in fiber also may contain a large amount of total carbohydrate, which can raise your blood sugar.


Using Exchange Lists for Meal Planning 

Exchange lists can be used to count carbs.  They can be used to count calories too.  Each list has foods that have about the same amount of carbs.  They have about the same amount of calories, protein, and fat too.  So you can exchange, or switch, one food from a list with another food from that list.  Let’s say your breakfast plan calls for 1 serving from the fruit list.  You can choose 1/2 grapefruit, 1/2 banana, or 1 serving of a different fruit from the list.

Check the introduction to each food group. See how many carb grams the servings in that group have.

The exchange lists come in these groups:

  • Starch
  • Fruits
  • Milk
  • Sweets, desserts, and other carbohydrates
  • Nonstarchy vegetables
  • Meat and meat substitutes
  • Fats

For foods without a label, such as fruits and vegetables, you can use the food exchange lists in this booklet to find the carb counts.

For example, your goal is to have 60 to 75 carbs for breakfast. You can have:

  • 1 1/2 cups of cereal (1 1/2 servings)=36 carbs (Check the Nutrition Facts label)
  • 1 cup of skim milk=12 carbs
  • 1/2 banana=15 carbs

Total=63 carbs


Portion Sizes Count!

It’s not just about right types of foods, it’s also about the portion size. For example, a small 4-ounce apple (the size of a small fist) has about 15 carbs. A large apple has about 30 grams.

To make sure your portions are right, you need to weigh and measure your foods after they are cooked. You don’t have to do this every time you eat. However, it’s helpful if you weigh and measure your foods when you first start carb counting. It’s also helpful to continue weighing and measuring your foods every once in a while, just to make sure your portions haven’t grown over time.


Advanced Carb Counting

Advanced carb counting helps you manage your blood sugar better. The goal is this kind of counting is to try to to match the amount of fast-acting insulin you take with the amount of carbs you eat. You use an insulin-to-carb ration to do this. Each person responds in a different way to insulin. So, each person has a different ratio.  You may need different ratios for different meals or times of the day, too.

Your insulin-to-carb ration is made just for you. An RD (registered dietician) can help you find it. He or she can teach you how to do advanced carb counting, too. If you don’t have an RD or a diabetes care team, ask your team to refer you to one.


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