Manageable Meal Planning and Diabetes

Diabetes meal planning

Meal planning and preparation is a task loathed by many, yet it also brings great satisfaction and delicious results. Meal planning is simply arranging in advance what you plan to eat for meals and snacks for a time segment, such as a few days or a week.

Spending time on meal planning can have multiple benefits:

  • It can help you and your household eat more balanced meals, which is fundamental for our health and a cornerstone of diabetes management (more on that later)
  • It can help save on the grocery bill
  • It can also help reduce food waste

What does meal planning and preparation entail?

Each person implements meal planning differently – whether it be batch cooking a week’s worth of meals all in one day or breaking up the grocery shopping and cooking over three days of the week.

It also depends on logistics such as where you’ll be getting groceries (grocery store, farmer’s market, food pantry, etc.), your food budget, cost-saving coupons, the number of people in your household, transportation to and from the store, food storage space, kitchen tools, and your schedule.

This may sound like a daunting list, but truly there is no wrong way to meal plan. It boils down to what methods are sustainable for you to routinely implement and follow.

While managing diabetes can feel like a never-ending to-do list, think of meal planning as a tool that can help you eat right and support you in choosing more blood glucose-friendly food.

What are the benefits of meal planning and preparation?

One of the most evident reasons meal planning is beneficial is that it helps you build a balanced eating pattern that fits your needs.

A recent analysis published in 2020 reported that more frequent cooking at home was associated with overall higher diet quality, as measured by the USDA Healthy Eating Index.1 In a study published in 2016, data demonstrated that preparing more meals at home was associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. 2

For patients with diabetes, planning and preparing your meals can help you make better ingredient substitutions such as using whole wheat flour or almond flour rather than refined white flour for pancakes, or making your own tomato sauce instead of using store-bought in order to reduce or eliminate added sugars.

For patients with diabetes, designing balanced meals that include a variety of food groups to provide different nutrients like complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, and healthy fats can help support blood glucose management.

Getting started with planning and shopping:

Tip: Do the planning and shopping on one day and save the cooking for the other days,

  • Take an inventory of what you already have on hand and brainstorm meals that can be built around that.
  • Put it to pen and paper (or electronic tool if preferred). Start writing out each day’s meal/snack ideas and note when you’ll prepare the foods.
  • Keep it simple and start with the “low-hanging fruit”— meals you already know how to ace, such as easy breakfasts like hard-boiled eggs, fruit, and nuts, or batch cooking a stir-fry of veggies, chicken, and brown rice for several days’ lunches.
  • Tackle the more challenging meals later, such as sourcing dinner recipes. Think of the plate method for designing meals—half the plate non-starchy vegetables, the other half a protein plus smaller-portion complex carbs. Cook with healthy fats.
  • Plan to cook once, and eat twice (or more!) with leftovers.
  • Pull together a grocery list and shop on one day.
  • Start assembling and cooking meals—and most importantly, enjoy!

What other tips do you have?

Take shortcuts where you can. For example, use already cooked proteins like rotisserie chicken, pre-cooked frozen shrimp, or canned beans. Or roast a batch or two of different non-starchy veggies and different seasonings to incorporate with various meals. Have a pre-cut veggie tray on hand for easy snacking with a dip, or use pre-chopped onions or chopped garlic in water to save cooking time.

There are many more ideas that I'm sure readers have up their sleeves, too, but a main concept when it comes to meal planning is: Don’t overthink it!

It can often take more time to think about it than to go ahead and get started.

Meal planning apps and grocery lists:

  1. Food & Nutrition magazine scores various nutrition-related apps (search for meal planning in the search query)
  2. USDA’s The FoodKeeper app for food safety and freshness
  3. My favorite grocery list I use regularly is called AnyList app

  4. Arlena Garcia

    Taylor Durkin, RD, LDN


  1. More frequent cooking at home is associate with higher Healthy Eating Index-2015 score
  2. Consumption of Meals Prepared at Home and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: An Analysis of Two Prospective Studies

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To donate by mail: 
The University of Chicago Kovler Diabetes Center 
Knapp Center for Biomedical Discovery 
Attention: Peggy Hasenauer 
900 East 57th Street 
8th Floor, Room 8144 
Chicago, IL 60637 

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