Have you ever felt blah about your diabetes meal plan? Eating healthfully for diabetes control demands time, thought, and emotion. People who are new to diabetes often have a lot to learn about planning healthy meals for blood glucose control, and figuring out a simple menu can start to feel like solving a complicated algebra problem. “Seasoned veterans,” while perhaps more knowledgeable about nutrition, can find it difficult to maintain the enthusiasm and energy needed to plan meals and snacks day after day after day. In either case, meal planning can begin to feel overwhelming, and healthful meals themselves can start to seem boring and unappetizing.
Short of chucking your meal plan and giving up altogether, is there any way to make the task of meal planning less burdensome? Can healthy meals be made more interesting? Can you have a treat now and then without disrupting your blood glucose control or feeling that you’re somehow doing something wrong? The answer, of course, is yes.
Evaluating what you’ve got
To make any sort of change, it helps to first take stock of the current situation — in this case, your meal plan. Identify what you like and don’t like about it, how it suits your needs, and how it falls short.
If you were recently diagnosed with diabetes or never had the chance for a one-on-one meeting with a dietitian, it may be that you simply don’t know what to eat to keep your blood glucose level in control. This is a common problem. Another common problem is following your meal plan to the best of your ability, but finding you have out-of-range blood glucose monitoring results anyway. If either of these scenarios describes you, it’s a good idea to schedule a visit with a registered dietitian to get your questions answered and to get pointed in the right direction.
Even if you have an individualized meal plan, understand how to follow it, and generally have blood glucose readings in your desired range, you still may have the meal plan blahs. There may be ways in which your meal plan doesn’t suit your eating style or your likes and dislikes.
For example, are you a morning person, ravenous before you take your first step out of bed? If so, your idea of breakfast is likely to be quite different from that of a person who can’t imagine taking a bite of anything other than dry toast before 11:00 AM. But if your current meal plan only allows for a small bowl of cereal in the morning, it isn’t right for your eating style. Similarly, if your current meal plan includes a “treat” in the evening, but you’d rather have dessert with lunch, it doesn’t meet your needs, and you need a change. However, because changing the amount of carbohydrate you consume at any one meal or snack can affect your blood glucose, it’s best to consult your dietitian or primary health-care provider before making such a change. You may need to change other parts of your diabetes regimen, such as your medicine doses or schedule, to accommodate a change in meal plan.
What about food choices? A diabetes meal plan should provide adequate calories and nutrients, of course, but it should also include foods you like (and not those you don’t like). What’s more, it should include a way for you to have variety in your menus — not eat the same thing every day. Does yours?
And how about complexity? There are many ways to plan a healthy diabetes diet, and not all methods suit everyone. Some people tally up the exact number of grams of carbohydrate in a meal, in some cases so that they can match their insulin dose to their carbohydrate total. Others count “carbohydrate choices,” in which each choice contains 15 grams of carbohydrate. Some people use the Plate Method and pick a given number of servings from each food group for each meal. Some people use the Exchange Lists for Meal Planning, and their dietitian may have given them a meal plan that spells out the number of starch, meat, milk, fruit, fat, and vegetable exchanges to eat at each meal.