Cooking Basics: Planning Meals With the Plate Method


How many of you have planned out your meals for the week, gone to the grocery store, and made sure that your cupboards and refrigerator are well stocked for the days ahead? Did you raise your hand? Chances are you don’t know what you’ll have for dinner tonight, let alone for the entire week.

The term “meal planning” is used frequently in the diabetes world to describe the method or approach that a person uses to ensure a balance of nutrients and also to balance food choices with medicine and exercise to help manage blood glucose. Perhaps “menu planning” is a better description. Dietitians typically encourage people to “plan” and to “think ahead” about what they will eat for the next week or so. But rarely have I come across a person who truly sits down and plans out the week’s menu. It’s hard to think that far ahead. Who knows what you’ll really feel like eating come Thursday evening, and as far as Friday’s lunch, well, maybe you’ll just go out to eat!

So, maybe it’s not fair to ask people to sit down with a pad of paper and a pen (or a laptop) and create a grid of all the meals and snacks they’ll eat for the next seven days. However, I thought about what I usually do: before I head off to the grocery store — I make a list of ingredients that I need for at least two “main” dishes. (I always have a few dishes in the back of my mind, although I do like to try new things, too.). I figure I’ll usually have leftovers for one or two meals. But it’s not always easy, I admit. I’ve been known to bring a frozen dinner now and then to work for lunch, much to the surprise of some of my coworkers.

I’ve given you a few meal ideas[1] and recipes[2] over the past couple of weeks. They may or may not appeal to you, but the point is that you can use these recipes (and hopefully some of your own) to create a file of “basics” that you can turn to when you’re feeling stuck or when you need to put a quick and healthful meal on the table.

Plate It
I’m pretty sure I’ve talked about the plate method in the past. The plate method is one of the simplest meal planning tools available. But looks can be deceiving because it’s also one of the most helpful tools. Most people can relate to a plate. Someone’s eyes can glaze over when you start talking exchanges or grams of carbohydrate, but when you discuss what to literally put on your plate, well, that’s much easier to understand. Here’s how the plate method works:

Fill one half of your plate with low-carbohydrate veggies. Here are just a few ideas:

There are so many different kinds of vegetables that you can eat. Break out of your rut and try something new.

Next, fill a quarter of your plate with an unrefined or whole-grain carbohydrate food, such as:

  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Barley
  • Whole-grain pasta
  • Wild rice
  • Sweet potato
  • Corn
  • Whole-grain bread
  • Whole wheat tortillas
  • Legumes (black beans, chickpeas, lentils, cannellini beans, etc.)
  • And fill the other quarter with a healthful protein food (broiled, grilled, baked or stir-fried), such as:

  • Chicken or turkey (without skin)
  • Lean red meat (beef, pork, lamb, veal)
  • Fish or shellfish
  • Tofu or a meat substitute (soy burger, soy “hot dog”)
  • Low-fat cheese
  • Eggs
  • Add a couple of teaspoons of a heart-healthy fat:

  • Olive, canola, corn, flax seed oil
  • Nuts or seeds
  • Trans-fat-free spread
  • Avocado
  • Salad dressing
  • You’re not done yet. Add a garden salad, if you wish. Round out the meal with a piece of fresh fruit and maybe even a low-fat yogurt or glass of skim or soy milk. Now you’ve got a balanced, healthful meal and as long as you stay within the borders of your plate, you’re watching your portions. Boring? It doesn’t have to be. The meal possibilities are endless!

    1. meal ideas:
    2. recipes:

    Source URL:

    Amy Campbell: Amy Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition and Meal Planning and a frequent contributor to Diabetes Self-Management and Diabetes & You. She has co-authored several books, including the The Joslin Guide to Diabetes and the American Diabetes Association’s 16 Myths of a “Diabetic Diet,” for which she received a Will Solimene Award of Excellence in Medical Communication and a National Health Information Award in 2000. Amy also developed menus for Fit Not Fat at Forty Plus and co-authored Eat Carbs, Lose Weight with fitness expert Denise Austin. Amy earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Simmons College and a master’s degree in nutrition education from Boston University. In addition to being a Registered Dietitian, she is a Certified Diabetes Educator and a member of the American Dietetic Association, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Association of Diabetes Educators. Amy was formerly a Diabetes and Nutrition Educator at Joslin Diabetes Center, where she was responsible for the development, implementation, and evaluation of disease management programs, including clinical guideline and educational material development, and the development, testing, and implementation of disease management applications. She is currently the Director of Clinical Education Content Development and Training at Good Measures. Amy has developed and conducted training sessions for various disease and case management programs and is a frequent presenter at disease management events.

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