Quick and Healthy Meals for People With Diabetes

No food is off-limits when you have diabetes. The key is to watch portions, balance what you eat, and have about the same number of carbohydrates in each meal.

These four tips can help you get started, along with recipe ideas for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

  1. Test your blood sugar levels to learn how different foods affect them.
  2. Stick to a certain number of carbohydrate grams per meal. Usually this is about 45-75 grams three times a day.
  3. Balance carbs with fiber and protein in each meal. This is easy if you use the plate method. Make half of your plate vegetables, a quarter of your plate a carb like brown rice, black beans, or whole-wheat pasta, and the other quarter of your plate a healthy protein like chicken breast, fish, lean meat, or tofu. Add a small piece of fruit and some low-fat or fat-free milk or yogurt, depending on your carb target for that meal.
  4. Eat smart fats such as those in nuts, avocado, fish, olives, and other plants. Avoid saturated fats from meat, butter, cheese, and other dairy foods. Note: Coconut, although a plant, has saturated fat.

If any of the recipes below has fewer carbs than what your doctor or health care team has recommended per meal, round out the meal with more carbs. This could include nonfat yogurt or milk, fruits and vegetables, or a small piece of whole-grain bread.

Breakfast Ideas

Breakfast Wrap

Scramble 1 egg and 2 egg whites (or 1/4 cup egg substitute) in a small non-stick frying pan coated with cooking spray. On a microwave-safe plate, spread the cooked eggs down the center of a multigrain or low-carb flour tortilla. Top with desired garnishes, such as 1/4 cup chopped tomato, chopped green onion, 1/4 avocado, or 1/8 cup shredded reduced-fat cheese. Microwave on high for about 20 seconds to soften the tortilla and warm up the filling. Wrap up and enjoy.

Estimated: Carbohydrates 30 grams, protein 18 grams, fiber 6 grams.

High-Protein Berry Yogurt Bowl

Put 1 cup plain, nonfat Greek yogurt in a cereal bowl. Stir in 1 teaspoon honey and a sprinkle of ground cinnamon, if desired. Top with 1/2 cup frozen or fresh berries and 1/2 cup whole-grain breakfast cereal of your choice. (Choose a cereal with about 15 grams of carbohydrates and at least 5 grams of fiber per 1/2 cup).

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Estimated: Carbohydrates 47 grams, protein 22 grams, fiber 10 grams.

PB&J English Muffin

Toast a whole wheat English muffin and spread 1 tablespoon natural-style peanut butter on one half and 1 tablespoon less-sugar jam on the other half. Enjoy with a whole piece of fruit, such as an orange or banana. Estimated: Carbohydrates 47 grams, protein 10 grams, fiber 7 grams.

Gourmet Cereal Bowl

In a big bowl, put in 1 cup of your favorite whole-grain cereal with about 30 grams of carbohydrates and at least 5 grams of fiber. Top with 1/2 cup fresh or frozen berries or banana slices and 1/8 cup toasted nuts (almonds, walnuts, or pecans). Drizzle 3/4 cup nonfat milk or soy milk and stir.

Estimated: Carbohydrates 48 grams, protein 22 grams, fiber 15 grams.

French Toast That’s Ready When You Are

French toast freezes well, so make a little extra on weekends to freeze. Then microwave it for a special weekday breakfast. For one serving, blend together 1 large egg, 1 egg white or 2 tablespoons egg substitute, 1/4 cup nonfat milk or fat-free half-and-half, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, and 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Soak about 3 small or 2 large slices of whole wheat bread in the egg mixture. Then lightly brown in a non-stick frying pan coated with cooking spray. Top with 1/2 cup fresh or frozen berries or other fruit.

Estimated: Carbohydrates 60 grams, protein 21 grams, fiber 10 grams.

Lunch Ideas

Easy Tuna Lunch Salad

Mix one 6-ounce can water-packed tuna (drained) with 3 tablespoons light Italian vinaigrette salad dressing. Then add 1/2 cup grape tomatoes or coarsely chopped tomatoes and 1/8 cup nuts or sliced olives. Serve on 2 cups of firmly packed spinach leaves. Enjoy with an ounce of whole-grain crackers.

Estimated: Carbohydrates 35 grams, protein 54 grams, fiber 6 grams.

Grilled Tomato and Cheese Sandwich With Soup

Heat a non-stick frying pan coated with cooking spray over medium heat. Add a slice of whole wheat bread and top with 1 1/2 ounces reduced-fat cheese and 3 slices vine-ripened garden tomatoes. Lay a second piece of whole wheat bread on top and coat the top with canola cooking spray. When the underside is golden, flip the sandwich over and lightly brown the other side. Serve with a broth or tomato-based soup with about 10 grams of carbohydrates per 1-cup serving.

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Estimated: Carbohydrates 60 grams, protein 27 grams, fiber 8 grams.

3-Minute Bean and Cheese Burrito

Put a multigrain or low-carb flour tortilla on a paper towel. Microwave on high for about 30 seconds, or until soft. Sprinkle 1/3 cup shredded, reduced-fat Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese on the top of the tortilla. Evenly spoon 1/2 cup no-fat canned refried beans (or other beans) in the center, along with 1 tablespoon fat-free sour cream, 1 tablespoon salsa, and some chopped green onion or tomato (as desired). Roll up into a burrito and microwave until hot throughout.

Estimated: Carbohydrates 50 grams, protein 24 grams, fiber 10 grams.

Lunchtime Pasta Salad

Leftover multigrain pasta from today’s dinner can become tomorrow’s lunch! Toss 1 cup cooked pasta with 1 cup cooked green or cruciferous vegetables of your choice (like broccoli, kale, or cabbage). Add 1 ounce cubed or shredded part-skim mozzarella or 1/2 cup leftover grilled seafood, chicken, or lean beef, plus chopped green onions, tomatoes, and sliced olives (if desired). Sprinkle 1 tablespoon toasted pine nuts or walnuts. Drizzle on about 2 tablespoons light vinaigrette and toss. This keeps well if you're bringing it to work. Store in the refrigerator.

Estimated: Carbohydrates 54 grams, protein 21 grams, fiber 10 grams.

Turkey Avocado Wrap

Top a multigrain or low-carb tortilla, flatbread, or naan bread with 1 tablespoon basil, sun-dried tomato pesto, or olive tapenade (available in jars). Top with a few slices of roasted turkey, 1 ounce reduced-fat provolone (or similar cheese), about 4 avocado slices, a few spinach leaves, and some tomato slices, if desired. Roll up and wrap in foil or plastic wrap. Chill until ready to eat.

Estimated: Carbohydrates 30 grams, protein 32 grams, fiber 8 grams.

Dinner Ideas

Vegetarian or Turkey Simple Salsa Chili

In a medium nonstick saucepan coated with 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, brown 1/2 pound ground lean turkey or 1 pound sliced mushrooms with 1/2 chopped onion and 1 teaspoon minced garlic. Add 1 cup bottled marinara sauce, 1 cup prepared or bottled salsa, 1 15-ounce can black or kidney beans (drained), plus chili powder, oregano, and ground cumin to taste, if desired. Cover and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Makes 3 servings. Serve with a cup of fruit salad.

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Estimated: Carbohydrates 43 grams, protein 22 grams, fiber 12 grams.

Fruit & Walnut Chicken Dinner Salad

Cut a leftover grilled boneless, skinless chicken breast into slices (or use store-bought pre-sliced seasoned chicken breast) and toss with 3 or 4 cups dark green lettuce, 1 cup fresh or frozen berries or a sliced pear or apple, 1/4 cup toasted walnuts or pecans, 2 tablespoons blue cheese, and 2 tablespoons light balsamic or raspberry vinaigrette.

Estimated: Carbohydrates 27 grams, protein 37 grams, fiber 12 grams.

Teriyaki Salmon Dinner (substitute another fish or skinless chicken if desired)

Cook steamed brown rice (available in the frozen food section in some grocery stores). While it cooks, heat the broiler of your oven or toaster-oven. Line a pie plate with foil and place salmon fillets on top. Drizzle each fillet with 2 teaspoons bottled teriyaki sauce. Broil about 6 inches from the broiler for about 4 minutes. Flip the fish, spread 1 tablespoon teriyaki sauce on top of each piece, and broil until the fish is cooked through. Serve with 3/4 cup steamed brown rice and 1 cup steamed green or cruciferous vegetables per serving.

Estimated: Carbohydrates 42 grams, protein 29 grams, fiber 5 grams.

Mushroom Spaghetti Dinner

Boil whole-grain spaghetti according to package directions. While it cooks, sauté 1 cup sliced mushrooms (any type) and 1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil per person in a medium non-stick saucepan. Pour in 3/4 cup marinara sauce per person, cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Serve about 1 cup of the mushroom marinara with 3/4 cup cooked pasta. Serve with a garden salad: Toss 2 cups spinach or romaine lettuce, 1/4 cup kidney or garbanzo beans, a few olives, and assorted vegetables such as sliced cucumber and carrot with a tablespoon or two of light vinaigrette.

Estimated: Carbohydrates 60 grams, protein 18 grams, fiber 9 grams.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on May 18, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

Franz, M. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, December 2010.

Megrette Fletcher, MEd, RD, CDE, co-author, Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes, New Harbinger Publications, 2012.

American Diabetes Association: “Making Healthy Food Choices,” “Diabetes Superfoods.”

Zhu, Y. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, October 2011.

Schulze, M.B. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, September 2005.

Loma Linda University School of Public Health: “Vegetarians may be at lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.”

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