Read time: 10 minutes
- Sticking with a traditional meal plan over the long time can be challenging.
- People who plan their meals ahead of time follow more nutritional guidelines, include more variety in their diet, and are less likely to live with obesity
- The One Drop approach to meal planning for diabetes encourages flexibility, creativity, and joy.
People living with diabetes know that food plays a big role in managing blood sugar and overall health. Finding that elusive balance of nutrients leads many people to search out tips on meal planning for diabetes. While meal plans promise to take the stress out of eating, the big problem with them is that mostly, they just don’t work.
You might be able to stick with them for a week or two, but they’re near impossible to maintain over the long term, not to mention that these rigid meal plans aren’t always the most nutritionally sound.
If meal planning for diabetes hasn’t worked out for you, it doesn’t mean you’re bad at meal planning. It just means you haven’t found the strategy that works best for you. We have one that will.
But First, Why That Meal Plan Didn't Work
Traditionally, meal plans impose a very specific list of what to eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks daily to keep your blood sugar in your desired range. You’ll see very specific portions of very specific foods, like “two eggs, one-fourth cup shredded cheese.” This can be challenging because there's not much flexibility if you can’t make it to the store to pick up certain ingredients or they don’t fit in your budget.
In the past, set meal plans required a greater commitment of time, money, and learning new habits—ironic considering people who start meal planning do so to save time, money, and to give up old habits.
While on a traditional meal plan, you might end up needing to learn not just one new thing, but five—from shopping habits to food prep to cooking techniques. The inflexibility paired with the high learning curve might encourage rebellion eating or worse, giving up entirely. If that happens, you might not just lose motivation, but also end up with a bunch of costly ingredients you’ll never use.
Traditional meal planning can also involve a lot of food waste. For example, if a meal plan has a different dinner for every night, you may only use half of an ingredient you buy for one meal and it might not appear again for the rest of the week. Since most people repeat meals on a day-to-day basis, repurposing meals should be an option in a more flexible meal plan.
Meet the One Drop Meal Planner
So what sets the One Drop meal planner apart from a typical meal plan? Instead of you accommodating your meal plan, your meal planner meets you where you are. It’s flexible, not prescriptive, and offers multiple options per meal. Following a plan that’s designed with your own tastes and preferences in mind just works better. Your One Drop clinical health coach works with you to develop a highly personalized plan to improve your health outcomes and diabetes management.
“First, we get to know you and build a foundation to understand your budget, health history, and other factors. We don’t prescribe specific meals,” emphasizes One Drop personal health coach, Alexa Stelzer, RDN, LD, CDCES. “We start by helping people figure out which style of eating works best. Your meal planner will include a flexible formula to determine portion sizes. Rather than scaling back, together we focus on adding more of the most nutritious foods.”
If something appears on your meal planner, but you’re craving something else on a particular day, you can feel free to replace it with something that better fits your current mood. The One Drop meal planning for diabetes philosophy is inclusive and supports all dietary approaches.
This greater flexibility gives your clinical health coach the ability to address multiple conditions (if you’re living with more than diabetes) and goals when designing how you’d like to eat. With traditional meal plans, as soon as you stop using them, it can be easy to fall back on original habits.
Here’s what to expect when setting up your One Drop meal plan:
Answer a few questions: You’ll decide with your clinical health coach where to start. Everyone has different goals, health histories, eating styles, access to food, available time, and comfort with cooking.
Discuss your current habits: How would you like to modify your habits and what goals do you want to set? You and your coach might begin meal planning with a small step like swapping out an ingredient or making a simple update to snacks, for example.
Choose a meal planner: Among the choices are weight management, heart-healthy, low-carb, carb-conscious, and vegetarian or plant-based meal planners. Don’t worry, your coach will support you to make the best selection after hearing your preferences and goals.
Use a formula to fill your plate: While each meal planner is unique, there are some basic principles at work across all of them. By following a formula rather than a specific ingredient list, you’ll have more opportunities to incorporate your favorite flavors.
- Fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables for most meals, introducing high vitamin and mineral foods that are low in carbohydrates and calories.
- A quarter of your plate should be filled with protein.
- The last quarter is reserved for a high-fiber carbohydrate.
- Include a fat source.
- Season and flavor all.
This approach has been shown to lower blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure, and to help with weight management. Plus you’ll feel more full with the added fiber.
Get a bird’s eye view: With clear infographics, you’ll see the many plated approaches you can take with coach-recommended ingredients to achieve your personal health goals.
Make room for spontaneous eating: You’ll have tools for understanding how much to eat, but you’ll never be told specifically what to eat at each meal. That’s up to you.
Stelzer notes, “Over time, One Drop members will know intuitively what we've taught them and how that relates to their own personal hunger scale. The purpose of our meal planners is to teach people the skills they’ll need to continue healthy eating for life.”
You might say the goal of a meal planner is to no longer need a meal planner.
Flexible Meal Planning for Diabetes Makes Life Easier
No doubt you’ve thought about how you might eat healthier. Gentle meal planning can be a basic form of self-care. It offers many more benefits than you might expect.
Here’s why you might want to try out meal planning for diabetes.
Get your time back: When you create a meal plan and shop in advance, you free up more valuable time for hectic weekdays. Waiting until the end of the day to plan what you’ll eat requires an extra trip to pick up groceries or takeout.
Stress less: Thinking about what you’ll eat at the end of a long workday depletes mental energy. Reduce decision fatigue by planning meals ahead of time, and build leftovers into your plan to give yourself some downtime.
Be more creative: Meal planning makes more time for experimentation, though some meals may be repeated throughout the week. There are limitless resources for inspiration, from cookbooks to the One Drop blog to social media (see #mealprep on Instagram).
Reduce waste: One Drop meal planners encourage you to only purchase the groceries you need to prepare your meals. Throwing away less food also means throwing away less money.
Eat healthier: Making more mindful meal choices by planning ahead contributes to better overall health. A 2017 NutriNet-Santé study of more than 40,000 people found that those who planned meals followed more nutritional guidelines, had more variety in their diet, and were less likely to live with obesity.
Practice self-care: People living with chronic conditions such as prediabetes, type 1 or type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or obesity can benefit from making small changes to how they eat. Lower blood sugar may be seen quickly while other markers like weight loss take more time.
“Those newly diagnosed with diabetes are often the first to ask for a meal plan or have questions around healthy eating goals to lower their blood sugar, blood pressure or lose weight, compared to veterans who’ve been living with the condition for many, many years, says Stelzer. “It’s often tied to lab or other health results.
“A doctor might tell someone they have to work on their A1C, lower their blood pressure, or simply change their diet and eat healthier,” Stelzer continues. “There's usually not much instruction or information, so people try to figure out what that looks like.” Meal planning becomes a tool to help answer those questions and better understand an individual’s overall needs.
Tips to Get You Started Meal Planning for Diabetes
Take these steps recommended by registered dietician and chef, Vahista Ussery, MS, MBA, RDN, to set yourself up for success. To ease in, start with just one meal a day. Ussery assures that the time and investment you put in at the beginning will pay off in the end.
Prep your pantry: Stocking your pantry with basic ingredients makes meal planning for diabetes less intimidating. Think of it as the supporting cast for your star lineup of fresh fruit, veggies, and proteins. Make sure you have the basics: oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, a hearty sauce, go-to condiments, and favorite herbs and garnishes. Of course, have a sturdy knife, pans, and storage bags on hand, too.
Map out the time you really have: Is there an early meeting that requires a grab-and-go breakfast, lunch out, evening soccer game, or event that will alter your regular schedule? Decide how many meals you want to cook, how many meals you’ll eat out, and when you’ll rely on convenience foods. Choose favorite recipes you’ll cook frequently, then add a new variation once a week. Take note of any refrigerated or frozen ingredients you have on hand.
Schedule a shopping and prep day: Add the items you’re missing from your pantry or kitchen to your list, then add the ingredients you’ll need to prepare the meals planned for the week. Next, reorder them to match the layout of the grocery store. (It might sound like extra work, but it’s ultimately a timesaver.) While you shop, a couple tips: take advantage of sales and specials that can help lower your grocery bill and remember that the freshest, least processed foods are often kept in the outer aisles of grocery stores, so spend more time there.
Get set for the week: Meal prep is the final step and can be as simple as placing your items in cupboards and the fridge for easy and efficient access—channeling your inner Marie Kondo—or it might be more involved and require chopping vegetables, measuring spices, and washing and portioning. Snacks, sauces, and large batches of beans are prime candidates for the latter.
Stay flexible: Obviously you want to stick to your plan, but there will be days that are unpredictable or when you have less energy. Remember, it’s okay to eat the same meal several times a week, and you don’t have to cook every meal. Ambition is nice, but too much variety might leave you scrambling.
You've Got This
People have so many different connections to food. Eating can be utilitarian, comforting, celebratory, or an expression of love. One Drop meal planning for diabetes is designed to help you enjoy the foods you love while meeting your health goals.
If you decide to give meal planning a try, remember this: be kind to yourself. Think of your meal planner as a trusted guide (kind of like a One Drop clinical health coach). Changing habits, especially around eating, takes time, but One Drop meal planners can help you plan in a new light and enjoy the food you love to eat even more.
To try One Drop meal planning for diabetes for yourself, begin your free 14-day trial of One Drop Premium. Your clinical health coach would love to set you up for success with a meal plan that works for you.
This article has been clinically reviewed by Lisa Graham, RN, CDCES, clinical health coach and director of clinical operations at One Drop.