Diabetes Still Isn't Easy
Diabetes Still Isn't Easy

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Just Tell Me What to Eat: The Plate Method

Dietician Lynn Polmanteer shares "the plate method" to help you achieve a healthier, more balanced diet.

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A lot of patients walk into my office and say “Just tell me what to eat! Write me a meal plan.” Let’s say I grant this wish and write out a 7-day meal plan that says what to have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. My patient goes home, Thursday evening rolls around, and its salmon-quinoa-broccoli night. What if my patient is not in the mood for salmon? Or (more likely) what if my patient doesn’t like broccoli at all? What if my patient would rather have chicken, pasta, or rice and beans? So instead of immediately handing out a 7-day meal plan I carry out the session a little differently. I teach “The Plate Method” and the basic concepts of meal planning so my patients can have more variety and fun with their diet.

The Plate Method

For starters, picture a plate. Now divide it in half. The bottom half stays as is and the top half is divided in half again (think half, quarter, quarter). This is The Plate Method!

Part 1: Non-Starchy Vegetables

Half the plate should be non-starchy vegetables, such as:

  • broccoli
  • asparagus
  • peppers
  • onions
  • tomatoes
  • carrots
  • eggplant
  • bok choy
  • cabbage
  • string beans
  • spinach
  • zucchini

All of these foods are low in carbohydrates, low in calories, and have a lot of fiber. So get the variety! Choose what’s in season!

Cook them different ways: roast, steam, sauté, boil, or keep them raw. Just be careful how you cook your veggies and what you add to them. If you cook them with oil, measure out the oil, even if it’s olive oil. If you top your salad with fats such as nuts, avocado, olives, and salad dressings, be mindful of the portion size as fats have a decent amount of calories. Too many calories can lead to weight gain.

Part 2: Carbs

A quarter of the plate should be carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are big group food that’s divided into four categories:

  • starches (for example pasta, rice, potatoes, bread, corn, peas, beans) 
  • fruit
  • milk and yogurt
  • sweets 

Everybody needs carbohydrates for energy, even people with diabetes. It’s important to know what all these foods are and to have them in moderate portions as they have the biggest effect on blood sugar.  

Part 3: Protein

The other quarter of the plate is protein. Animal sources of protein include fish, poultry, meat, and cheese. The vegetarian types of protein include items such as tofu, tempeh, and seitan. Protein does not have a great effect on blood sugar but it’s important to have the leanest types of protein as certain cuts of meat and different types of cheese contain a greater amount of fat and cholesterol. So choose skinless chicken breast or turkey breast, sirloin, chopped meat that’s at least 90 percent lean, pork tenderloin, low-fat cheeses, and egg whites.

Next time you’re unsure what to eat, picture the plate. Instead of having a whole plate of pasta or rice, keep the carbohydrates to a quarter of the plate. Fill up the other quarter with protein and the rest with non-starchy vegetables. Enjoy! 

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About the Author


MS, RD, CDN, CDE

Lynn is a nutritionist and diabetes educator at the Friedman Diabetes Institute.

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