Healthy meal planning
Do you ever find yourself hitting the drive-thru for lunch because you didn’t have time to pack something healthy that morning? Or maybe you wake up with good intentions but end up casting healthy eating habits aside for convenience?
If so, you may benefit from healthy meal planning. This is especially important for people with type 2 diabetes.
Check out these seven steps to prepping for a week’s worth of lunches.
The food you eat plays an important role in your diabetes management. A diabetes diagnosis often comes with dietary recommendations that might seem confusing or unrealistic at first. The good news is that you don’t have to deal with this alone. And the more you learn, the easier it becomes.
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends that everyone with diabetes receive individualized medical nutrition therapy (MNT). MNT provides you with a diet tailored specifically to your needs.
When meal planning, it’s particularly important to manage your carbohydrate intake. The ADA recommends you consume:
- 45 to 60 grams of carbs per main meal
- 15 to 30 grams for each snack
Your registered dietitian (RD) or certified diabetes educator (CDE) will work with you to develop your meal plan. They’ll also check in with you over time to monitor your progress and help make adjustments.
The ADA’s recommendations are a general guideline for people with diabetes. They certainly won’t work for everyone. The other important component is the Glycemic Index (GI) of a food. This is a measure of how much a given carbohydrate-containing food raises blood glucose. Some examples of carbohydrates that have a low GI are:
- stone-ground whole wheat
- sweet potatoes
- most fruits and non-starchy vegetables
Not interested in MNT? You can always use the plate method of portion control to help you learn how to balance your meals. This method encourages filling:
- half your plate with non-starchy veggies
- a quarter of your plate with lean proteins
- a quarter of your plate with grains and starchy veggies
Setting small, realistic nutrition goals can also set you up for success. For example, try limiting sugar-filled drinks or setting a max number of days to eat out per week.
This is also a good time to revisit other parts of your treatment plan. For example, how does your diabetes medication schedule fit into your daily life? Basal insulin can help keep your blood sugar under control between meals, and with three dosage options, you can work with your doctor to decide which one is the best fit for your needs. Are you looking for more flexibility in terms of meal times? Basal insulin can help you achieve that!
This step is actually twofold. First, you should create a general nutrition and treatment plan using the information you learned in step one. Are you trying to avoid or reduce refined carbohydrates and sugars? Do any of your medications impact your eating schedule? Do you want to incorporate more fiber-rich foods into your diet? A nutrition plan can help you make mealtime decisions to meet your health goals and manage your diabetes.
Here are some general diet guidelines:
- Eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables.
- Incorporate whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, and oatmeal, and lean proteins such as fish, chicken, and turkey.
- Consume healthy fats, such as nuts, seeds, and avocados.
- Avoid or limit saturated and trans fats, processed sugar, and sodium.
With these broad nutrition goals in mind, the second part of this step is to create a more manageable weekly lunch plan. Schedule some time every Sunday — or whichever day works best for you — to decide what you’re going to prepare for lunch each day that week. Gather recipes from cookbooks and online forums, or check out these suggestions for inspiration:
- Soups are easy to make and simple to pack ahead of time, especially when made in a slow cooker and then frozen in meal-sized portions.
- Explore these ideas to add to your weekly lunch plan.
- Pick a diabetes-friendly superfood from this list, and then find a recipe that puts it front and center.
Write your planned lunches down in a notebook, type them out on your computer, or use an app on your smartphone. You can even jot them down on a sticky note. Sometimes it helps if it doesn’t feel like too big a task!
Once you’ve got the meals planned out, make a grocery list. Be sure to check what you already have in your house so you’re not buying duplicates.
You’ll notice that many recipes call for the same basic ingredients, like spices, olive oil, and whole-wheat flour. These items will last a while, so you won’t need to include them on your weekly list. Stocking up on spices and herbs is especially helpful. They add tons of flavor to dishes without racking up your sodium intake.
It’s also important to add items that will help you prepare, package, and transport your lunches. What works for you will depend on personal preference and the meals you’re making. Some examples include:
- zip-top plastic bags
- microwave-safe containers with compartments
- mason jars with lids
- insulated lunch boxes with ice packs
Try organizing your shopping list by category, such as vegetables and produce, dairy, and meats. Write your list in a portable notebook or use an app on your smartphone so you can bring it with you to the store. Some apps will even make a shopping list for you based on the recipes you’ve chosen!
Next is the fun part: Grab your list and head to the store! Sticking to a list can help you avoid tempting junk food that pops out at you from the shelves. Before you leave for the store, check in with your hunger. If you’re hungry, have a meal or snack. We tend to buy more when we shop hungry.
Get familiar with your grocery store and learn the layout. Most items on a healthy grocery list will be found on the outer perimeters of the store. The aisles in the middle are generally reserved for processed, less healthy options, like cookies, candies, and chips. Plus, once you learn the layout, you won’t waste any time searching for each item!
Some stores also have delivery services that allow you to browse items and prices online, add them to your digital shopping cart, and place the order for delivery. If your biggest concern is finding time to get to the store, this solution may work for you.
The prepping possibilities are endless. It all comes down to what fits your schedule and style. Here are some suggestions:
Cook a few meals at once
Make a pot of soup on Monday night and portion it out in microwave-safe bowls to take for lunch a day or two later. Another easy solution is to cook chicken breasts early in the week and divide them into portions. Then you can quickly add some to a salad or a stir-fry recipe later in the week.
Prep on the weekends
Sometimes the part of cooking that takes the most time is preparing all of the ingredients. If you have time on the weekend, chop up the fruit and veggies you bought to save time later. It may help to do this right when you get home from the store, before you store produce in the refrigerator.
Package the day before
Whether you cook all of your meals on Sunday or commit to taking it one night at a time, preparing and packaging your lunch the night before (or earlier) is a game changer.
Get creative with storage
Find things that are functional for what you need. For example, if you’re having a salad for lunch, use a mason jar to store it.
Add a portion of salad dressing to the bottom of the jar, then add a layer of sturdy ingredients that won’t get soggy, such as nuts, chicken, avocado, or a hard-boiled egg. Next pack in your leafy greens and veggies, and sprinkle some dried fruit or cheese on top. When you’re ready to eat, just shake the jar to mix it all up, then open and enjoy!
Containers also help you stick to appropriate portion sizes. Just remember to measure it out before you add your ingredients.
Have a backup
If your office has a fridge, consider leaving one meal in there a week, just in case you forget to bring one. If there’s a freezer, you can stash a frozen meal or two to help keep you on track, even when life tries to get in the way of your plan.
The beauty of preparing meals ahead of time is that it frees you up to really enjoy lunch. The same goes for finding a basal insulin routine that works for you. Rather than spending 20 minutes of your lunch break driving to and from the restaurant, you suddenly have that time back in your life. You no longer have to scarf down your meal — you can savor each bite instead. If you have a longer time for lunch, you can eat and then take a walk afterward!
No matter how much planning and prep you do, don’t expect yourself to be perfect. If you miss a day, don’t freak out. Think of it as a learning experience: What stopped you from sticking to your plan that day? What kind of solution could you implement to help get around that barrier in the future?
Remember, if you weren’t packing any meals, one or two a week is a great start!
When the week is done, another one is around the corner. Just remember that you’re more prepared to handle this each week than you were the one before. Some people might like using the same recipes each week, but for others, variation is key. Switch it up when you feel the need!
Don’t forget that you can always ask a member of your healthcare team for assistance if you’re feeling stuck. There are thousands of healthy options out there. Have fun with it! Remind yourself to feel good about taking steps toward a healthier life.