How to Use the Plate Method to Plan Diabetic-Friendly Meals

By American Diabetes Association

The Plate Method, also known as Create Your Plate, is a straightforward and effective strategy for managing diabetes and losing weight. Unlike some other diabetes meal-planning methods, the Plate Method doesn’t require a lot of food label reading or counting; all you need is a dinner plate. This means you can practice the Plate Method just about anywhere you go — at home, in restaurants, even at dinner parties.

There are so many healthy foods for people with diabetes to enjoy, and the Plate Method is a great tool to help you combine these foods in the right proportions to create balanced, nutritious meals.

This method appeals to many people with diabetes because it allows you to eat the foods you choose, but it focuses on the portion sizes with an emphasis on eating more nonstarchy vegetables and less starchy foods and proteins.

Divide and fill

The Plate Method is simple: Take a dinner plate and divide it into sections (either mentally or physically); then fill each section with the appropriate type of food. Want to try it yourself? Using the following figure, follow these easy steps to get started:

  1. Using a dinner plate (approximately 9 inches in diameter), draw an imaginary line down the middle of the plate dividing it in half; then on one side, divide that section in half as well, so you have three sections on your plate.
  2. Fill the largest section (half of your plate) with nonstarchy vegetables.
  3. In one of the smaller sections, you can include grains and starchy foods such as brown rice, corn, potatoes, or whole-wheat pasta or bread. Remember that fruit, milk, and yogurt also contain carbohydrate and should be taken into consideration in this section of the plate.
  4. Fill the other smaller section with your protein.
  5. Choose healthy fats in small amounts when preparing or serving your meal.
    For example, use plant-based oils for cooking. Try topping salads with nuts, seeds, avocado, and/or vinaigrettes.
  6. Add a low-calorie or zero-calorie drink like water, unsweetened tea, or black coffee to your meal.

 

diabetic-plate
Courtesy of the American Diabetes Association

The Plate Method is an easy way to manage diabetes and lose or maintain your weight.

It’s that simple! By filling most of your plate with nonstarchy vegetables and eating smaller portions of starches and proteins, you can reduce your calorie, fat, and carbohydrate intake and enjoy more balanced meals.

What about breakfast?

Most people don’t eat a lot of nonstarchy vegetables for breakfast, so you may be wondering how you use the Plate Method at breakfast time. You may not need to follow the Plate Method exactly at breakfast. But even if you’re not enjoying vegetables as part of your meal, the Plate Method can still be helpful. Keeping the Plate Method in mind during breakfast can help you choose appropriate portions of leans proteins and starchy foods.

Choose healthy options from at least a few different food groups when deciding what to eat for breakfast. Breakfast is an important part of your day and can help keep your appetite in check the rest of the day. And don’t forget — plenty of recipes incorporate nonstarchy vegetables into breakfast dishes! Try a delicious egg white omelet with spinach, or a fruit-and-vegetable smoothie.

Where do combination foods fit?

Many foods, like lasagna, chili, and stews, are made up of some combination of proteins, starches, and vegetables. So where do these foods fit into the Plate Method? A good rule of thumb is to put combination foods on half of your plate, and make sure you fill the rest of the plate with nonstarchy vegetables. Or, depending on the dish, you can incorporate a large portion of nonstarchy vegetables into the combination food. If you’re making bean, meat, and veggie chili, for example, make sure you add those ingredients in proportions similar to the Plate Method — about half of the chili should be nonstarchy vegetables.

Healthy options for your plate

The Plate Method gives you the freedom to choose the foods you want to add to each section of your plate. But some options are better for you than others. Here’s a look at a few of the healthiest choices for people with diabetes.

Nonstarchy vegetables

There are two types of vegetables: starchy vegetables and nonstarchy vegetables. Starchy vegetables contain more starch, and therefore more calories and carbohydrate than nonstarchy vegetables. Nonstarchy vegetables should fill the majority of your plate, so it’s important to know which vegetables are considered nonstarchy. Some examples of common nonstarchy vegetables include

  • Arugula
  • Asparagus
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Cucumber
  • Endive
  • Escarole
  • Green beans
  • Lettuce
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Peppers
  • Radicchio
  • Romaine
  • Spinach
  • Squash
  • Tomatoes
  • Watercress
  • Zucchini

These are just a few of the nonstarchy vegetables you can enjoy! So fill half of your plate with a refreshing and colorful salad, some sautéed green beans or mushrooms, some roasted Brussels sprouts — or whatever nonstarchy vegetables you love.

A few vegetables are considered starchy foods, and they should make up only a small section of your plate if you’re using the Plate Method. Some examples of starchy vegetables include potatoes, corn, peas, and acorn and butternut squash. Starchy vegetable are still an important part of a healthy diet, but they should be eaten in moderation.

Grains and starchy foods

When using the Plate Method, one-quarter of your plate is reserved for starchy foods. Although starches should be enjoyed in moderation, healthy starches can add vitamins and fiber to your diet. Many of us are used to eating refined starches such as white breads, rice, and pastas; these starches add calories and carbohydrate to your meal without adding many vitamins, minerals, or other nutrients. Choosing healthier whole-grain starches, starchy vegetables, or beans and legumes allows you to get more nutrients from the starchy foods section of your plate.

Nutrient-rich starch options include

  • Beans
  • Corn
  • Lentils
  • Peas
  • Potatoes, white and sweet
  • Rice, brown and wild
  • Whole grains, such as barley, bulgur, faro, millet, oats, and quinoa
  • Whole-wheat or whole-grain breads and pastas

Make the most of your starches by selecting one of these options instead of refined grain products.

Protein

There are several healthy protein options for people with diabetes. The goal when choosing protein is to look for lean cuts of meat and poultry, seafood such as fresh fish, or plant-based proteins such as beans and legumes or soy products. Try to avoid products that have been fried or cooked with a lot of fat.

When it comes to poultry, white meat cuts such as breasts and tenderloins with the skin removed are the best options. Seafood is a great lean protein option for people with diabetes; fish that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids — such as albacore tuna, salmon, herring, sardines, and mackerel — are great choices. Many cuts of red meat and pork contain more fat than other types of protein. Look for lean cuts of meat that have been trimmed of excess fat, and try to avoid high-fat, highly processed meats like bacon, sausage, ground beef, and hot dogs.

Plant-based proteins — for example, beans, lentils, chickpeas, meat substitutes, and tofu and tempeh — are excellent options for people with diabetes. In addition to providing protein, many of these proteins also provide fiber and healthy fats. But keep in mind that plant-based proteins also contain carbohydrate.