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Meal Time: Where to Begin?

As we people with diabetes know all too well, diabetes presents some of its greatest daily around the dinner table. This is an area where I still find one of my biggest struggles: the ability to create tasty low-carb meals.

A hard question to answer when planning your meals is, “Where to begin?” The first thing to keep in mind is that you have to make certain things happen before you even enter a grocery store. A grocery store can be a bit overwhelming, its aisles lined with multiple options in every direction staring back at you. 

To figure out how to make healthy food buying choices in the midst of so many distractions, take a look at the pointers below and give them a try. 

Research—Before you can cook and eat a healthy meal, you have to take the time to research what you’re going to be preparing and how it will affect your blood glucose levels. Research should be the first step you take before trying anything new regarding diabetes and meals. Fortunately, the resources out there are vast. You can find useful information in magazines, on the Internet, or in the great number of diabetes-friendly cookbooks now available. 

This first step, out of all the ones here, will take the greatest amount of time. The good news is that you can do all of it at home before you set out for the grocery store. Later, as you find certain meals you really like, your before-shopping research and list preparation will be greatly reduced. Sometimes I’ll make a plan on one day and leave the shopping for another. 

A sure way to fill yourself up and not worry about glucose levels, as well as make meal planning easier, is to create entrees based on lean meats, chicken, or fish. They are loaded with protein, low in fat, and can be prepared many different ways. (However, side dishes and desserts tend to be on the starchy side, so look for healthy options to accompany your protein choices.)

Make a List—This is an important step. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told myself that I was going to make a quick grocery store run and went in with no checklist or any idea where to start. I ended up buying only a few of the items I actually needed and many random things that were completely useless to my meal planning process. By the time I arrived home, I realized that I had wasted a lot of time, gas, and money, but accomplished little in the way of purchasing the right things I needed to prepare healthy, fast meals. 

So before going grocery shopping, sit down for a couple of minutes and figure out the essentials you must buy and write them down. A list will help you budget your dollars by identifying what you need to buy as opposed to buying what looks attractive to your eyes. That way, when you get inside the store, you won’t get distracted by all the enticing food displays, fancy signs, and tempting drinks lining the shelves. Your list will bring order to your chaotic purchasing method by relieving stress, reducing the time it takes you to shop, and keeping you focused. 

Don’t Shop When You’re Hungry—This is something we’ve all been guilty of at one time or another. When you shop hungry you tend to buy things that you don’t need or are not the healthiest options for you. When you’re hungry, everything looks delicious or seems like a good idea to buy and eat. 

So, before going grocery shopping make sure you’ve had something to eat. Your shopping experience will be more successful and you’ll reduce the amount of money you would have spent if you had gone shopping while hungry.

Shop the Perimeter of the Store First—When you’re in the grocery store diligently looking through your list of items, remember that healthier items are on the perimeter of the store. Almost all grocery stores are set-up with fruits, vegetables, diary, and meats and fish on the perimeter. The junk food lurks in the center aisles. The longer you spend shopping on the outside, the healthier your meals will be. Remember, the further you move inward toward the center of a grocery store, the unhealthier the items will be.

Compare—The next time you’re at the grocery store, look at the different brands of your chosen food ingredients and see which is the lowest in carbohydrates. Different brands have varying amounts of calories and carbohydrates in their products. Pick the one that is not only the lowest in price, but is the tastiest in the low price range. This is a task that can dramatically lower the amount of insulin you have to give yourself.

(Unfortunately, when it comes to the taste test, this will be on a trial and error basis. It takes time and diligence to come up with great meals you can enjoy, but the results are worth the effort.) 

Make Something Reliable—If you know you’re going to have a tough couple of days or a busy week, try to cook something you are reasonably familiar with. This frees you from worrying about how much insulin you have to give yourself or how the meal will affect your body. 

Have some “go-to meals” whose carb counts you know without question. Picking reliable meals is probably one of the best things you can do to make your life less complicated and simplify your diabetes management. You don’t want to be guessing at what you should or shouldn’t bolus for a meal and add to the stress of your day.

Experiment—Are you going to find the perfect combination the first time you try? Probably not. But don’t let yourself get discouraged. There are some really great tasting foods out there that you may have never considered. Someone suggested I try the cooked shrimp wraps at the sushi bar in our local grocery store. They looked just like sushi, but the shrimp was cooked and the carb count was minimal. They tasted great! 

It’s all about trial and error. Sometimes you might get the taste right but the food will end up being too high in carbohydrates or vice versa. With time, you will master the perfect balance.

Allow yourself some time so you can make the right choices. While this process can be time consuming, keep your overall goal in mind: staying healthy. These suggestions are a guide to help get you started. Please take from them what you will or create some of your own. 

Also, try to get others involved so you can get various opinions and possibly learn some new recipes. Most of the tricks I’ve learned about meal planning came from listening to other people. Whatever you decide to try, keep in mind that healthy living and eating do not happen over night. 


An open mind and plenty of patience will take you a long way. Good luck and bon appétit!

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