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Basic Diabetes Meal Plan

Diabetes meal planning starts with eating a well-balanced diet that includes carbohydrates (carbs), protein, and fat. Carbs (found in starches, fruit, vegetables, milk/yogurt and sweets) turn into sugar (glucose) in the body. The body needs carbs for energy. Eating too many carbs can raise blood glucose levels too much, but it is important not cut out these foods. Eating too few carbs may cause your blood glucose to go too low. Eating a moderate amount of carbs at each meal, with a balanced intake of protein and fat, will help your blood glucose stay in a healthy range. Here are some tips to get you started. Your dietitian will give you more specific information when you meet with him or her.

  • Limit your intake and portion sizes of high-sugar foods to 2 or 3 times a week or less. These include:
        • Cakes (frosted, layer, plain), pies, and cookies
        • Candy (hard tack, chocolate, nougats, etc.)
        • Jelly, jam, and preserves
        • Table sugar, honey, molasses, and syrup
        • Regular ice cream, sherbet, regular and frozen yogurt, fruit ices, and Popsicles
        • Regular soft drinks, fruit drinks (canned or concentrated), and drink mixes with sugar added
        • Milkshakes, chocolate milk, hot cocoa mix
        • Sugar coated cereals, granola, breakfast/snack bars
        • Canned fruits with heavy syrup, dried fruit, fruit roll-ups, candied fruit
        • Iced sweet breads, coffee cakes, breakfast rolls, and donuts 
  • Avoid the following:
        • Table sugar, honey, molasses and syrup
        • Regular soft drinks, fruit drinks (canned or concentrated), and drink mixes with 
          sugar added
        • Milkshakes, chocolate milk, hot cocoa mix
        • Canned fruits with heavy syrup
  • Eat 3 well-balanced meals a day and a small snack at night. Each meal should contain both carbs and protein. When planning meals, select a variety of foods from each food group, and watch your portion sizes.
  • Increase your fiber intake. Choose wholegrain breads and cereals. Eat plenty of vegetables, and choose whole fruits instead of fruit juices. When you look at food labels, look for products that contain at least 3 grams of fiber per serving.
  • Do not skip meals. Meals are best spaced 4 to 5 hours apart.
  • Reduce fat intake by baking, broiling, and grilling your foods, and using low-fat foods.
  • Stay active. Your blood glucose level will improve if you keep active. Check with your doctor before beginning an exercise or walking program.
  • Lose weight if you are overweight. Losing weight gradually, even a small amount of weight (5 to 10 lbs.) can help improve your blood glucose level.

Check with your doctor or dietitian about alcohol intake, if you are taking medicine for your diabetes.

Read “Nutrition Facts” labels. Sugar free products may still contain carbohydrates.


1 carb choice = about 15 grams of carbohydrate
Women should have about 3 to 4 carb choices per meal
Men should have about 4 to 5 carb choices per meal
Both can have 1 to 2 carb choices for an evening snack


(1 serving = 15 grams carbohydrate)

Better Choices

1 serving = 

  • 1 slice of bread
  • 1 small roll or muffin
  • 1/2 bun
  • 1/2 small bagel or English muffin
  • 1/3 cup of cooked pasta, rice or baked beans
  • 1/2 cup hot or ready-to-eat cereal
  • 1/2 cup starchy vegetables
  • 4 large or 6 small crackers
  • 1 cup of soup
  • 3 cups of popcorn
  • 3 graham cracker squares
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened, dry cereal
  • 3 cups light or low-fat popcorn
  • Whole-grain breads, rolls, muffins, or bagels
  • Whole wheat pasta, brown rice, noodles
  • Oatmeal and bran cereals
  • Starchy vegetables (peas, corn, lima beans, and potatoes)
  • Dried beans (kidney beans, lentils, baked beans)
  • Soup (broth and cream style)
  • Popcorn, pretzels, graham crackers, and vanilla wafers



(1 serving = 15 grams carbohydrate)

Better Choices

1 serving =

  • 1/2 cup water-packed fruit
  • 1/2 medium banana
  • 1 small piece of fruit (size of a tennis ball)
  • 1/2 cup of fruit juice
  • 1 cup fresh fruit
  • Fresh fruit
  • Unsweetened fruit juice
  • Canned fruit in natural juice or water



(1 serving = 12 grams carbohydrate)

Better Choices

 1 serving =

  • 1 cup milk
  • 6 ounces light yogurt
  • Fat-free or 1 percent milk
  • Low-fat buttermilk
  • Lactose-reduced or lactose-free milk
  • Plain soy milk
  • Light yogurt


Sweets/Desserts/Other Carbs

(1 serving = 15 grams carbohydrate)

Better Choices

1 serving =

  • 1/2 cup sugar free dessert
  • 2-3 small cookies
  • 2 inch square piece of cake
  • 1/8 of 9 inch pie
  • 1/2 -1 small ice cream bar
  • Sugar-free pudding, custard, low fat ice cream, or sherbet
  • Small cookies
  • Frozen juice bar
  • Gingersnaps or small sugar-free cookies
  • 1/4 cup fat-free salad dressing


Vegetables (Non-starchy)

(1 serving = 5 grams carbohydrate)

Better Choices Recommended Number of Servings

1 serving =

  • 1/2 cup cooked vegetables
  • 1 cup raw vegetables
  • Any cooked or raw vegetables, except starchy vegetables (see starch list)

 minimum 2- 3 servings per day



Meats/Meat Substitutes

(1 serving = 0 carbohydrate)

Better Choices Recommended Number of Servings

 1 serving =

  • 1 oz. meat
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup tuna fish, or cottage cheese
  • 1 slice of cheese
  • 1 tablespoon of peanut butter
  • Lean meat, skinless poultry, fish, eggs, egg substitutes
  • Low-fat cheese and cottage cheese
  • Peanut butter, tofu, dried beans
  • Typically, 0-1 serving (1 oz.) at breakfast is recommended
  • Typically, 3 servings (3 oz.) at lunch and dinner for women and 4 servings (4 oz.) at lunch and dinner for men
  • 3 oz. of meat is roughly equal to the size of a deck of cards


(1 serving = 0 carbohydrate)

Better Choices Recommended Number of Servings

1 serving =

  • 1 teaspoon oil, margarine, butter or mayo
  • 1 Tablespoon light mayo or margarine
  • 2 Tablespoons reduced-fat dressing
  • 2 teaspoons gravy
  • 6-10 nuts
  • Tub margarine, canola or olive oil, reduced fat salad dressing, light mayonnaise
  • Reduced fat cream cheese and sour cream
  • Peanuts, almonds, walnuts, pecans

1 -2 servings per meal


Unlimited Foods Limited Foods Recommended Number of Servings

diet soda, diet club soda, sugar-free Popsicles, artificial sweeteners, sugar-free drink mixes, sugar-free Jell-O, regular or decaf coffee and tea

(1 piece, 1 tablespoon) sugar-free hard candy, low-sugar jelly, light syrup, sugar-free gum, whipped topping, fat-free cream cheese (1 cup) raw vegetables

3 servings per day


Sample Meal Plan 



  • 1/2 medium banana (1 carbohydrate)
  • 1/2 cup cooked oatmeal (1 carbohydrate)
  • 1 slice whole wheat toast (1 carbohydrate)
  • 1 scrambled egg or egg substitute (1 meat)
  • 1 teaspoon margarine (1 fat) and sugar-free jelly
  • 1 cup milk (skim or 1 percent) (1 carbohydrate)
  • Coffee or tea
  • Artificial sweetener


  • Turkey sandwich [ 2 slices whole wheat bread (2 carbohydrates), 3 oz. turkey (3 meats), lettuce, and tomato (free vegetables)]
  • 1 tablespoon light mayonnaise (1 fat)
  • 1/2 cup sugar-free pudding (1 carbohydrate)
  • 1 apple (1 carbohydrate)
  • Unsweetened iced tea with lemon
  • Artificial sweetener


  • 3 oz. sliced roast beef (3 meats)
  • 1 cup whipped potatoes (2 carbohydrates)
  • 1 teaspoon margarine (1 fat)
  • 1/2 cup corn (1 carbohydrate)
  • 1/2 cup broccoli ( free vegetable)
  • Tossed salad with 2 Tablespoons reduced fat salad dressing (free vegetable, 1 fat)
  • 1/2 cup peaches-packed in own juices (1 carbohydrate)
  • Coffee or tea
  • Artificial sweetener


  • 6 oz. light yogurt (1 carbohydrate)


For more information, refer to the UPMC patient education sheet Basic Carbohydrate Counting.

  Reviewed July 2013

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