These healthy, balanced meal ideas are safe for people with type 2 diabetes and tasty enough for the whole family to enjoy.
Dinnertime is different when you’re living with type 2 diabetes. Specifically, strategies like portion control and carbohydrate counting are crucial to keep in mind to manage weight and lower your A1C — your average blood sugar level over two to three months. Also worth considering is nutrition, which everyone can benefit from.
“My general recommendation is to aim for a balance of nutrients at meals,” says Amy Kimberlain, RD, a certified diabetes care and education specialist (CDCES) and spokesperson for Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in Miami. She suggests making carbs a quarter of your plate, lean protein another quarter, and nonstarchy veggies the last half. “Having a balanced plate not only helps in the management of one’s blood sugar levels, but also helps to keep you fuller longer,” Kimberlain notes.
But that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice flavor. When you have a family to feed, you won’t want to.
These 15 diabetes-friendly recipes are balanced and tasty enough for anyone — regardless of whether they have diabetes — to enjoy.
This salad recipe is loaded with nonstarchy vegetables, including broccoli, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, and onions. These foods are high in fiber, which will help you feel full longer, says Brittany Poulson, RD, CDCES, and author of Healthy Family Cookbook, who is based in Grantsville, Utah. “Healthy fats are included from olives and olive oil, making this a heart-smart choice, as well,” she says. Olives and olive oil are a rich source of monounsaturated fat, which helps lower your risk of heart disease, notes the American Heart Association (AHA). As diabetes doubles your risk of heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it’s important to prioritize monounsaturated fats in your diabetes diet.
Plus, this salad’s creamy dressing uses protein-packed Greek yogurt (25.2 grams per cup) instead of high-fat mayonnaise (10.3 grams of fat; 1.6 grams from saturated fat per tablespoon).
One serving of this recipe (⅛ of the total) from the blog Food Faith Fitness provides 182 calories, 14.7 grams (g) of carbs, 5.9 g of protein, 12.4 g of fat, and 3.6 g of fiber.
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Stir-fries make it easy to score a healthy diabetes dinner. And this recipe features plenty of diabetes-friendly veggies, including carrots, broccoli, zucchini, and green onions. It also features chicken as a lean protein choice, Poulson says. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) suggests choosing chicken without the skin to cut back on saturated fat and cholesterol.
And instead of salt, this chicken and veggie dish from Liz’s Healthy Table borrows tons of flavor from garlic, jalapeño, fresh ginger, lime, and reduced-sodium soy sauce. Too much sodium, which is in salt, can raise blood pressure levels, increasing heart disease risk, as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration notes.
One serving of this meal (¼ of the total recipe) packs 220 calories, 11 g of carbs, 26 g of protein, 3 g of sugar, 3 g of fiber, 9 g of fat (1.5 g saturated fat), and 380 milligrams (mg) of sodium.
If you want to add more carbs, be sure to serve this recipe over brown rice instead of white rice so you can get whole grains. Whole grains will help keep blood sugar spikes at bay, Poulson explains. A ½-cup of brown rice will add 150 calories and 33 g of carbs to the recipe, according to estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
These meatless tacos from Cooking Classy combine several healthy ingredients, including green lentils, vegetable broth, diced tomatoes, green chiles, yellow onion, garlic, cilantro, lime, and a variety of spices (cumin, chili powder, ancho chili powder, paprika, cayenne pepper). Using pulses like lentils in place of traditional taco starches like rice may slow digestion of sugar, ultimately lowering blood sugar levels, according to a study published in April 2018 in The Journal of Nutrition. And, “lentils add nutrients such as protein, fiber, iron, and magnesium,” Poulson says.
One serving (1/9 of the total) offers 145 calories, 2 g of fat, 23 g of carbs, 10 g of fiber, 2 g of sugar, and 8 g of protein. Poulson recommends using corn tortillas, whole-wheat tortillas, or wrapping your filling with a large lettuce leaf.
For a healthier version of a popular Chinese takeout dish, try this General Tso’s chicken recipe found on the Plated Cravings blog. “This homemade version removes the breading and skips the deep frying, both of which make it a healthier option for people with type 2 diabetes,” Poulson says.
It starts with a lean protein source (boneless chicken breasts) and marinades it in a very small amount of cornstarch, salt, and pepper. It then adds a simple stir-fry made of peanut oil, dried chiles, toasted sesame seeds, and chopped scallion. Peanut oil, for one, is a good source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, according to the ADA.
Finally, you’ll pour on a sauce made of ketchup, rice vinegar, hoisin sauce, a touch of brown sugar, and soy sauce (look for low-sodium versions of sauces and condiments, especially considering the recipe includes 718 mg of sodium).
One-quarter of this recipe packs 207 calories, 10 g of carbs, 12 g of protein, 12 g of fat (2 g of saturated fat), and 7 g of sugar. “To keep the meal low-carb, serve with a side of sauteed or steamed veggies instead of piling it on a bed of white rice,” Poulson says.
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Enjoy the flavors of a banh mi sandwich without tons of blood-sugar-spiking carbs and unhealthy saturated fats. These burgers from Diabetic Foodie use lettuce wraps in place of bread, and lean proteins like ground chicken or turkey in place of pork.
All those pickled cucumbers, radishes, and carrots also help make this a great meal for people with type 2 diabetes: “I love that this recipe piles the vegetables on top, hitting that goal of increasing nonstarchy vegetables at meal time,” Poulson says. Top the burgers with thinly sliced jalapeños and a small amount of sriracha mayo (optional). Be sure to use low-sodium soy sauce to whip up the burgers.
Each burger offers 242 calories, 11 g of fat (3 g saturated fat), 11 g of carbs, 2 g of fiber, 11 g of sugar, 23 g of protein, and 561 mg of sodium.
Fatty fish like the baked salmon featured in this recipe is a great source of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, according to the AHA. If you have type 2 diabetes, eating foods with omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce your risk of diabetes-related complications like heart disease and stroke. This recipe calls for baking your salmon with healthy, flavorful ingredients like lemons, lemon zest, garlic cloves, olive oil, and fresh parsley.
One of these salmon fillets from Healthy Fitness Meals provides 294 calories, 9 g of carbs, 29 g of protein, 17 g of fat (2 g saturated fat), 2 g of fiber, and 2 g of sugar. Pair the fish with a side salad or serving of roasted nonstarchy veggies, such as asparagus, to balance it out.
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“Just because you have diabetes doesn’t mean you have to miss out on your favorites, including pizza,” Poulson says. Case in point: This recipe from Simply Quinoa. It starts with a crust made of quinoa and hummus, which provide fiber, healthy fats, and protein, Poulson notes. Use more hummus to make the sauce and then add healthy toppings. “This recipe does what I often suggest to people with diabetes who still want to enjoy pizza, and that's to top it with veggies,” Poulson says. Use nonstarchy veggies like zucchini and tomatoes, as these add flavor, fiber, vitamins, and minerals without tons of carbs, she adds.
One serving (1/12 of the recipe) packs 150 calories, 13 g of carbs, 4 g of protein, 10 g of fat (1 g of saturated fat), 3 g of fiber, and 1 g of sugar. Optional: Garnish with shredded vegan cheese, chopped basil, and red pepper flakes.
This chopped salad from The Cafe Sucre Farine is loaded with vegetables, with many of the nonstarchy variety: romaine lettuce, bell peppers, onions, jicama, zucchini, and tomatoes. It also includes black beans, which offer plenty of satiety-promoting protein and fiber (15.8 g protein and 18.1 g fiber per cup of the reduced-sodium variety). Bake your own tortilla chips and whisk together the recipe’s homemade honey-lime dressing so you can be sure how much salt and oil you’re getting.
One-eighth of this recipe provides 228 calories, 8 g of fat (1 g of saturated fat), 35 g of carbs, 10 g of sugar, 5 g of protein, 7 g of fiber. Add grilled chicken or fish if you’d like more protein.
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These grilled salmon kabobs from Erhardt’s Eat are healthy and packed with flavor. They take chunks of omega-3-packed salmon and nonstarchy veggies like zucchini, grape tomatoes, and red onion, and then marinate everything in dried spices, olive oil, and lemons. Add the lean protein and veggies to skewers and cook on the grill for a quick, healthy meal for diabetes.
One serving (¼ of the total recipe) offers 316 calories, 20.7 g of fat (2.8 g saturated fat), 4.3 g of carbs, 30.4 g of protein, 1.2 g of fiber, and 2.2 g of sugar. Optional: Top the kabobs with tzatziki sauce.
Traditional lasagna is loaded with calories, carbs, and saturated fat, making it a bad choice for people with type 2 diabetes. But this version from Diabetes Strong uses zucchini in place of pasta to decrease carbs and calories dramatically without losing any flavor, says Poulson.
The zucchini contributes plenty of nutrients, she adds. For example, one medium zucchini provides 35 g of vitamin C, making it an excellent source of the nutrient. This antioxidant may be lacking in many people with type 2 diabetes, perhaps thanks to high levels of oxidative stress brought on by abnormalities in blood sugar metabolism, notes previous research.
This recipe also cuts back on saturated fat by using extra-lean ground beef and only a ½ cup of cheese, Poulson says.
One-quarter of this recipe offers 244 calories, 12.3 g of carbs, 30.4 g of protein, 7.9 g of fat (3.5 g saturated fat), 6.3 g of sugar, and 3.6 g of fiber.
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For an easy, healthy meal, try this salad from blog Two Peas & Their Pod. It starts with fiber- and protein-rich quinoa (1 cup has 5.2 g of fiber and 8.1 g of protein) and adds plenty of healthy ingredients. “To balance the fiber-rich carbs in the quinoa, this recipe does a great job at filling the bowl with nonstarchy vegetables,” Poulson says. Then, it “ups the satiety factor even more with healthy fats in the olive oil-based vinaigrette dressing and avocado that’s mixed in.”
One serving (⅙ of the total recipe) contains 225 calories, 19 g of carbs, 4 g of protein, 15 g of fat (2 g saturated fat), 4 g of fiber, and 3 g of sugar. Add a lean protein like skinless chicken or turkey, or a plant-based protein option such as tofu to balance it out.
For a vegetarian meal, try these roasted cauliflower tacos from A Mind “Full” Mom. The taco filling is made up of nonstarchy cauliflower roasted in taco seasoning and heart-healthy olive oil. It’s then drizzled with homemade avocado lime sauce, which adds in a bit of plant-based protein and healthy fats for satiety, Poulson says. Serve in tortillas (Poulson recommends whole-wheat or soft corn for some whole grains), or use a lettuce wrap to lower the carb count. Top with pickled red onions, chopped cilantro, and a dash of queso fresco or feta cheese (optional).
To add additional protein, keep it simple. “You could easily add in a small side of black or pinto beans to increase the protein, while keeping it plant-based,” Poulson says.
A serving of this recipe (¼ of the total) provides 147 calories, 11 g of fat (1 g saturated fat), 11 g of carbs, 6 g of fiber, 3 g of sugar, and 3 g of protein.
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This hearty chicken noodle soup combines skinless chicken breasts, low-sodium chicken broth, garlic, onion, carrots, celery, and a variety of herbs. Plus, it uses zucchini in place of pasta noodles. “Because there are no noodles, it’s low-carb, making it a great option for someone who is watching their carbohydrate intake,” Poulson says.
Plus, “this chicken vegetable soup is jam-packed with color and nutrients, and brings plenty of flavor as well,” Poulson notes.
One-sixth of this recipe from A Sweet Pea Chef offers 226 calories, 5 g of fat (1 g saturated fat), 14 g of carbs, 3 g of fiber, 32 g of protein, and 5 g of sugar.
This low-carb vegetarian dish from Healthy Seasonal Recipes is easy to whip up. Plus, there’s no cooking required.
You can make your own zucchini noodles (“zoodles”) with a spiralizer, mandoline, or vegetable peeler. Or, buy them pre-made. Either way, you’ll end up with a low-carb pasta dish that’s also rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Mix the “zoodles” with a bit of homemade pesto (find a recipe on the blog) and top with nonstarchy tomatoes and a bit of fresh Parmesan. “[This recipe] goes above and beyond filling half your plate with nonstarchy veggies by filling the entire plate with them!” Poulson says.
One-half of this recipe provides 242 calories, 19 g of fat (4 g saturated fat), 10 g of carbs, 3 g of fiber, 7 g of protein, and 6 g of sugar. “If you want to make this more of a hearty meal for dinner, you could easily add in some grilled [skinless] chicken breast or ground turkey meatballs,” Poulson says.
These healthy, balanced meal ideas are safe for people with type 2 diabetes and tasty enough for the whole family to enjoy.