University of Illinois Extension
 

Meal Planning

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The purpose of meal planning is to help you reach your personal blood glucose or weight goals. These goals should be discussed with your health care provider. How these goals are achieved will be different for everyone. Some may reach their goals by spacing their food intake and limiting portion sizes. Others benefit from a more specific meal plan. Serving sizes are always important when you plan your meals. Day-to-day variation in meals and snacks can lead to uneven glucose pattern.

Blood glucose levels are affected by the timing of meals and snacks
Blood glucose levels are affected by the timing of meals and snacks.

Four commonly used methods of meal planning include:

  • The Plate Method
  • MyPlate.gov
  • Exchange Lists
  • Carbohydrate Counting

The Plate Method

The Plate Method: Breakfast The Plate Method: Lunch/Dinner

The plate method is one way that meals can be planned. For breakfast, starch should take up half of the plate, and meat or non-meat protein may take up 1/4 of the plate if desired. In the lunch and dinner plate method, vegetables should take up half of the plate, starch should take up 1/4 of the plate and meat or non-meat protein should take up another 1/4 of the plate. One serving of fruit and a cup of low-fat milk may accompany your meal. Although the plate method is relatively easy, portion sizes are still critical. The amount of food on your plate should vary according to the number of calories that you need each day. A recommended plate size is about 9 inches across (9 inch diameter). Try measuring your plates!

Starchy foods include: bread, rolls, rice, pasta, potatoes, yams, corn, lima beans, and cereals.

Vegetables include: lettuce, tomatoes, mushrooms, spinach, green beans, and broccoli.

Meat and non-meat protein foods include: chicken, beef, pork, fish, cheese, beans, tofu, and soy products that resemble meat or chicken.

Fruits include: oranges, applesauce, grapes, and peaches. More information on the plate method available at www.platemethod.com

MyPlate

choosemyplate.gov

MyPlate is a tool used to show the type and the amount of food that you need daily. Recently modified to take into consideration the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the new MyPlate has a plate divided into four sections and a glass for diary.

By visiting the website www.MyPlate.gov, you can enter your age, gender, and physical activity level and learn the amount of foods from each group that you should be eating each day. This website also offers tips about the types of foods within each group that are particularly important to eat. For example, MyPlate suggests that you:

  • Make half your grains whole grains
  • Make have your plate fruits and vegetables
  • Switch to fat-free or low-fat milk
  • Find your balance between food and physical activity
  • Choose lower sodium foods
  • Drink water instead of sugary drinks

Exchange Lists

Adapted from the American Dietetic Association www.eatright.org and the American Diabetes Association www.diabetes.org

The Diabetic Exchange List is a program that was developed by the American Dietetics Association and the American Diabetes Association. Exchange Lists are used to balance the amount of calories, carbohydrate, protein and fat eaten each day. The Exchange List book can be ordered from the American Diabetes Association website. To use the Exchange Lists, individuals must first talk with their doctor or dietitian about their dietary requirements and the number of calories that they need each day. Then the doctor or dietitian can explain how many servings from each group are needed to meet these daily requirements. Individuals can then use the Exchange Lists to determine what foods and in what amounts they need to eat each day.

There are six different Exchange List groups including the starch groups, the fruit group, the milk group, the non-starchy vegetable group, the meat and meat substitutes group, and the fat group. Each serving of food within an exchange group has about the same amount of carbohydrate, protein, fat, and calories as the other foods in that group. For this reason, foods within an exchange list group can be substituted for each other, but foods on one group list cannot be substituted for foods on another group list. For example, you may substitute eating a small apple for a small orange, because they are both one serving in the fruit group. However, you could not substitute eating a small apple for one slice of bread, because these foods are in different groups.

The amount and type of exchanges recommended each day are based on individual calorie needs, weight goals and the amount of physical activity performed daily

Exchange List Groups

The following are the six groups of the Diabetic Exchange Lists:

Starches ListStarches List (Includes breads, cereals, grains and starchy vegetables)
One exchange from this group has 15 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of protein, and 0-1g of fat for a total of 80 calories per serving.

Examples of one serving from this group include 1 slice of bread, 1/3 cup cooked rice, or 1/3 cup cooked pasta.

Fruit ListFruit List
One exchange from this group has 15 grams of carbohydrate for a total of 60 calories per serving. Foods in the fruit list do not contain any protein or fat.

Examples of one serving from this group include 1 small apple, 17 small grapes, or ½ cup of orange juice.

Non-starchy Vegetable List Non-starchy Vegetable List
One exchange from this group has 2 grams of carbohydrates, and 5 grams of protein for a total of 25 calories per serving. Non-starchy vegetables contain no fat.

Examples of one serving from this group include 1/2 cup cooked green beans, 1 cup raw lettuce, or 1/2 cup vegetable juice.

Milk List Milk List
Items on the milk list are divided into fat-free/low-fat milk, reduced-fat milk, and whole milk categories.

One fat-free/low-fat milk exchange has 12 grams of carbohydrates, 8 grams of protein, and 0-3g of fat for a total of 90 calories per serving. One reduced-fat milk exchange has 12 grams of carbohydrates, 8 grams of protein, and 5g of fat for a total of 120 calories per serving. One whole milk exchange has 12 grams of carbohydrates, 8 grams of protein, and 8g of fat for a total of 150 calories per serving.

Examples of one serving from the fat-free/low-fat milk exchange are 1 cup of non-fat skim or 1% milk, or 2/3 cup (or 6 ounces) of fat-free plain yogurt.

Meat and Meat Substitutes ListMeat and Meat Substitutes List
Meats are divided into very lean, lean, medium-fat, and high-fat lists based on the amount of fat they contain. High-fat exchanges should be eaten a maximum of three times a week.

One very lean meat exchange has 7 grams of protein, and 0-1 gram of fat for a total of 35 calories per serving. Examples of one very lean meat exchange are 1 ounce white meat chicken or turkey with no skin.

One lean meat exchange has 7 grams of protein, and 3 grams of fat for a total of 55 calories per serving. Examples of one lean meat exchange are 1 ounce lean beef or lean pork.

One medium-fat meat exchange has 7 grams of protein, and 5 grams of fat for a total of 75 calories per serving. Examples of one medium-fat meat exchange are 1 ounce dark meat chicken with skin, 1 egg, or 1 ounce of fried fish.

One high-fat meat exchange has 7 grams of protein, and 8 grams of fat for a total of 100 calories per serving. Examples of one high-fat meat exchange are 1ounce pork sausage, 1 ounce American cheese, or 1ounce of a hot dog.

Whereas one exchange from this list only refers to a 1 ounce portion of meat or meat substitute, a serving refers to 2 - 3 ounce portions of the foods in this list. A serving is often used in referring to the foods in this group because most people eat more than one ounce of meat or meat substitutes at a time.

Fat List Fat List
One exchange from this group has 5 grams of fat for a total of 45 calories per serving. Most items in the fat exchange list do not contain protein or carbohydrate.

Examples of one serving from this group include one teaspoon oil, one teaspoon butter, one teaspoon mayonnaise, or one tablespoon salad dressing.

Carbohydrate Counting

The Carbohydrate Counting method is similar to the Exchange List method in that they both use food groups. However, when you use Carbohydrate Counting, you keep track or "count" servings equal to 15 grams or 1 unit of carbohydrate The food groups that have carbohydrate and are counted are:

  • The Starch and Starchy Vegetables Group
  • The Fruit Group
  • The Milk Group

One serving from any of these three groups would count as one carbohydrate unit. For example if you ate two pieces of buttered toast and an 8 ounce glass of milk for breakfast, you would count that breakfast as having three carbohydrate units. Carbohydrate Counting differs from the Exchange List in that the amount of protein and fats in foods is not taken into consideration. So the butter on the toast consumed at breakfast would not be counted, because butter is in the fat group and does not contain carbohydrate.

Some examples of one carbohydrate unit would be:

  • Starch and Starchy Vegetables Group – 1 slice of bread, 1/3 cup of cooked rice or pasta, 1/2 of a small bagel
  • Milk Group – 1 cup milk, 2/3 cup fat-free-yogurt, 3/4 cup low-fat yogurt
  • Fruit Group – 1 small piece of fruit, 3/4 cup berries, 1/2 cup apple juice

If you are planning to use the Carbohydrate Counting method, you and your health care provider should decide how many servings of carbohydrate you should consume each day and at each meal for optimal health.

A basic carbohydrate counting book can be purchased on the American Dietetic Association's website or on the American Diabetes Association website.

Back to: General Overview of Diabetes and Food

This document is a source of information only, and is not medical advice.