Meal Planning Tips for Managing Diabetes

By Beth Scholer, CC, CDM, CFPP

Elders can live active and happy lives if their diabetes is well controlled. Healthful eating is a simple and effective way to manage diabetes and reduce health complications often associated with diabetes.

Meal Planning Tips

The key to managing diabetes in elders is keeping the blood sugar steady throughout the day.  Eating regular meals and snacks is one simple way. Below are other tips to help elders control glucose levels.

  • Eat meals and snacks at regular times each day, and eat the same amount of carbohydrate at each meal.
  • Avoid skipping meals. If it is impossible to eat a full meal, have a satisfying snack.
  • Limit saturated fat and avoid trans fat in the diet.
  • Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables; variety will keep meals interesting and provide all needed nutrients.
  • Include a lean protein source at each meal or snack.
  • Watch sodium intake, the recommended limit is 1500 mg/day or about 1/2 tsp. for those with diabetes.

 Nutrition as Therapy

Monitoring carbohydrate intake is the foundation for diabetes care. There are several meal planning options, carbohydrate counting or estimating, Exchanges lists and other methods for monitoring carbs. Carb counting is a simple and popular method because of its flexibility. Whichever the favored method, patients, their families or caregivers can use this information to make sensible food choices.

Counting Carbs: Simple and Effective

Carb counting is a preferred meal planning method because it offers more flexibility than other methods. Each “carb choice” is equal to about 15 grams of carbohydrates. Multiple carb choices are allowed at meals and throughout the day. The number of carb choices can be determined from any food using nutrition labels or data. Sugar is allowed with carb choices, which discourages patients from “sneaking” sweets or candy.

Food Sources of Carbohydrates

Many foods contain carbohydrates that raise blood glucose. This list includes bread, cereal, pasta and starchy foods, sweets, desserts and regular soda. We often forget about fruit and dairy foods because they are sources of natural sugars. Condiments, salad dressings and jam also contain carbs.

Blood Sugar and Carbohydrates

Shortly after a person eats a meal or snack, the digestive system converts most digestible carbohydrates into glucose. The body’s cells use glucose as a universal energy source. The hormone insulin signals cells to absorb glucose for energy or storage. Older people typically have Type 2 diabetes, where the body doesn’t make enough insulin or cannot utilize it properly.

Why Are Elders at Risk?

Diabetes affects roughly 20% of people over the age of 65 in the United States. While another 20-25% fit criteria for impaired glucose tolerance putting those elders at high risk for developing diabetes. Many factors contribute to this increased occurrence, namely physical inactivity, obesity, poor nutrition, diseases of the liver or kidneys and other chronic illness that are common in older adults. Lifestyle factors like diet and exercise can make the difference in glycemic control, even if insulin is required, and can reduce risk for developing other health complications.

Healthy lifestyle choices along with a sensible diet are a sure way for elders to maintain their vitality and control diabetes.

Chef Beth Scholer is certified by the American Culinary Federation and Association of Nutrition and Foodservice Professionals. She is a food scientist, culinary instructor, author and founder of Caregivers Kitchen. She can be reached at


Chapman-Novakofski, K. (2012) Geriatric Nutrition: Guidelines for Working with Older Adults (4th Ed) Clarksville, MD. Wolf Rinke Associates.

Scholer, B. (2015) Culinary Skills for Caregivers. Lakewood, CA. Avid Readers Publishing Group.

Wallace, Jeffery. “Management of Diabetes in the Elderly”. Clinical Diabetes. Vol. 17. No. 1 (1999): 13 page. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.