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Adding variety to your meal plan

healthy food vegetable skewer kabob
headshot of liz wilson elizabeth wilson in dark blue shirt with polka dots smiling

About the author

Elizabeth ‘Liz’ Wilson is a registered dietitian with NMC Health. Her areas of focus are in diabetes education. You can read her bio and more about her specialties here

As a dietitian, I can discuss food ideas all day long.  But as a busy person, sometimes I feel like I’m in a rut with my meals, and can find myself eating the same foods day after day.  Have you ever felt this way?  If you think about what you eat during a given week, do you find yourself choosing the same few foods over and over? 

There are no specifics about how many diverse foods a person should eat each day or week, but it is recommended to eat a wide variety of foods.  In fact, these are some of the latest healthy eating recommendations from the USDA:  “It’s important to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods, and dairy.  A healthy eating routine can help boost your health today and in the years to come.” 

Healthy eating patterns

I should start by reviewing a healthy eating pattern for diabetes management. We commonly review both carbohydrate counting and the Diabetes Plate Method with our patients. These are both useful tools for blood sugar management and will allow for the meal variety we’re searching for. Basic carbohydrate counting includes counting the number of grams of total carbohydrate in a meal.

The goal of the Diabetes Plate Method is to eat a variety of healthy foods in the right portion sizes: start by grabbing a 9-inch plate and filling 50% of your plate with non-starchy vegetables, 25% of your plate with healthy carbohydrates, and the last 25% section should be filled with lean protein.

waitress carrying two bowls of salad with leafy greens and tomatoes and mixed veggies on top as a healthy food option

So why add variety?

Within each food group, not all foods have the same combination of nutrients. Adequate intake of several nutrients can be a health concern for both adults and children. These nutrients can include potassium, dietary fiber, calcium, and vitamin D. 

By including a greater variety of foods within each food group over time should provide a balance of nutrients to meet your individual needs. Add in colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains or dairy products. Also, eating the same foods over and over can become boring and uninteresting.  

How to boost variety?

Try new recipes. Include a new recipe each week. One of my favorite go to recipe sites is from the American Diabetes Association.  

Try new cooking methods.  Some healthy cooking methods I recommend include baking, grilling, poaching, roasting, steaming, pressure cooked (Instant pot) and air frying. I can share that one of my family’s favorite ways to eat vegetables is by roasting them.  I make roasted vegetables weekly, and add variety by changing up the blend of vegetables. Click here for an example to get you started.

Try new vegetables & fruits. Vegetables & fruits contain fiber which is important to keep you full, keeps digestion regular, and has been linked to reducing the risk and effects of several diseases, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and some cancers. Have you ever tried kale?  What about golden kiwi (my family’s new favorite). Vary your colors, as each color contains different health benefits.  

Try new grains/starches. Have you ever tried quinoa? What about pasta made from chickpeas? These are both great high fiber starch options that you can sub for your regular pasta or rice. You could also consider trying roasted sweet potatoes instead of traditional white potatoes. 

Try new protein with vegetarian options. Varying your protein food choices can provide your body with a range of nutrients designed to keep your body functioning at its best. As part of a heart healthy diet, the American Diabetes Association recommends consuming fish (salmon, tuna, herring, sardines, and mackerel) twice per week. You could also go “meat free” once a week and try a new vegetarian protein source, like beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, or edamame.

For more ideas, be sure and attend our upcoming virtual diabetes support group meeting on Thursday, September 9th at 11am.  

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