Since March is National Nutrition Month, it is the perfect time to think about the role nutrition plays in diabetes management! As diabetes educators, we are very aware of the impact nutrition has on diabetes management.
One of the first things that many patients will request from a diabetes educator is a “meal plan” to show them exactly what to eat and when to eat it. Although this can be a valid request in some situations, it is usually more beneficial to give patients the tools needed to create their own, individualized diabetes meal plans. Empowering patients to develop their own meal plans will make them more engaged in their diabetes management.
Meal planning can be a very easy task for some people. However, many people will struggle with the idea and need a lot of support to start meal planning. As diabetes educators, it is helpful to have several meal planning strategies to use with patients. The following strategies can be useful tools when teaching patients how to meal plan:
- Identify why meal plans are so important!
- Clearly identifying why meal planning and consistent eating are important for people with diabetes is the first step. Explaining the negative effects of skipping meals and inconsistent eating can quickly increase a patient’s motivation to commit to meal planning.
- Talk about how eating would change/improve if all meals were planned out in advance. Discuss the patient’s thoughts on why personal eating habits slip. The answer will generally include not planning ahead in some way. Patients will often come up with the idea of meal planning on their own.
- Start small!
- A monthly meal plan is likely overwhelming for most patients. Starting with a few days at a time can be a great way to ease into meal planning. It can even be as simple as sitting down each night to plan meals and snacks for the next day.
- It can also be helpful to start with planning the most difficult meal of the day. If a patient identifies that they never eat breakfast, their first goal could be to plan a breakfast meal for each day in the next week. This approach will feel less overwhelming.
- Online meal planning tools and other resources can be very helpful!
- There are several online tools that can help patients with meal planning. Some websites have free premade meal plans that patients can use as a template to create their own.
- The following websites can be helpful for meal planning:
- Consistency is key!
- Consistency is vital in so many areas of diabetes management. Once patients identify what method of meal planning/prep works for them, it is important that we encourage them to stick with it! One great way to save time is to repeat meal plans throughout the months or years. Make sure patients don’t feel like they have to create a brand new plan for each week when they already have several created from past weeks.
These are just a few tips about how to help patients with meal planning! There are so many other amazing resources available. Meal planning is such a powerful component of diabetes management. It is so rewarding to provide patients with tools such as meal planning to help them reach their optimal level of health!