The Diabetes Plate Method

When I first became an RD, I worked with adults and children newly diagnosed with diabetes in a hospital setting. I’d teach them the diabetes exchange system, which often would leave them confused; if I returned to review the materials, usually they already had been discharged from the hospital. Fast-forward 20 years later, and now I use the simpler Diabetes Plate Method from the American Diabetes Association. Here’s a rundown of the five steps in this method.

The Method
Advise clients to start with a plate about 9 inches in diameter. If they need more calories than average, they should use an 11- or 12-inch plate; those with a smaller calorie budget should use a smaller plate with an 8-inch diameter.

Then, they should imagine their plate divided into three parts, with one half and two quarters, and follow five steps.

Step 1: Fill half the plate with nonstarchy vegetables.
Nonstarchy vegetables include cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, kale, beets, Brussels sprouts, summer squashes such as zucchini, cucumbers, and tomatoes. They’re full of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals; with so few calories and carbs, this is a section of the plate clients can enjoy more of.

Step 2: Fill one of the small sections (one-quarter) of the plate with lean protein.
Lean protein foods include lean meat, fish, eggs, soy products, legumes, and nuts. Legumes can count as a protein or carb on the plate. If clients choose a high-protein carb such as legumes, they should opt for a lower-carb vegetable, such as zucchini noodles, to add to the quarter of the plate reserved for carbohydrate foods. That said, while high-carb plant-based proteins do provide more carbs than animal proteins, they’re also generally high in fiber, which is beneficial for blood glucose management.

Step 3: Fill the other small section (one-quarter) of the plate with carbohydrate foods.
Carbohydrate foods include grains, starchy vegetables, fruits, and milk and yogurt. Clients should choose whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, sorghum, or millet. Starchy vegetables include acorn squash, butternut squash, corn, green peas, parsnips, plantain, potato, and pumpkin. Choose low-fat or nonfat milk and yogurt whenever possible.

Step 4: To complete the meal, add water or another very low–calorie or zero-calorie drink.
Several zero-calorie beverage options include water, diet soda, diet tea, plain hot coffee and tea (without cream or sugar), plain iced tea or iced coffee, and seltzer.

Step 5: Choose healthful fats in small amounts.
Clients should use plant-based oils such as olive or canola oil for cooking or salad dressings. For salads, they can add healthful fats such as nuts, seeds, or avocado.

Sample Plates
Here are a few sample plates constructed using the Diabetes Plate Method.


Photo courtesy of the American Diabetes Association.

Mushroom and Leek Frittata with one slice of whole wheat toast and 1 teaspoon trans fat–free margarine


Photo courtesy of the American Diabetes Association.

Turkey, Walnut, and Pomegranate Salad with pomegranate vinaigrette, one medium whole wheat dinner roll, and 1 teaspoon trans fat–free margarine.


Photo courtesy of the American Diabetes Association.

Sheet Pan Chicken With Artichokes and Onions with mashed red potatoes and mushroom soup.

— Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, FAND is the founder of Toby Amidor Nutrition and a Wall Street Journal best-selling author. Her cookbooks include The Create-Your-Plate Diabetes Cookbook published by the American Diabetes Association in March 2020 and her upcoming The Best 3-Ingredient Cookbook (Robert Rose Books, October 2020) and The Diabetes Meal Prep Cookbook (American Diabetes Association, March 2021). Toby is the nutrition expert for FoodNetwork.com and founding contributor for their Healthy Eats blog and is also a regular contributor to U.S. News Eat + Run and other national outlets.

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