Managing Diabetes: Healthy Eating on a Budget

By admin
November 19, 2014

By Rebecca Turner, MS, RD, CSSD, LD

Receiving a diabetes diagnosis or being told you are pre-diabetic (at high risk of developing diabetes) can be an overwhelming experience. You are probably wondering what this will mean for your life and your lifestyle. First, take a deep breath. It is very important to take diabetes seriously, but there is a lot you can do to keep yourself healthy and manage this disease without missing out on life as you knew it.

The food we eat is converted into glucose, a kind of sugar that our bodies use for energy. Normally, our bodies produce adequate amounts of insulin to escort the glucose from the blood and turn it into energy. However, when a person has diabetes, either the body doesn’t make enough insulin or doesn’t use the insulin properly. Either way, the level of glucose in the blood stays abnormally high and sets the stage for many serious and potentially life-threatening complications.

A diabetic diet simply translates into eating a variety of nutritious foods in moderate amounts and sticking to regular mealtimes to regulate blood sugar. It is not recommended for people with diabetes to follow a restrictive diet, but instead to focus on a healthy-eating plan that’s rich in nutrients, low in fat and calories, with emphasis on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy foods. In fact, if everyone followed the same diet prescribed for people with diabetes, there would be a lot less type 2 diabetics.

It is no secret that most of us are watching our budgets these days, and it is easy to imagine that adding a specialized diet to the mix could cause even more financial strain. The good news is, you can keep your grocery bill low and still eat a nutritious diabetic diet. Cheap eats aren’t necessarily unhealthy. That’s something we all can get excited about.

Rethink the drinks you purchase. A primary concern for diabetics is to keep blood sugar stable without sudden spikes or crashes. Sugar sweetened beverages such as sweet tea, sodas, juices, and lemonades make managing blood sugar even more difficult because they are a concentrated source of sugar without additional nutritional value. In other words, regardless of the sale price on these items, it is not worth the cost. The dollars saved can be put to good use for the purchase of other nutritious whole foods.

Dietitian’s Tip: Invest in a stainless steel water bottle and focus on staying well-hydrated with water throughout the day. Enjoy a glass of low-fat milk with meals, and limit 100% juice to four ounces at a time. Sodas should be a rare exception on occasion, never a standard purchase at the grocery store.

Plan ahead. A coach never takes to the field without a winning strategy. No one looking to eat healthier and save money should enter a supermarket without a grocery list. For diabetics, eating in regular intervals throughout the day (every 3-4 hours) is ideal to help manage blood sugar. Planning ahead and having nutritious meal and snack options on hand makes life less stressful. Plus, avoiding the random impulse purchases at the market can help keep your food costs down.

Dietitian’s Tip: Create three to four menus that include breakfast, lunch, and snack options that you can cycle through, leaving dinner selections to change with each rotation for variety. Check out the American Diabetes Association website at, for diabetes friendly menu planning tools.

Purchase only what you need. Cut food costs by eating more meals at home and by making sure they feature some of the healthiest foods from the supermarket – foods like whole grains, vegetables, beans and low-fat milk, cheese, yogurts. But remember, one thing most whole foods have in common is that they are perishable. Fresh foods left uneaten or forgotten can quickly become fodder for the garbage can – meaning your food dollars are tossed out as well. It’s easy to overestimate our needs and forget to factor in eating out. Don’t be afraid of an empty cupboard at the end of the week! Rejoice that you haven’t wasted any food or money!

Dietitian’s Tip: Buy enough fresh fruits, vegetables, and dairy foods for three to five days. That means selecting only a few apples or bananas, limiting your purchase to only five yogurts for a weekday snack, and sticking to small bags or bunches of carrots, spinach, and broccoli for simple salads.

Incorporating these tips into your weekly routine will prove that it’s possible to eat healthy – even if your grocery budget is tight. If you are newly diagnosed, pre-diabetic, or are just overwhelmed about how to control your diabetes through diet, reach out to a registered dietitian or diabetes management program. Look for nutrition workshops that your insurance will cover. A registered dietitian or diabetes educator can help you put together a diet based on your health goals, tastes and lifestyle, and can provide valuable information on how to change your eating habits to better manage your diabetes.

dig deeper: Check out Holly Clegg’s trim&TERRIFIC Diabetic Cooking for healthy recipes that will help you keep your blood sugar under control while enjoying taste tempting treats, sides and entrees.

Delicious Diabetic Recipes from Holly’s Kitchen

Following a diabetes-friendly diet doesn’t mean you have to miss out on healthy nutrition or great taste. Try the following recipes from Holly Clegg’s trim&TERRIFIC Diabetic Cooking.

Peanut Butter Cookies

30 servings/serving size: 1 cookie


1 cup crunchy peanut butter

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 cup chopped peanuts


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. 2. In large bowl, combine peanut butter, sugar, egg, and baking soda until well blended. Stir in peanuts. 3. Place dough by teaspoonfuls on nonstick baking sheet and press down with a fork to form ridges. Bake 12 – 14 minutes or until lightly browned.

Food Facts Diabetic Exchanges: 1/2 Carbohydrate;1 Fat; Calories 76; Calories from Fat 45; Total Fat 5 g; Saturated Fat 1 g; Cholesterol 7 mg; Sodium 57 mg; Total Carbohydrate 6 g; Dietary Fiber 1 g; Sugars 4 g; Protein 2 g.

Southwestern Lasagna

10 servings/serving size: 1 piece


1 pound 95% lean ground sirloin

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 (16-ounce) jar salsa

1 1/4 cups enchilada sauce

Salt and pepper to taste (optional)

1 cup fat-free cottage cheese

1 large egg white, beaten

6 (6-inch) flour tortillas, cut into thirds

1 cup shredded reduced-fat Monterey Jack cheese


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 2. In large nonstick skillet coated with nonstick cooking spray, brown beef and garlic over medium heat about 8 minutes or until meat is done. Drain excess fat. Add salsa, enchilada sauce, and salt and pepper (if using). Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. 3. In small bowl, combine the cottage cheese and egg white. Coat a13x9x2-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. 4. Spread thin layer of meat sauce in the dish. Layer with half the tortillas, all of the cottage cheese mixture, half the remaining meat mixture, and half the cheese. Repeat layers, omitting the cottage cheese layer and ending with the meat sauce. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and bake for 25–30 minutes or until bubbly. Let stand for 5 minutes before cutting.

Food Facts Diabetic Exchanges: 1 Starch; 2 Lean Meat; Calories 193; Calories from fat (%) 51; Fat (g) 6; Saturated Fat (g) 2; Cholesterol (mg) 32; Sodium (mg) 597; Carbohydrate (g) 17; Dietary Fiber (g) 1; Sugars (g) 4; Protein (g) 18.

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