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Diabetes: Using a Plate Format to Plan Meals

Diabetes: Using a Plate Format to Plan Meals


A plate format can be used to help you manage how you eat. It helps you see how much space each food should take on a plate.

  • Using a plate format will help you spread carbohydrate throughout the day, which will help keep your blood sugar level from going way up and way down.
  • A plate format is an easy and simple way to plan meals.
  • It can be used along with other meal-planning methods.

How to use a plate format

A plate format is so simple that you can start using it right away. It lets you see how much space each food should take up on your plate.

  • Post a copy of a sample plate format on your refrigerator. Refer to it until you know how much space different foods should take up on your plate. Make sure that you are using a 9-inch plate.
  • Picture the food on your plate. Learn how much space each food needs on your plate, and try to picture that amount when you are in different situations, such as eating out or attending an event.
  • Practice. Use a copy of the sample plate format to plan a day's meals and snacks. If you need help, talk with your certified diabetes educator or a registered dietitian.
  • Keep a record. Use a plate format for a week, and keep track of your meals and snacks. You can make copies of the sample for each day. If you have questions about using a plate format, talk with your diabetes educator or registered dietitian.
  • If you have diabetes, check your blood sugar before and 1 to 2 hours after you eat. Then write the results on your food record. Doing this will help you see how foods affect your body.

Use a plate that measures 9 inches across. Draw an imaginary line through the center of your plate, and then divide one of the halves into quarters. You can use your hand to judge portion sizes. Follow these guidelines for lunch and dinner:

  • Half the plate is non-starchy vegetables. This is about the size of your closed fist, although you can go back for seconds on these foods. Examples are broccoli, green beans, carrots, mushrooms, tomatoes, cauliflower, spinach, peppers, and salad greens.
  • One-fourth of the plate is a bread, starch, or grain. This is about the size of half a closed fist. Examples are bread, rolls, rice, crackers, cooked grains, cereal, tortillas, and starchy vegetables like potatoes, corn, winter squash, beans, peas, and lentils.
  • One-fourth is lean protein. This is about the size of a deck of cards. Examples are beef, chicken, turkey, pork, fish, tofu, and eggs. (For the plate format, beans should be counted as a starch, not as a protein.)
  • Add a small piece of fruit. A small piece of fresh fruit is about the size of a tennis ball. Or choose ½ cup of frozen, cooked, or canned fruit. You could also have a small handful of dried fruit or ½ cup (4 ounces) of 100% fruit juice.
  • Enjoy a cup (8 ounces) of low-fat or fat-free milk. If you don't drink milk, you could substitute with 6 ounces of no-sugar-added yogurt, another serving of fruit, or a small dinner roll.

For breakfast, the concept is similar. One-fourth of the plate is a bread, starch, or grain. One-fourth of the plate is protein. The breakfast plate also includes a cup (8 ounces) of low-fat or fat-free milk and one small piece of fruit.

A plate format is easy to learn. It also can be used along with other methods, such as carbohydrate counting for people who have diabetes.


Current as of: May 9, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Elizabeth T. Russo MD - Internal Medicine
Rhonda O'Brien MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator
Colleen O'Connor PhD, RD - Registered Dietitian

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