With the rising cost of living and inflation, many people are looking for ways to save on groceries by planning meals ahead of their typical shop. Whether you have diabetes or not, meal planning can be easy and customizable, and it doesn't have to break the bank. Focus on including nutrient-dense starches, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, lean meats and plant-based proteins that are prepared with little-to-no added sugars, and try to limit sodium and saturated fats to support a healthy heart. Taking advantage of items that are on sale and choosing canned or frozen ingredients can also help your dollar go further.
Here we've pulled together some affordable dinner ideas that are great ways to meet your nutritional needs, even on busy nights. Each suggested meal includes 2 to 3 servings of carbs (about 30 to 45 grams of carbohydrates) per serving with a whole grain, a lean protein and plenty of vegetables to help keep your blood sugar levels in check. Note that you may need more carbohydrates than suggested depending on your blood sugar goals. This seven-day dinner plan proves that you can eat deliciously on a budget when you have diabetes.
With lean meat (chicken breast), veggies and whole grains, this delicious chunky soup provides all you need for a balanced meal. This recipe uses barley instead of noodles and includes parsnips, carrots and onions for additional fiber, providing close to 10 grams per 2-cup serving. Don't have parsnips? Substitute them with sweet potatoes and celery for a similar texture.
Tip: This recipe doesn't necessarily require an Instant Pot. You can also use a multicooker or pressure cooker.
Total carbohydrates (2 cups): 43 grams, or 3 carb servings
Fiber: 10 grams
Carolyn A. Hodges, R.D.
Frozen edamame is a great, affordable plant-based protein to have as a staple in your freezer. You can create a quick and convenient dinner with these crunchy baby soybeans by stir-frying them with a veggie slaw and drizzling the ingredients with a reduced- or low-sodium teriyaki sauce for added flavor. Serve the entree with a side of brown rice pilaf to make it a complete meal that will help keep your blood sugar levels steady.
Tip: The recipe calls for prepackaged slaw, but you can buy fresh veggies and chop them up yourself.
Total carbohydrates (2 cups entree & 1/3 cup brown rice pilaf): 44 grams, or 3 carb servings
Fiber: 12 grams
Eating fish at least twice a week is a staple in many healthy eating patterns, whether you have diabetes or not. Eating fish is also a great way to get healthy fats and protein that the body needs to function at its best. Our Herby Mediterranean Fish with Wilted Greens & Mushrooms is a perfect entree for a weeknight dinner. Use fresh or frozen cod, sole, tilapia or other fatty fish that you can find on sale. Add the Mediterranean herb mix (a blend of dried oregano, thyme, mint, sage and rosemary) for a sodium-free flavor boost. Serve it with kale or another leafy green, and complete the meal with a side of carbs, like our Roasted Sweet Potatoes.
Total carbohydrates (1 piece fish, ½ cup leafy vegetables & ½ cup sweet potatoes): 28 grams, or 2 carb servings
Fiber: 5 grams
Day 4: Tofu Tacos
Looking to spice up your dinner? Not only are tofu tacos easy to prep, the ingredients included are also very affordable. This recipe calls for canned black beans, which deliver added protein and fiber—just make sure to rinse the beans well to help lower the sodium content. Top the tacos up with shredded cabbage, fresh pico de gallo and a hint of guacamole to keep the dish entirely plant-based, or add crumbled queso fresco, shredded Parmesan or Cheddar for vegetarians or omnivores.
Total carbohydrates: (2 tacos): 42 grams, or 3 carb servings
Fiber: 10 grams
Buying meat when it is on sale is a great way to save a few dollars here and there (and those savings can add up over time). Some grocery stores now offer soon-to-expire meats at slashed prices, and it is a perfect time to buy them, especially if you plan to use them for dinner on the same day. If you happen to come across lean ground beef on sale, you can snag a pack or two and create this mouthwatering stuffed sloppy Joe recipe.
Yes, you read it right—sloppy Joes don't necessarily need to be served on a bun. Mound the ingredients—ground beef and black beans mixed with spices—into a sweet potato for added fiber, beta carotene and other essential nutrients. The combination of savory proteins and sweet potato offers a satisfying balance of flavors. Make sure to rinse the canned black beans before cooking to help lower the sodium content of your meal.
Total carbohydrates (1 filled half potato): 41 grams, or 3 carb servings
Fiber: 8 grams
Day 6: BBQ Chicken Bowls
The ready-to-eat whole chicken (such as a rotisserie chicken) at the grocery store can be a helpful ingredient for nights when you have little time to prep for dinner. But if you're able, try making your own shredded chicken using boneless, skinless chicken thighs to help you customize the flavors and control the sodium content (chicken thighs are usually less expensive than chicken breasts, too). Either way, toss the shredded chicken with pinto beans for extra protein and corn kernels and coleslaw for extra fiber and color. You can also substitute the potatoes with sweet potatoes, if desired.
Total carbohydrates (1 bowl): 54 grams, or 3.5 carb servings
Fiber: 12 grams
Day 7: Tuna-Zucchini Pasta
Who says canned tuna is only for tuna sandwiches and melts? You can use this affordable fish to create a variety of nutritious entrees, including this veggie-packed pasta. This meal is ready in under 30 minutes and uses affordable ingredients like whole-grain pasta, tomatoes and zucchini alongside the canned fish. Don't have zucchini? You can replace it with carrots or spinach for a vibrant-looking dish. Add a side of greens, like our Mixed Lettuce Salad with your favorite vinaigrette, for a balanced and filling meal.
Total carbohydrates (1½ cups pasta & 1 cup salad): 37.5 grams, or 2.5 carb servings
Fiber: 6 grams