Living with diabetes requires mindful decisions about diet to manage blood sugar levels effectively. This challenge intensifies for older adults, who may face additional health concerns. Thankfully, a tailored meal plan can address a range of common diabetic conditions for improved quality of life.

In this article, The New Jewish Home’s clinical dieticians explore the importance of meal planning, offering three practical tips, a guide to diabetic-friendly foods, and helpful resources available in NYC.

What is a meal plan?

A meal plan is an outline or program of what you’ll eat at every meal over a set period of time, usually a week. It can help you address nutritional needs, deficiencies, and sensitivities — all with the goal of improving or maintaining health. It also includes portion sizes and timing, serving as a personalized blueprint that simplifies decision-making and ensures a balanced intake of foods.

Why is a meal plan important for people with diabetes?

For individuals with diabetes, especially older adults, establishing a meal plan is not just about food; it creates a foundation for a healthier life. A thoughtful strategy goes beyond simple dietary preferences — it is integral to managing the disease effectively and can help with:

  • Blood sugar control
  • Weight management
  • Nutritional balance
  • Cardiovascular health

Meal Planning for Older Adults and Seniors with Diabetes (3 Easy Tips)

1. Focus on whole foods

Whole foods are minimally processed and free from additives or other artificial substances. Incorporating a variety of fruits, colorful vegetables, lean proteins, and fiber can provide older adults with diabetes the energy and nutrients needed for better health.

2. The plate method

The plate method is an easy way to build balanced, portion-controlled meals. Begin with a plate approximately nine inches across.

  1. Fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables like carrots, tomatoes, or mushrooms.
  2. One-quarter of the plate gets a lean protein — like grilled chicken, tempeh, or shrimp.
  3. The last quarter is for carbohydrates — preferably whole grains like bulgur, brown rice, or quinoa, or a starchy vegetable like butternut squash.

3. Minimize processed carbohydrates

Processed carbohydrates, found in items like white bread, pastries, and sugary snacks, can cause rapid increases in blood sugar levels. Older adults with diabetes should limit these foods, opting for fiber-rich options such as whole grains, legumes, and vegetables.

Diabetic-Friendly Food List

Eating a variety of foods from all groups is key to a balanced diet that manages blood sugar levels. Here are some diabetes-friendly options:


When possible, choose non-starchy varieties such as leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, and other colorful options like bell peppers and eggplant. These nutrient-dense powerhouses are packed with vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber, helping to regulate blood sugar levels.


Focusing on fruits with a lower glycemic index is essential as they cause slower rises in blood sugar and can reduce the risk of glucose spikes. Berries, stone fruits, and grocery list staples like apples and pears are excellent choices. Remember: Even with low-glycemic-index fruits, portion control is crucial here due to their natural sugar content.


Proteins are beneficial as they have minimal impact on blood sugar levels and promote feeling full, which can prevent overeating. White meats like poultry, fatty fish, beans, and plant-based options such as tofu are all excellent sources, along with eggs and low-fat dairy products.

Whole grains and starches

Quinoa, brown rice, barley, and oats are better options than processed grains because they contain more fiber, helping to slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. Starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes, butternut squash, and legumes can also be included.

Need help planning dishes that incorporate some of the ingredients above? Check out our menu of healthy meal ideas for older adults.

Meal Planning Resources in NYC for Older Adults

In New York City, several programs and services are designed to support the nutritional needs of older adults with diabetes — providing practical assistance, from access to healthy foods to nutrition education.

Older adult centers

NYC’s older adult centers (OACs) are more than just social gathering spots; they’re hubs for nutritional support and education. Many OACs offer lunch programs with diabetes-friendly meals, often host relevant workshops and seminars, and can even help you coordinate transportation. Learn more about NYC’s OACs.

Senior Farmers’ Market nutrition program

The Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) is a wonderful initiative for low-income older adults with diabetes. It provides coupons for fresh, locally grown fruits, vegetables, and herbs at farmers’ markets, farm stands, and mobile markets across the city.

Diabetes management program

The New Jewish Home offers medical and social programs that empower healthy living and independence, including specialized services for older adults with diabetes. Clinical dieticians from our adult daycare diabetes management program provide education, health monitoring, counseling on meal planning, and peer support in a stimulating social environment.

For those who would prefer our specialists come to them, The New Jewish Home’s Solutions at Home® includes professionally trained and licensed home health aides who can assist with diabetic-friendly grocery shopping, meal planning, and preparation. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you live your best life.