QUESTION: I work in a grocery store, and my schedule doesn’t permit me to eat at the same time every day. I’m also finding it difficult to eat healthfully at work, and my diabetes control is suffering as a result. I do have the ability to heat and eat frozen meals at work, however, and I’m wondering if you can recommend any such meals that would be good for my health? Any suggestions would be appreciated.
ANSWER: Spacing your meals and snacks evenly throughout the day will go a long way toward helping you maintain a healthy blood glucose level. I recommend eating a meal or snack at least every four to six hours. If your work breaks vary, I recommend a meal replacement drink or snack that you can consume easily and quickly. Look for a snack that contains at least 7 grams of protein and approximately 15 grams of carbohydrate. Combining protein with sources of high-quality carbohydrate, such as whole grains, legumes, and fiber, will help control your blood glucose levels.
Here are a few suggestions for quick and healthy snacks: A no-added-sugar peanut butter sandwich on whole-grain bread; 1/4 cup of nuts with one or two tablespoons of nuts with dried fruit; plain, nonfat, or 1% Greek yogurt (which is significantly higher in protein than regular yogurt). Aim for yogurts that have fewer than 20 grams of total carbohydrate per serving by avoiding yogurt with added sugar. You may want to add half a piece of fresh fruit or a handful of berries to a plain yogurt instead.
For a meal replacement drink or filling snack beverage, I recommend a high-protein, low-carbohydrate drink such as Boost Glucose Control, available in most supermarkets and pharmacies. Each 8-ounce serving contains 16 grams of protein, 16 grams of carbohydrate, 3 grams of fiber, and 190 calories.
For frozen meals, the Nutrition Facts panel on the label is a good place to start. I recommend meals with approximately 45-60 grams of carbohydrate (or 30-45 grams if you’re trying to lose weight), at least 15 grams of protein, and at least 3 grams of saturated fat. A balanced meal will contain vegetables, lean protein, and some carbohydrate.
Some healthy frozen entrees include Healthy Choice’s Cafe Steamers (try Grilled Chicken and Pesto with Vegetables or Balsamic Garlic Chicken), Kashi’s Steamers Meals (Roasted Garlic Chicken Farfalle), or Amy’s Light in Sodium Vegetable Lasagna. Keep a bag of non-starchy frozen vegetables handy to add to your meals. Try to avoid frozen dinners with breaded foods, fried foods, cream sauces, and gravies.
Better yet (and less expensive), use leftovers from dinner to make your own frozen meals to keep in the freezer at work and heat up in the microwave. Make at least half your plate vegetables, a quarter of it lean protein (approximately 3-4 ounces), and the rest (about a cup) starch.
You may find it helpful to speak to your supervisor and explain that you need to eat every few hours for health reasons-you don’t necessarily have to reveal that you have diabetes. You can even get a note from your doctor that describes your requirements without giving the specifics of your medical condition.
If you continue to have trouble controlling your blood glucose level, I recommend you see your doctor to determine if you may need to add a medicine to your diabetes treatment plan or if a medicine you’re currently taking needs to be adjusted. If you haven’t already, I also highly recommend that you see a registered dietitian. A dietitian will work with you to figure out what eating plan best fits your lifestyle. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has a tool on their Web site, www.eatright.org, to help you locate a dietitian in your area.
References: Laura Bady, RD, CD, Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist, BellmedHealth, LLC, Bellevue, Washington / Diabetes Self Management Magazine January/February 2013