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Making a list and checking it twice can help diabetics save carbs and save money. The key to successful shopping is planning an entire week of meals and making sure you always have ingredients on hand for a fast, nutritious meal.

Eating Right for Diabetes Doesn't Have to Bust Your Budget

If you're on a budget, you need to conserve your food dollars by making a list before you go grocery shopping. And if you're a diabetic, you need to plan your carbohydrate choices before you buy that sweet treat that busts your carbohydrate budget on a whim at the supermarket.

It's the American Diabetes Diet or "let's just eat less" approach for which planning makes a huge difference in cost. Here's how to save money if you include a variety of foods in your diabetes diet.

  • Make a list of everything you plan to eat for 21 meals—and snacks, if you eat snacks. If you eat out, plan to eat out, knowing ahead of time what you want to eat, and leave those meals off your shopping list.
  • Then list the ingredients you need for those meals. Draw a line through what you have on hand and plan to buy the rest.
  • Just say no to artificially sweetened foods. Desserts flavored with artificial sweeteners cost more—and because they are permissible on many diabetes diets, diabetics eat more. Ideally, your diabetic dessert should be something so delectable that you savor the flavor and one piece is enough. But if you are going to eat desserts, eat the real thing, reducing other carbohydrates at the same meal and testing your blood sugar levels after your meal so you can do what you need to do to keep them in control.
  • Just say yes to beans and greens. Even if you are not following a vegan diet, beans (such as red beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, and pinto beans) and greens (such as kale, collards, and spinach).  They'll save you money, and they can add variety to your diet. Variety in your diet makes you want to eat more, and that's OK if it's beans and greens.
  • When choosing among brands, look for the price per pound or ounce (or 100 grams). The "house brand" is usually less expensive but packages may be smaller. House brands, however, usually come with a money-back guarantee. At Aldi stores, dissatisfied customers not only get their money back, they are given another item to try.
  • If you rely on frozen dinners (my editor probably will wince at the very idea, but many Americans, Canadians, and Australians do), buy smaller frozen dinners you "stretch" with a side salad. Many grocery chains offer $1 serving packs of salad that can provide a cup of salad for two people.
  • If you pack sandwiches for lunch (and most diabetes experts would wince at that suggestion), buy bread that tastes good and fillings you like. Then make a point of packing just one sandwich for your lunch, not two.
  • Save money and save your health by steering clear of the bakery and the desserts aisle.
  • When buying prepared foods, look at the label. If an item contains more than 20 grams per serving, chances are you will either need to plan your whole meal to accommodate that one serving of that one food so you do not exceed more than about 50 grams of carbohydrate altogether—or you can just leave the product on the shelf.

Need something more specific?

Let's suppose you can spend $40 per week per person for groceries. Let's also assume that you are following an American Diabetes Association diet.

You can eat an egg and a slice of toast or a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast. That will require a half-dozen eggs and a small loaf of bread. You'll also need to keep oatmeal and the ingredients you use to flavor it, such as stevia and cinnamon, in your cupboard.

Let's also suppose that you eat a single sandwich for lunch. You'll need mustard or mayo on hand, plus the sandwich filling of your choice. You can also pack a side salad for every lunch.

So far you are at about $10 to $12 for the week, depending on the ingredients you already have on hand.

Next, let's suppose you plan to prepare your own dinner every night of the week. Here's a possible menu.

  • Sunday night you eat roasted chicken with vegetables such as asparagus (fresh or frozen), brown rice, and black beans. For Monday lunch you could use the chicken to make a chicken portobello mushroom sandwich.
  • Monday night you eat shrimp fajitas. For Tuesday lunch you could make a rice bowl of the brown rice and black beans left over from Sunday night plus the shrimp and fajita fixings left over from Monday night.
  • Tuesday night you eat fettuccine with chicken and vegetables or maybe a quesadilla made with chicken and cheese. You eat a sandwich and a side salad for Wednesday lunch.
  • Wednesday night it's stir-fry shrimp and vegetables. For Thursday lunch you can have a sandwich and side salad or left over stir-fry shrimp and vegetables with Thai noodles.
  • Thursday night you eat roast pork with peppers. For Friday lunch you can have a sandwich and side salad or a roast pork wrap.
  • Friday night it's time to eat out, and Saturday you finish up anything you haven't eaten during the week.

You'll need to pick up:

  • 1 lb (450 grams) of frozen shrimp—shrimp caught in the USA are far less likely to be treated with stabilizers or taste additives than shrimp from China or Vietnam
  • 1 roasting chicken
  • 1 pound pork loin
  • 1 package (8 oz) of mozzarella cheese
  • 1 tray of Bell peppers (or pick out 3 peppers of different colors)
  • 1 box of brown rice
  • 1 box of fettuccine noodles
  • 1 can of black beans
  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 1 jar of pesto (basil or tomato)
  • 1 package of whole wheat tortillas
You just might be able to get all this food for about $40. You'll certainly spend 50% less than you would eating out. And although this shopping list may offend the diabetes diet purists, it will certainly help most diabetics do better at keeping their blood sugar levels under control.