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Little Tricks to Make Any Dinner More Diabetes Friendly

If your diet is the foundation for beating diabetes, dinners are your cornerstone. Your dinners can be flavorful and satisfying without wreaking havoc on your blood sugar.

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Make a pot of tea before you start cooking

Cooks nibble. It's unconscious, and it's incessant. You can consume several hundred calories in no time tasting the soup, sampling the roast, stealing a little cheese, noshing while you wait for the water to boil. Controlling this is critical for people who cook regularlyand for those controlling calories as part of a diabetes diet plan. Steep a pot of tea before you even begin and turn to your mug instead of your food while you cook. Here are more tips to eat well with diabetes.

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Savor the crunch of oven-baked chicken and fries

Add fried chicken and French fries back into your diabetes diet without overloading on saturated fat. Dip strips of boneless, skinless chicken into a little flour, coat in egg beaters, yogurt, or fat-free milk, and cover with plain breadcrumbs mixed with herbs. Then bake in the oven at 350°F for 20 to 30 minutes. The chicken will have a crispy coating that satisfies your yen for friend chicken. For the French fries, cut white or sweet potatoes into strips, soak in water for 20 minutes, and spread them on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and bake for 40 minutes at 350°F, stirring halfway through.

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Try a new shape

Buy precut vegetables or cut them yourself into new shapes and you may find that you want to eat more of them. Carrot chips have a crunch that make you feel a little like you're eating potato chips. Cut zucchini or summer squash into long strips and grill. Bring out the sweetness by brushing them with olive oil, sprinkling with salt and pepper, and roasting in a 400°F oven until soft. On the grill, add firm vegetables such as eggplant, onions, and peppers right to the grill for 10 to 15 minutes. For softer or smaller vegetables like sliced zucchini, tomatoes, and carrots, use a metal grilling basket or grate and grill for 6 to 8 minutes.

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Top fish or chicken with fruit salsa

It's an exciting way to sneak in a serving of fruit and give simple dishes flavor without fat. And what a difference it makes to a piece of fish or a grilled or roasted chicken breast. Make a fruity salsa by combining chunks of pineapple, mango, or papaya with chopped onions, ginger, mint, cilantro, and hot pepper flakes. Let it sit for 30 minutes at room temperature or up to four hours in the fridge.

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Think bean filling when you're itching for enchiladas

The next time you have Mexican night, skip the beef or chicken and fill your enchiladas and tacos with beans (not refried). For an easy meal of enchiladas, drain and rise canned black beans and add them to a skillet with onions, mushrooms, and other vegetables. Add enchilada sauce and serve in whole-wheat tortillas with low-fat cheese. Beans are just one of many superfoods for diabetes to eat more often as part of a diabetes diet plan.

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Give veggies more flavor by steaming them in chicken broth

Instead of adding water to your steamer or saucepan, add chicken or vegetable broth. You'll add flavor without fat to zucchini, cauliflower, carrots, sugar, snap peas, and other veggies.

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Save the water from steaming

After steaming your vegetables, pour the water into a covered jar and keep it in the fridge to use for broth the next time you make soup. The antioxidants from vegetables help stave off complications from diabetes, including problems with kidneys and eyes, and they may even help prevent diabetes in the first place.

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Toss a five-minute bean salad

Choose three or four kinds of canned beans—such as garbanzo, black, kidney, navy, black-eyed, or waxed beans—and drain and rinse well to get rid of some of the salt. Then toss with chopped red onion, red pepper, and some vinaigrette-style salad dressing. Use about 1 tablespoon of dressing per 1/3 cup bean salad.

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Replace white potatoes with sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes raise blood sugar less than white potatoes do. If the sweet potato is large, cut in half and share one potato between two people. Be sure to eat the skin for its fiber.

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Have fruit for dessert

Think you can't eat fruit on a diabetes diet? Not true. Fruit is, after all, nature's candy. So on those nights when you eat dessert (we suggest once or twice a week), try a roasted plum, a half cup of berries with yogurt on top, or a fruit crisp or crumble (go heavy on the fruit, oats, and cinnamon and very light on the sugar and butter). "Bake" an apple in your microwave. Just core an apple, sprinkle the inside with cinnamon and a touch of sugar, and microwave for three minutes until soft.

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Go vegetarian at least once a week

You'll get much more fiber and far less saturated fat. Instead of meat lasagna, have vegetable lasagna using eggplant or a mix of veggies such as broccoli, carrots, bell peppers, mushrooms and zucchini. Likewise, vegetable chili is a perfectly tasty alternative to meat chili.

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Replace a pat with a spray

Take food that's typically fried in butter or oil, such as Italian zucchini patties, and brown them on the stove top with a little cooking spray, suggests Mary Jean Christian, RD, CDE, diabetes program manager at the University of California, Irvine. She uses cooking spray to brown her grandmother-in-law's zucchini patties instead of using the loads of oil her husband's family traditionally uses for the recipe. The result? Her in-laws say her zucchini patties taste the closest to their grandmother's.

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Have a main dish salad once a week and give it the works

Put the same ol' vegetables in your salad every week and sooner or later you may be more inclined to toss it into the garbage disposal than savor every bite. Get out of the rut by trying new ingredients, such as spicy hearts of palm or artichoke hearts from a can, sweet and juicy raw jicama slices, steamed broccoflower heads (those chartreuse green cauliflowers you see at the store), nutty bean sprouts, steamed and marinated chayote squash (a Latin American squash with a citrus tang), or sautéed varieties of exotic mushrooms. Include a protein food such as beans or grilled chicken breast.

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Use barley instead of white rice

For most people, barley raises blood sugar less than rice does, so consider it your new rice. (Test it and see for yourself.) Serve it with stir-fried vegetables, add it to soups and stews, toss it into your bean salad, or make it as a side dish. High in soluble fiber, it's a lot like oatmeal in the way it reduces cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease. Here are other healthy carbs to eat if you have diabetes.

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Use veggies as fillers

Don't confine vegetables just to the side of your plate. Throw in a couple of handfuls of frozen peas and carrots to your rice or couscous during the last five minutes of cooking. Add chopped onions and spinach to meat loaf or hamburgers made with lean beef. Stir chopped peppers and mushrooms into canned or bottled spaghetti sauce. Add cooked collard greens, mushrooms, and onions to stuffing. Rub the fuzziness off of the stalks of okra, wash, slice, and add to soups, stews, and casseroles.

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Pair strawberries with wine or vinegar

A half cup of strawberries drizzled with balsamic vinegar or soaked in white wine makes for a sweet, indulgent tasting dessert while satisfying about 75 percent of your daily vitamin C requirement. And like other berries, strawberries contain powerful antioxidants that help protect your body from the ravages of high blood sugar.

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Cook once, eat twice

Make double and you'll have dinner for tomorrow. Or pack it up and freeze for a day when you don't have time to cook.

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When beef is on the menu, choose lean cuts

These include filet mignon, flank steak, and round and loin cuts. Remember that a serving of meat is no more than three ounces cooked, four ounces raw. Steer clear of ribs, prime rib, skirt steak, and brisket.

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Put your meals "to bed"—on greens

Chefs everywhere are serving this or that dish on a bed of greens. You can too! Simply steam some spinach, kale, or Swiss chard on the stove, then put it on your plate and place your fish or chicken on top. When the tire of dark leafy greens, get creative and make your "bed" of steamed snow peas, sugar snap peas, and pea sprouts.

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Make a deal with your spouse

The idea of preparing a meal, washing the dishes, and cleaning the kitchen can be a deal-breaker when it comes to cooking a healthy meal. But before you forgo your eating plan and decide to have frozen pizza, tell your spouse that you'll cook if he'll clean. You'll both benefit from the home-cooked meal, and you'll be able to put up your feet afterward.

Originally Published in Reader's Digest