When you keep these ingredients stocked in your kitchen, you'll always have what you need to create a delicious and healthy diabetes-friendly dinner in as little as 20 minutes.

Sara Haas RDN, LDN
May 27, 2021
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Meal planning is more than just picking out recipes. It's also about smartly stocking your fridge, freezer and pantry. And if you have diabetes, planning is a key strategy in managing your blood sugar. How? Because having the right foods in your kitchen means no impromptu takeout or impulse buys that could disrupt all of your hard work. Planning also means less stress which is important when it comes to your physical and mental health.

We've gathered a list of our dietitian-approved diabetes-friendly ingredients that can help you create meals in as little as 20 minutes. Find out what we love and why below!

1. Rotisserie chicken

Curried Chicken Apple Wraps

If you're searching for a quick protein source, rotisserie chicken can be an easy solution. Most grocery stores sell rotisserie chickens, and they can be used in a wide variety of recipes, from wraps to pasta dishes. But choose your rotisserie chicken wisely—we recommend selecting one without added flavors and opt for the "plain" variety, if possible. And check sodium content—a 3-ounce serving should be less than 360 milligrams of sodium.

2. Canned chickpeas & other beans

If you're in need of a vegetarian source of protein and looking to boost your fiber intake, canned beans are another great option. Fiber can help lower blood sugar levels, so strive to hit your daily goal of 25-35 grams of dietary fiber each day! Drain and rinse canned beans before using to decrease sodium content and choose no-salt-added varieties, if possible.

3. Corn tortillas

Grilled Shrimp Tostadas 
Credit: Jason Donnelly

Unlike their soft, flour counterparts, corn tortillas tend to be lower in sodium and higher in fiber. Plus, the ingredient list is typically shorter, which we love. Corn tortillas can be used for tacos, tostadas, enchiladas, wraps and even pizzas! If you have more than you need, store them in the freezer and use within 3 months.

4. Garlic and onions

These aromatic vegetables are a fantastic way to add flavor without adding much in the way of sodium or calories. Many great recipes start with these two ingredients, so it's wise to have them on hand. Garlic and onions should both be stored in a dark, cool place with ventilation. However, once you've peeled and/or cut them, they should be wrapped and stored in the refrigerator. Before increasing your intake of garlic significantly, be sure to discuss with your physician and registered dietitian, as some medications, such as blood thinners, may have unwanted interactions with this flavor booster.

5. Quinoa

quinoa deli salad

Whole grains are an obvious choice for this list, but we love quinoa in particular because it cooks up in just about 20 minutes. You can also batch cook a bunch to be enjoyed throughout the week. And like tortillas, cooked quinoa freezes well. Store in a freezer-safe, zip-top bag for up to 3 months. Quinoa also gets our vote because of it's rock star nutrition status! It's rich in complex carbohydrates (to help with blood sugar), fiber and satisfying plant-based protein.

6. Baby lettuces or pre-cut lettuce

No one loves chopping and cleaning lettuce, and these days you don't have to. There are plenty of varieties of baby lettuces and chopped lettuces that come in handy when you want to make a salad, tacos, paninis or grain bowls. Resist the temptation to always buy the same kind. Instead, experiment and enjoy the array of flavors and nutrition each one has.

7. Basil, cilantro and mint

Corn on the Cob with Cilantro-Lime Butter

Perhaps you don't need all three, but having at least one or two of these fresh herbs on hand is a delicious way to add flavor. These delicate herbs are best added at the end of cooking, so save them for last. Any extra can be pureed with a little olive oil or water and then poured into ice cube trays. Freeze and then pop out the cubes as you need them to add flavor to soups, pasta dishes and smoothies.

8. Almonds

We are nuts about nuts! Almonds, in particular. Almonds are perfect as a topping for salads, as a coating for fish and chicken and make for a delicious snack. They supply plant-based protein, heart-healthy fats as well as some fiber and plenty of antioxidants. Once you open the bag, be sure to remove as much air as you can before resealing. Store them in a cool, dark place this way for up to 3 months. You can extend their life by keeping them in the fridge (up to 1 year) or freezer (up to 2 years).

9. Limes & Lemons

Seltzer

The fresh squeeze of lime or lemon is the perfect touch to so many recipes. That pop of acidity adds brightness and life to a dish, often making it so that you don't need to add as much salt. We also love citrus for its zest! That outer layer is full of flavor and oils that boost the flavor of salad dressings and grilled vegetables. We recommend removing that outermost layer of skin (go lightly as you don't want the white part, which is bitter) first before getting any juice. If you don't need the zest right away, place it on a damp paper towel, wrap it in plastic wrap and store in your fridge or freezer.

10. Salsa

Salsa is a versatile and naturally flavorful ingredient to have on hand. It's delicious on tacos, scrambled eggs, grilled chicken and your avocado toast! Some varieties can be rather high in sodium, so make sure you read the label before selecting. Once you open the jar, refrigerate and use within 5 to 7 days.

11. Canned tomatoes

chickpea curry

There are many varieties of canned tomatoes, and they are excellent to have on hand. Our two favorites are diced tomatoes and whole tomatoes. Diced tomatoes add a quick boost of lycopene to chilis, soups and curries. Whole tomatoes can be crushed and used for pizza sauces, pasta sauces and shakshuka! Choose no-salt-added varieties to keep sodium in check.

12. Pesto

Store bought pesto makes dinner come together quickly. And a small amount is all you need. Blend it with plain Greek yogurt to use as a salad dressing. Add a swipe to roasted fish. Or toss with roasted potatoes for an easy seasoning.

13. Whole grain pasta

Salmon Couscous Salad

Pasta can be a great diabetes-friendly food choice, especially when you choose the whole grain varieties, which have more nutrients than their white flour counterparts. Keep your portion to 1 to 2 servings of carbohydrate and try all of the shapes! We love whole grain orzo and whole grain couscous, which are both perfect for pasta salads!