Side Dishes for People With Diabetes

Supriya Lal

2022 May 06

8 min read

Living with diabetes means that you have to follow a diabetic eating plan to keep blood sugar levels in control. This doesn’t mean you can’t eat your favorite foods; you just have to manage your portions and choose healthier versions of your usual recipes. Meal planning and preparation don’t have to be hard, and the process is much simpler when you have some example recipes in mind. Below are some diabetic side dish recipes to try today to spice up your meals.

Diabetes Eating Guidelines

Before jumping into recipes for the perfect side dish, it’s important to remember diabetes eating guidelines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides the following recommendations for eating when you have a diabetes diagnosis:

  • Include plenty of non-starchy vegetables in your diet, including broccoli, spinach, and carrots. One-half of your plate should include non-starchy veggies when you eat any sort of meal.
  • Eat a diet consisting of mostly whole foods rather than processed varieties.
  • Limit refined carbohydrates, like white bread, white rice, and white pasta.
  • Choose whole fruit instead of fruit juice since fruit juice raises blood sugar levels quickly.
  • Choose lean protein sources like chicken, turkey, and beans, which should fill one-quarter of your plate at meal times.

It’s important to keep these guidelines in mind when choosing a recipe for a diabetes side dish, as eating in this way will help you manage blood sugar levels. Remember that portion sizes still matter, even with the healthiest side dish, as portion control is also an important part of a diabetes-friendly eating plan.

Primary Considerations for Side Dish Recipes

Given the eating guidelines above, healthy recipes for side dishes typically include plenty of veggies. If you’re looking for some basic diabetic side dishes to help you stick to eating healthy, consider pairing a lean protein source like grilled chicken, ham, or pork with an easy vegetable as your side dish. A meal of chicken and veggies is chock full of nutrients, and it won’t make your blood sugar levels skyrocket.

Below are some simple vegetable side dish options:

  • Butternut squash
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Asparagus
  • Green beans
  • Other colorful veggies like carrots, peppers, and sweet potatoes.

You can add some flavor to an easy vegetable side dish by using one or more of the following when cooking or preparing:

  • Fresh herbs
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Lemon juice
  • Garlic
  • Parsley.

The above will add nice flavor without additional calories or sugar, making them great side dish options. You might also add a bit of parmesan cheese or goat cheese to veggies to make an easy side that is nutritious, creamy, and full of good flavors. Just be sure not to go overboard with cheeses since they can add calories and fat. Sticking to one serving size is usually your best option.

Specific Side Dish Recipes

The general ideas above are helpful if you’re interested in diabetic side dish recipes, but it’s beneficial to have an idea of specific diabetes-friendly recipes to try. When you’re in a pinch, go with a tossed salad. Throw together spinach, cherry tomatoes, chopped carrots, and a diabetes-approved dressing like olive oil and vinegar or a low-sugar variety from the store, and you’ll have a simple side dish to serve with dinner.

For special occasions or when you want to throw together something a little more exciting, consider the favorite recipes for side dishes below.

Garlic Green Beans

garlic green beans recipe

This simple side dish recipe takes green beans and spices them up a little.

First, gather the following ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup sweet onion
  • 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes
  • 3 minced garlic cloves
  • Lemon pepper seasoning to taste

Two 16-ounce packages of frozen, French-style green beans.

Use the following steps to prepare:

  1. Heat oil at a medium temperature in a Dutch oven.
  2. Add onion and cook while stirring until tender.
  3. Add tomatoes, garlic, and lemon pepper, and cook for two more minutes.
  4. Stir in green beans and cook while covered for 7-9 minutes, occasionally stirring.

Uncover and cook for 2-3 more minutes, or until liquid is nearly evaporated.

Confetti Quinoa

confetti quinoa recipe

For this simple recipe, you’ll need the following ingredients:

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup rinsed quinoa
  • 1/2 cup chopped broccoli
  • 1/2 cup chopped zucchini
  • 1/3 cup shredded carrots
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Prepare using these simple steps:

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  1. Bring water to a boil in a large saucepan, and then add quinoa, broccoli, zucchini, carrots, and salt.
  2. Reduce heat and simmer. Cook covered for about 12-15 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed.
  3. Stir in lemon juice and oil, and remove from heat.
  4. Fluff the mixture with a fork, and you’re ready to serve!

Cajun Grilled Eggplant

cajun eggplant recipe

For those who want something with a little spice, this top-rated dish is delicious and still suitable for those with diabetes. Pair it with grilled chicken breast for a summer picnic at the park.

You’ll just need four ingredients for this diabetes-friendly side dish:

  1. 2 small eggplants
  2. 1/4 cup olive oil
  3. 2 tablespoons lime juice
  4. 3 teaspoons Cajun seasoning

Take your ingredients and follow these simple steps to make:

  1. Cut the eggplants into 1/2 inch slices.
  2. Brush each slice with oil and drizzle the lime juice on top.
  3. Sprinkle Cajun seasoning on and let sit for 5 minutes.
  4. Grill the eggplant on medium heat for about 4 to 5 minutes per side. Eggplant is ready when tender.

Corn and Beans

corn and beans recipe

This simple side pairs nicely with a Mexican dish like chicken fajitas.

You’ll need the following ingredients to prepare:

  • 1 chopped onion
  • 1 green pepper, cut into 1-inch slices
  • 1 to 2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and sliced
  • 1 minced garlic clove
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Two 16-ounce cans of kidney beans
  • One 16-ounce package of frozen corn
  • 1 can of diced tomatoes (do not drain)
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper

Prepare the recipe with these steps:

  1. Sauté the onion and peppers in oil, using a large skillet.
  2. Add garlic and cook for one additional minute.
  3. Stir in beans, corn, tomatoes, and spices (chili powder, salt, ground cumin, and pepper).
  4. Cover and cook on low heat for 3-4 hours.
  5. Remove from heat, and then top with fat-free sour cream to add some flavor.

Syrian Potatoes

syrian potatoes recipe

According to nutrition facts, this tasty side dish has just 160 calories and 23 carbs per 3/4 cup serving, making it diabetes-friendly if you’re looking for simple side dish recipes.

You’ll need these ingredients below:

  • 1 bunch of chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 minced garlic clove
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 pounds of potatoes
  • Salt to taste

Once you have these ingredients ready, prepare the potatoes using these steps:

  1. Peel the potatoes and chop them into small cubes.
  2. Get a large cast iron skillet, and cook the garlic and cilantro in oil on medium heat for one minute.
  3. Add the potatoes and cook while stirring for 20-25 minutes. The potatoes are done when they are tender and slightly browned.
  4. Drain the potatoes and sprinkle with salt.

Roasted Broccoli with Parmesan Cheese

broccoli parmesan recipe

Rounding out our list of healthy recipes is this delicious yet diabetes-friendly dish. Not only will this nutritious pick be full of flavor, but it will also be simple to make.

Grab the following ingredients:

  • 2 small crowns of broccoli
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 4 thinly sliced garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

Make the broccoli with the following steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F (218°C).
  2. Cut broccoli into quarters and drizzle with oil.
  3. Sprinkle the broccoli with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.
  4. Place in a one-inch deep pan lined with parchment paper.
  5. Roast for 10-12 minutes, add garlic on top, and roast for another 5 minutes.
  6. Add parmesan cheese and roast for 2-4 more minutes.
  7. Remove from the oven and sprinkle lemon zest on top.

The Bottom Line on Diabetes-Friendly Side Dishes

You don’t have to cut out your favorite foods to stick to your diabetes diet or consume boring foods without any special flavors. With the easy side dish recipes here, you can enjoy meals you love while controlling blood sugar levels.

The recipes here are delicious and appropriate for the holiday season when you have friends and family to celebrate and share a meal. Chances are that no one will even recognize that you’ve made diabetes-friendly dishes since the recipes chosen here are so full of flavor.

If you need to change up your routine with new side dishes, keep in mind that, as a general rule, vegetables are always a good choice, especially when seasoned with low or no-calorie ingredients like lemon juice or herbs. You can find additional side dish recipes in diabetes cookbooks, which usually have a range of recipes to suit everyone. You may even be able to find healthy pasta recipes in a diabetes cookbook!

Written by

Supriya Lal

Supriya Lal is a Registered Dietitian based in New York City. She completed her training at Duke University Hospital System and has specific interests in personalised nutrition therapy, nutritional counseling, and sustainability related to food and nutrition. She is currently completing her Master's in Public Health at New York University.

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