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Diabetic Kitchen Essentials

Jodie Cain Smith is the award-winning author of The Woods at Barlow Bend.

This post will detail my diabetic kitchen essentials. After two years of use and practice, I’ve figured out what you need to succeed on a diabetic’s diet.

When I was diagnosed with insulin resistance and pre-diabetes due to uncontrolled Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome two years ago, I knew change was necessary. But I never expected my endocrinologist to utter the most upsetting words I’ve ever heard. “You must,” he uttered, “stick to 1200 calories a day until this is under control.” With images of my feet being amputated or eventually weighing 400 pounds, I accepted the challenge: I must learn to eat as if I already have diabetes. My problem was, I had no idea what 1200 calories a day looked like. So, I began to build my arsenal of diabetic kitchen essentials. (BTW, I did not receive any of these products for free and do not get paid to write about them. I just use them.)

Results and mantra first.

bathroom scale

I lost forty pounds in six months. Forty pounds! When I went in for my six-month checkup with Dr. McDaniels I cried when the nurse confirmed my weight loss. I had struggled with my weight for over twenty years. Before I tackled my food and portion size problem, I worked out twice a day with little or NO success. Sometimes, my workouts actually led to weight gain. (Please don’t give me that whole “muscle weighs more than fat” hoo-hah. No one actively trying to shed pounds wants to hear that nonsense.) Everyone who knew me considered me to be a pretty, confident, “larger” woman, completely comfortable in her own, thick skin. But, inside, swimming around with all the excess fat was shame. Intense shame. So, how did I finally do it? What were the two words that pushed me, dragged me to success? LASER FOCUS.

My weight loss demanded laser focus.

Healthy dinner plate

For the first time in my life, I measured everything I ate. I also transformed my cooking practices. Because fat me only cooked for flavor and fatter me really doesn’t like math, I had to give my kitchen a healthy overhaul. Building my diabetic kitchen essentials arsenal was step one is being laser-focused on myself and what went into my mouth.

Diabetic kitchen essential - food scale

I use a food scale everyday with every meal.

In fact, I use this food scale: The NutraTrack Mini Digital Food Multifunction Scale. This thing rocks my world and makes my non-math, non-metric system brain happy. Codes for 160 common foods are listed on the scale. I enter the code, weigh the food, and this thing tells me the weight in whatever measurement I need along with the calorie count. If I am only allowed 1,200 calories a day, by God, I am going to eat every last calorie. With a built-in calorie counter, I can measure out a food according to my calorie plan for the day.

Food scale

Yes, I measure everything.

When preparing meals, which I eat at least 80% of my meals at home now, I measure everything. When I first started measuring, I found that most of the measurements had rubbed off of my plastic measuring utensils. Mystery measurements are not helpful in the least. My cute measuring cups and spoons were given to me as wedding gifts twenty years ago and had apparently exceeded their “use by” dates. So, I purchased metal measuring cups by Laxinis World. I’ll be long dead by the time the engraving on these things rubs down. And, I now know that I stink at eyeballing how much oil or butter should go in the pan for a stir fry or on a piece of toast at breakfast. All those extra calories added up and landed on my hips and stomach. Not anymore, baby!

Diabetic kitchen essential - metal measuring tools

Portion control Serving Spoons—Because I can’t have enough measuring tools.

So, one issue I found when I became a habitual measurer, is that I need to measure what goes into a recipe and what comes out. After I have cooked the pasta or made the chili or roasted the turnips, how much can I actually eat? Most all food changes in size and weight when cooked, so here we go again. Measure, measure, measure. I love my portion control serving spoons. They take the guess work out of serving meals, and the stainless steel looks stylish sticking out of my utensils carafe. In fact, I love them so much, I want a second set. I’m constantly finding that the one-cup slotted spoon is in the dishwasher, dirty.

Diabetic kitchen essential - metal measuring serving spoons

Math gives me heartburn so I keep a conversion chart handy.

Have I mentioned that math and I are not friends? Well, we’re not. So, I purchased a handy, magnetic conversion chart and hung it on my fridge right next to the stove. Now, I don’t guess or try to calculate—ouch, that hurts my head—weight or measurement conversions. If I see that a 35-calorie, 1-tablespoon serving of margarine is the same as a three-teaspoon serving, I know using only teaspoon will have all the flavor but only spend 12 calories of my precious daily allotment.

diabetic kitchen essential - conversion chart

I am habitually pressed for time so my diabetic kitchen essentials must include time-saving and easy-cleanup cookware.

What do I mean by that? I mean I cook simple recipes with tools I know will perform correctly and consistently in healthy ways: pressure cooking, grilling, roasting, and sautéing. I cook a lot of one-pot wonders in my Instant Pot or on sheet pans lined with aluminum foil to save time not only in preparation but both these methods make cleanup a breeze.

Pressure cooker - Instant Pot

Remove the takeout temptation with an Instant Pot.

The simple fact that I can cook chicken breasts from frozen to done in the Instant Pot is reason enough for me to include this in my diabetic kitchen essentials arsenal. Boiled eggs cook and peel faster, way faster. I can cook a pork chop while steaming veggies in this appliance in much less time than it would take the pizza guy to arrive. The Instant Pot will also cook a 3-pound beef roast in an hour, which will give me a lean meat choice for several meals: sliced roast with potatoes and carrots, roast beef sliders on whole grain buns, and beef quesadillas on low-carb tortillas and low fat cheese. Yummy! For a few recipes for the beginner pressure cooker, head on over here. Added bonus: My husband does the dishes so he’s happy as a peach with having fewer dishes and less mess to clean up after dinner.

The T-fal 12-inch Non-stick Skillet—the home cook’s perfect pan.

Non-stick skillet

I own two of these. Yes, two of the exact same pan. Yes, I have tried other skillets over the years, but none have been as useful as this one. The size is perfect for a family of four with sides low enough that vegetables and meats sauté and sear rather than steam. The red circle in the center is actually a heat indicator that will display when the pan is preheated so you will be sure to get that perfect crust on pan-seared fish. The anodized steel will not warp under high heat or repeated use. And, it’s dishwasher safe! But, the real reason this is part of my diabetic kitchen essentials is that it cooks eggs, veggies, and meat without the food sticking to the pan and falling apart. Ever had what you hoped would be the perfect frittata stick to the pan or burn because of uneven heating? Yep. Disappointing. Call the pizza guy, I’m done. Not with this pan.

Healthy dinner made in a non-stick skillet

You can do this. You can eat like a diabetic without frustration and mystery, the awful not knowing whether you’re actually following your doctor’s recommendations. Between my diabetic kitchen essentials and my faithful use of a digital food journal, I do not have to feel shame anymore. Am I a waif? No. What I am is a woman who likes food and eats her fair share but is in control of her diet and kitchen and is keeping Type 2 Diabetes at bay.