Diabetes Side Dishes….What’s On Your Mind?


This guest post was written by type 2 diabetic and chef Ward Alper. It originally appeared on his website, The Decadent Diabetic, and was republished on Information About Diabetes with permission.

Decades of cooking and eating habits don’t usually change in the blink of an eye, unless there is a need. Even then change is difficult.

How many years at home and at restaurants was it the usual thing to have: meat & potatoes, fish and fries, pot roast with noodles, chicken with rice, chicken parmesan with pasta? These are hard habits to break. In part it is because these “pairings” are so good.

Nine years ago, I had the need to change up what I ate. No question that I could just limit the amounts of the potatoes (and I do), but noodles, rice, and the pasta are harder.

I searched around for lower carbohydrate versions of these foods and was either disappointed with the flavor and textures, or mad as hell at the false claims of the companies producing these products. If it seems too good to be true, it probably isn’t true.

The next step was finding substitutes for some of the foods. I am here to tell you that for SUBSTITUTES I have found a number of foods that work wonderfully well for me. I bless cauliflower and spaghetti squash on a daily basis. Cauliflower is my go to as a substitute for potatoes in salads, as a mashed side, and even more as a rice replacement. Spaghetti squash works great as a pasta replacement. The thing to remember is that they are NOT what they replace. Anybody that tries to fool you into thinking that the cauliflower or spaghetti squash TASTE like what they replace is either fooling themselves or trying to fool you. What they do is take the place of the higher carbohydrate food on your plate. And with a little care and practice taste wonderful as what they are. Different but still delicious.

About a year ago I wrote an article about how difficult it is to be the sidekick on a Diabetes–Compatible plate. A year later I (yes me of ALL people) am still “stuck” in the idea that the “sidekick” HAS to be a starch replacement. That works but… sometimes I don’t have cauliflower or spaghetti squash in the house. Sometimes I do but the cauliflower is the size of a baseball, other times it is the size of a bush. It is either more or less than I need.

The thing is that cauliflower and spaghetti squash take some time and planning to prepare. One solution is to make a batch of it and keep it frozen for future use. It was much easier for me in the before Diabetes days to make some rice or pasta. They were always on hand and took very little planning to make something great to go with rest of the meal….and you could prepare just the right amount.
There is something you can do.

Consider changing the way you think of side dishes. Last week I told you about the great meal I had of steak and asparagus. That is what I planned as my dinner for that evening. I never “planned” on having a starch replacement on the plate. I could have, but it never entered my mind. Why, because for me, there is something about asparagus that fills my plate, not only by volume, but in flavor. That is, if there is a decent amount of asparagus on the plate. It always bugged me that a restaurant might offer asparagus as a vegetable…at an additional cost, and then give you three spears. Why not wait until it is in season and offer it as an alternative and give you value for your money? But, I digress.

So many meals I think: I have some great________. What am I going to serve with it? The automatic thing is to go back to old habits but find replacements for them. The other possibility is to look at other foods that I absolutely enjoy and make them the side dish.

Take for example the humble green beans. Dress them up with some almonds or colored peppers and you have a real treat to go with that _____. How about a wonderful room temperature salad made with fresh tomatoes, shallots or scallions, canned artichoke hearts, and black olives from a jar? All things you can keep on hand. Dress it with lemon juice and olive oil and you have a great treat in store for very little work or advance planning.

Look at a vegetable in a different way. Celery, for example, does not have to languish in tuna salad or on a “relish” plate. It cooks up into a wonderful side dish full of flavor and practically a free food in terms of carbohydrates. You can also slice it thinly and make a simple lemon dressing for it and add some cheese and nuts. It is a great side dish for a burger (on a sandwich thin), or chicken. Hey, you put it in chicken salad. Why not let it sit along the side?

Bottom line is that if you clear your mind and preconceptions of what you think of as a side dish (think out of the box), there is a universe of great flavors and textures that are a snap to fix and fill your plate without depleting your carbohydrate budget.
Enjoy, be happy, be Healthy, BE DECADENT.-w!

Source: Ward Alper, the Decadent Diabetic