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Health & Wellness > More Health & Wellness > HW 3

Holiday Preparation for the Diabetic

Holidays are an opportunity to catch up with friends and family. But the focus on food and eating during this season can be very tough, especially for families dealing with diabetes.

Remember that holiday meals and traditions don’t have to disrupt your diabetes control. With a little preparation, you'll be ready to face any holiday head-on and still enjoy it.

Planning Ahead

Holidays can be a time of great anxiety for people with diabetes because it is so focused on food.

Don't let questions about what to eat, how much to eat, and meal timing dampen your holiday. Plan in advance, so you can fend off stress and fully enjoy the day and keep your diabetes management on track.

Think About the Timing of Your Meal

Many families eat large meals at odd times on holidays. For example, Thanksgiving dinner may be served in the middle of the afternoon. Plan in advance for how you will handle making changes if your meal does not line up with your regular meal schedule.

If you take insulin injections or a pill that lowers blood glucose, you may need to have a snack at your normal meal time to prevent a low blood glucose reaction. Check with your health care team about this.

Be Physically Active

The best way to compensate for eating a little more than usual is to be active. Start a new tradition that involves moving around away from the food.

Ideas include taking a walk with the whole family or playing Frisbee, soccer, or touch football with your children, grandchildren, or the neighborhood kids.

Try Healthier Versions of Your Favorite Holiday Foods

Will the casserole taste just as good with fat-free or light sour cream instead of regular? Can you steam green beans instead of sautéing in butter?

Use a little less sugar in your fruit pie. The natural sweet of the fruit doesn’t require a lot of added sugar.


Have foods to nibble on while you are cooking or waiting to eat.

Make sure the foods you choose won't sabotage blood glucose levels before the meal. Bring a platter of raw or blanched veggies with your favorite low-calorie dip or have a few small pieces of low-fat cheese.

Don’t indulge on high-calorie or fried appetizers.

Be Selective

Many traditional Thanksgiving foods are high in carbohydrates: mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, dinner rolls, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and other desserts.

Don't feel like you have to sample everything on the table.

Have a reasonable portion of your favorites and pass on the rest. For example, if stuffing is your favorite, pass on rolls. Choose either sweet potatoes or mashed potatoes.

If you really want to try everything, make your portions smaller.

Eat Smaller Portions

Because high carbohydrate foods are plentiful at most Thanksgiving feasts, watch your portion sizes. If you can't decide on one or two carbohydrate foods to eat, take very small portions or "samples" of several dishes.

Overall, try to keep your total carbohydrate intake like a regular day.

Eat Your Vegetables

Vegetables are important for everyone! Unfortunately, the vegetable selection on holiday menus is usually limited. We all want to dress up the table with tempting treats. Why not add some colorful vegetable dishes?

Veggies come in all colors and are very nutritious. Offer to bring a green salad or a side of steamed veggies that have been seasoned.

Non-starchy veggies are low in carbs and calories. They will help fill you up and keep you from overeating other high-calorie and high-fat foods on the table.

Holiday Tips

Want to enjoy the holidays and the food and still stay healthy? The tips below can help guide you through your next holiday event:

Focus on Friends and Family

Remember, the holidays are a time to slow down and catch up with your loved ones. Focus on friends and family, not food.

Play games, volunteer, or spend time outdoors enjoying the weather together.

It’s a Party, But Don't Overdo It

Eat slowly, and really enjoy the foods that you may only have once a year.

If the meal will be served near your usual meal time, try to eat the same amount of carbohydrate that you normally would for a meal. If you plan to have a portion of dessert, cut back on another carbohydrate food during the main course. 

Make sure your portions are reasonable and resist going back for second helpings.

Bring What You Like

Try not to worry about what will be served. Offer to bring your favorite dish to share. If you count carbohydrates, check your recipe’s nutrition facts so you know how many carbohydrates are in one serving and the size of a serving.

Drink in Moderation

If you drink alcohol, remember to eat something beforehand to prevent low blood glucose levels later. Whether it’s a glass of red wine or a beer, holiday drinks can add a significant amount of calories to your holiday intake. Keep it to no more than 1 drink for women and 2 drinks for men.  Avoid drinks that have high calorie mixers like regular soda, tonic, juice or margarita mix that are all packed with carbohydrate and calories.  Opt for sugar free mixes instead.

Stay Active

One reason that we have problems managing diabetes and weight during the holidays is our lack of physical activity. Sure, the holidays are busy, but plan time into each day for exercise and don’t break your routine. Make the holidays an active time!

  • Off from work or school? Use this extra time to do some physical activity.
  • Train for and participate in a local holiday run or walk (like a turkey trot or Independence Day run).
  • Start a game of pick-up football, soccer, basketball or play other games in the yard.
  • Go for a walk with your loved ones after eating.
  • Offer to help clean up after a meal to get you moving around!

Fitting in Sweets

Holidays and other special occasions can be tough when it comes to desserts. Whether it is cake for a birthday, pie for thanksgiving, or ice cream on the 4th of July, sweets are everywhere.

Holidays are special occasion, so if you’d like to enjoy a small serving of your favorite dessert, you can.

It is important to remember that most sweets have a lot of carbohydrate in a small portion so you’ll want to keep portion sizes small. You can work a sweet treat into your meal plan but substituting a small portion of dessert for other carbohydrate already in your meal plan.

For example, if you want a small serving of pumpkin pie, then pass on eating a dinner roll or sweet potatoes during the main course.

Tips for Desserts During the Holidays

Try these tips this holiday season. They can help you manage your sweet tooth when dessert is served:

  • Decide ahead of time what and how much you will eat and how you will handle social pressure ("No thank you, I'm too full.").
  • Share one portion of dessert with someone else, and scrape off any high-calorie whipped-cream topping or extra frosting.
  • Volunteer to bring your favorite dessert to social functions. Some ideas are plain cookies, baked apples, or sugar-free puddings.
  • Is there someone else at the party who is trying to watch what they eat? Avoid tempting sweets and ask them to join you for a walk while dessert is out on the table.
  • And if you decide to have a treat, remember to cut back on the other carbohydrate in your meal to help keep blood glucose levels on track.

Revising Recipes

There are ways to revise many dessert recipes so they are healthier and still great-tasting. Many times, you can replace up to half of the sugar in a recipe with a sugar substitute.

You can also try cutting down on sugar and increasing the use of cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and other sweet-tasting spices and flavorings.

Replace half of the fat in your recipe with applesauce or baby-food prunes when making chocolate brownies, cakes, or cookies.

These tricks will help you make your recipes a little bit healthier. However, you still must keep the portion small. Also, keep in mind that replacing fat with fruit ingredients increases the carbohydrate content.