Close this search box.

Diabetes Ed: Holiday Meal Tips and Tricks

headshot of liz wilson elizabeth wilson in dark blue shirt with polka dots smiling

Written by Elizabeth W., Diabetes Educator

Elizabeth is a Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist at NMC Health.

Healthy eating during the holidays can be challenging. As a dietitian and diabetes care and education specialist, I am often asked “How can I eat healthy during the holidays?”   And no wonder, family gatherings and social events are usually centered around food this time of year.  And not just any food, but the delicious celebration foods we look forward to all year long.  Here are my Top 7 holiday meal tips and tricks to help you maintain your blood sugar control this year.  

Planning Ahead

The most important thing about managing diabetes during the holidays is to plan ahead.    

  • If you’re going to a holiday party or restaurant, try to find out what’s on the menu ahead of time and decide what you’ll have to eat before arriving.  
  • Don’t skip meals to save up for a big meal later.  This will make it harder to manage your blood sugar, and you’ll be really hungry and more likely to overeat. Continue eating meals and snacks regularly throughout the day.
  • Plan in advance for how you will handle making changes if your holiday meal does not align with your regular meal schedule.  Example:  If your meal is served later than normal, you may want to eat a small snack at your usual mealtime and eat a little less when dinner is served.  
  • Eat slowly. It takes at least 20 minutes for your brain to realize you’re full.
  • If you slip up, get right back to healthy eating with your next meal.

Let the Plate Be Your Guide When Making Meals

Keep an eye on the amount of food you eat, because eating too much can affect your blood sugar levels.  Use the Plate Method as your guide: 

  • Start with a 9-inch dinner plate.  
  • Fill half with non-starchy vegetables, such as salad, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and carrots.
  • Fill one quarter with lean protein, such as turkey, chicken, tofu, lean beef.
  • Fill one quarter with carbohydrate foods, which include grains, starchy vegetables (potatoes, peas, beans, corn), fruit, and yogurt.  
  • Then choose water or a low-calorie drink such as unsweetened iced tea to go with your meal.  

Fit in Your Favorites

Many traditional holiday foods tend to be high in carbohydrates, but no food should be on the naughty list!  Remember, you don’t have to sample everything that is offered.  For example, mashed potatoes and a dinner roll might be foods you can eat at any time of the year.  Instead, use your carbohydrate budget (by counting carbohydrates) on dishes you are looking forward to the most –like my grandmother’s candied sweet potatoes– and enjoy a small serving.  To maintain blood glucose in normal ranges, you’ll want to keep your total carbohydrate intake similar to a regular day.  

Lighten Up Wisely

It is absolutely okay to be mindful and enjoy the original versions of your favorite holiday recipes.  But, if you’d like to try out some healthier swaps, recreate a traditional recipe to fit into your eating plan.  Remember that candied sweet potato recipe I mentioned above? I’ve been successful with making that same recipe more wholesome, by reducing the total sugar and fat.  There are many healthy holiday recipes available.   

My go to recipe website is from the American Diabetes Association.

Here is their collection of holiday recipes.

Bring Your Own

Offer to bring along a side dish (or two) to share.  Consider a non-starchy vegetable based dish that you can enjoy freely, like a green salad or roasted vegetables.  This will help you to fill up and make it easier to reduce portions of other high calorie, high carbohydrate, and high fat foods that are being offered. 

Drink Responsibly

Avoid or limit alcohol. While moderate amounts of alcohol (1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men) may be fine for people with diabetes, be careful about not overindulging and be aware of safety concerns while drinking with diabetes.  If you do have an alcoholic drink, have it with food. Alcohol can lower blood sugar and interact with diabetes medicines.  Make sure to talk with your doctor about whether it is safe for you to drink alcohol.

Focus on Fun

Enjoy the holidays with the people you care about.  When you focus more on the fun, it’s easier to focus less on the food.   

For more ideas, be sure to attend our upcoming virtual diabetes support group meeting on Thursday, November 11th 2021 at 11am. 

Skip to content