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How to have a diabetes-friendly Thanksgiving

From a snack before the big meal to piling your plate with veggies, here are 6 tips to enjoying a healthy Thanksgiving dinner.

For many people, Thanksgiving is a time to gather with family and friends to enjoy a homecooked meal. It can also mean food overload, especially if you’re watching your blood sugar. But it doesn’t have to.
If you have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, with a few good habits you can still enjoy the holiday dinner you love so much. 

1. Eat a healthy snack before dinner 

To keep your blood sugar levels controlled, try to maintain your regular eating schedule on Thanksgiving Day. 

“Don’t skip meals,” advises Jennifer Powers, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at Geisinger. “Eat a healthy snack before dinner so you’re not overly hungry before you make your plate.”

Some healthy snacks Powers suggests include:

  • A handful of roasted almonds
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Raw veggies with hummus
  • Greek yogurt with berries
  • A piece of fresh fruit

Eating something light will keep your blood sugar levels even and prevent you from being ravenous before you reach the table.

2. Make vegetables the star of the show 

As a child, you may have heard the adults telling you to eat your vegetables. This good advice continues to ring true on Thanksgiving. Before dinner starts, ask your host what vegetables will be on the menu so you can plan accordingly. 

Or, if you’re hosting, offer guests a variety of fresh vegetable options to keep your meal balanced. 

“Fill one quarter to half your plate with vegetables before you add anything else,\” says Powers. “Aim for less starchy veggies that won’t raise your blood sugar, like asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower or green beans.”

3. Choose 2 to 3 must-haves for your plate

Before the holiday celebration, think about the foods that make Thanksgiving special for you. It could be your beloved green bean casserole, Dad’s famous mashed potatoes and gravy, or a scrumptious slice of pecan pie. Whatever they are, choose two to three holiday foods you can\’t live without. Then, on the big day, make room for your must-have treats and pass on the things you don’t enjoy.

“Don’t waste valuable real estate on your plate for foods you don’t really love,” says Powers.

To minimize spikes in blood sugar levels, stick with small portions, especially for high carbohydrate foods. “With foods like mashed potatoes, stuffing or glazed carrots, eat a small serving,” Powers adds. “Pair them with something lighter, like salad or steamed vegetables.”

4. Make smart substitutions

Lighten the menu by substituting higher-carb or heavier favorites with healthier versions. Replace deep-fried turkey with a simple, roasted bird. Instead of mashed potatoes, consider mashed cauliflower or yams. Serve a fiber-rich roasted root vegetable medley of beets, parsnips, carrots or turnips.
Rather than bathing veggies in cheese sauce, try them steamed. Opt for lower-carb bread or rolls or skip them entirely. Simple menu substitutions can leave you satisfied and manage blood sugar levels.

5. Be mindful of liquid calories

It’s easy to lose track of the calories we drink. To keep your sugar balanced during your meal, Powers says to avoid drinking sugar-sweetened drinks. Instead, consider sipping on something low or no-calorie like:


  • Sparkling or flavored water
  • Diet soda
  • Seltzer

Limit your servings of higher-sugar beverages (like juice or apple cider) to a half cup or dilute it by mixing with water.

6. Freeze leftovers

After you leave the table, ward off temptation by packing up dinner leftovers and freezing them right away. Divide them into individual servings you can use later. Or, if you have more food than you have room for, send some home with your loved ones or make a plate for your neighbor. 
You can get creative with your ingredients. Repurpose them into soup or a casserole to enjoy them in different ways.
If you do overindulge this Thanksgiving, Powers urges you not to fret about it. 
“There’s no expectation to eat perfectly. If you have a little extra pie, you will see a rise in sugar, but it’s not the end of the world. Thanksgiving is one day out of 365. It’s a drop in the bucket. If you get off track, you can regroup the next day.\”

Next steps:

Make an appointment with Jennifer Powers, RDN, CDE
Learn about diabetes care at Geisinger
Learn about nutrition at Geisinger

Diabetes-friendly Thanksgiving


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