When Holidays Arrive, Make Dinners Diabetes-Friendly

DIABETES CARE|May.07, 2019


When the holidays arrive and you're faced with the daunting challenge of making a delicious meal that pleases everyone. That can be especially true for those living with diabetes. We've put together some simple ways you can modify your holiday favorites to accommodate someone who's watching their blood sugar levels.


Most people with diabetes have to eat at a specific time based on their medication schedule. If they don't keep an eye on their blood sugar, it can drop too low. The holidays can definitely throw off food and medication schedules, and that puts people with diabetes at risk for blood glucose problems. Serving a few diabetes-friendly appetizers will help your loved one avoid a pre-meal crash.

A few suggestions for diabetes-friendly appetizers include:

  • Spinach and artichoke dip made with fat-free Greek yogurt. Slice up some veggies for dipping.
  • Mushrooms stuffed with light sour cream and diced veggies. Bell peppers, finely shredded carrots or broccoli would work well in this recipe.
  • Ground turkey meatballs with your choice of sauce.

The Main Dish

The traditional holiday centerpiece dish is usually a ham, a turkey or some kind of roast beef. In general, these are fine choices for healthy diabetes nutrition, but just how fine they are depends on how they're prepared. A few things to consider:

  • Avoid any glazes with added sugar. Honey-glazed hams are delicious, but they add a lot of sugar to a dish that could easily be sugar-free.
  • Don't deep-fry your main dish. This preparation adds a lot of extra fat and calories, which anyone with diabetes would want to avoid. Roasting or grilling works just fine.
  • Choose your cuts of meat wisely. Opt for leaner cuts.

Diabetes-Friendly Sides

Many traditional side dishes can be modified to be diabetes-friendly. Focus on substituting any high-fat or high-carbohydrate ingredients with healthier options. Try these ideas:

  • Swap out mashed potatoes with mashed cauliflower. If that isn't going to fly with your other guests, try doing half cauliflower and half potatoes; the flavor will be the same and the texture will be similar, but the carbs will be slashed in half.
  • Get creative with veggies. Green veggies, such as Brussels sprouts or asparagus, are delicious when roasted and make a great, colorful side dish. Sprinkle on some pomegranate seeds or slivers of Parmesan cheese to add a nice bit of taste and color contrast.
  • Whip up a diabetes-friendly stuffing. Packaged stuffing is usually high in carbohydrates and made with white bread. Look for a recipe that uses whole grain bread instead; this will increase the stuffing's fiber content, which ultimately helps control blood glucose levels. Or consider using a different type of grain altogether — barley and farro are high in fiber, too.


The holiday dessert table can be tricky for someone with diabetes, as traditional offerings are usually loaded with sugar. Look for recipes that cut back on sugar without sacrificing flavor. A few ways to achieve a diabetes-friendly dessert include:

  • Substituting pitted dates for sugar in any recipe. Use 1 cup of pureed pitted dates and add a ½ cup of water to make a thick paste. You can use the paste as a substitute for a cup of sugar in any recipe that calls for it.
  • Using Greek yogurt as a low-calorie, high-protein alternative. Plain Greek yogurt can be used as a healthier substitute for cream cheese or sour cream in many recipes. The amount you need may vary depending on the recipe.
  • Choosing a crust-less dessert. Crust adds significant carbohydrates to the traditional holiday pie. Crust-less dessert alternatives, like an apple or cherry crisp, are good ones to consider.

Be Supportive

The holidays can be a challenging time for someone with diabetes, so the best thing you can do is be supportive. Keep diabetes nutrition in mind by providing diabetes-friendly foods, but don't judge your loved one if they choose something unhealthy. And if one of your guests is keen on keeping healthy glucose levels, don't be a food pusher.

Finally, remember that food is just one small part of the holiday tradition. Focus on what the holiday is really about: being thankful and spending time with family. While it's important to keep diabetes in mind, keep the focus on making memories — not on the disease.