Healthy Thanksgiving Dinner Tips for People With Diabetes

Plate with greenbeans, mashed potatoes, turkey, and cranberries
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Holidays like Thanksgiving, that are centered around sharing an abundance of food with family and friends, aren't always easy for someone who has diabetes. Much of the traditional food on the table, such as mashed potatoes, stuffing, and cranberry sauce, is rich, and laden with calories and carbohydrates. This can become increasingly difficult when the entire day becomes one long smorgasbord of eating.

The good news is that you still enjoy Thanksgiving while watching what you eat—all your need is a small amount of preparation and some creative thinking. Here are some ideas to get you through.

Make a Game Plan

A wide variety of foods make up the typical Thanksgiving dinner. Several kinds of side dishes, lots of old family favorites and many kinds of desserts, are often on the table, beckoning you to try each and every one of them.

But, do you have to eat them all? Not if you plan in advance what you're going to eat. Strategic planning can help you make good choices and keep your carbohydrate intake from shooting through the roof. If you are not hosting you can offer to bring a low-calorie, lower carbohydrate dish or two. Consider a green bean dish, cauliflower mashed potatoes, or roasted Brussel sprouts, to name a few.

If Thanksgiving is at your house, you have control over what goes into, or stays out of the food.

If your family loves some higher calorie traditions you can always search for ways to make them more nutritious—by adding vegetables, reducing the amount of fat, and making baking substitutions.

Help Yourself to Some Turkey

When it comes time to build your plate, don't forget about the turkey. We often over stuff ourselves on appetizers that we miss out on the main course.

Aim to reduce your intake of pre meal snacks (chips, cheese, dips, etc) and appetizers so that you have an appetite for some of the healthier choices, like turkey. Turkey is a good source of protein, high in niacin, phosphorous, selenium, vitamin B6 and zinc. It is also all protein and has zero grams of carbohydrates (which means it won't spike your blood sugar).  A 3-ounce serving of white meat turkey breast meat contains roughly 87 calories, 15 grams of protein and 3 grams of carbohydrate. The key to eating turkey is to aim to avoid drowning it in gravy—a tablespoon or two is fine, but it's best to avoid more than that.

Don't Stuff Yourself on Stuffing

Stuffing can pack a calorie, fat, and carbohydrate wallop. The main ingredients in stuffing are bread and butter, and most of the time, recipes call for added calorie-dense ingredients, such as sausage. Understandably, if it's your favorite side dish and you look forward to it all year, by all means, take some, but try to keep your portion in check (about 1/2 cup).

If you have control over how the stuffing is made, substituting fat-free chicken broth for some or most of the butter goes a long way towards cutting the fat grams and calories.

Adding a generous portion of chopped vegetables (celery, carrots, onion, etc). to the recipe can also help by adding filling fiber.

Start a New Tradition

It's easy to pack in the calories when you are sitting at the table all day long surrounded by food. Try to take some of the spotlight off the food by engaging in some sort of physical activity that day. Consider doing a turkey trot before heading to your destination or suggest an after-dinner walk around the neighborhood. Once dinner is complete or between courses get the group involved in a game of charades or other group activities, to get your blood moving.

Engaging in another activity will help to keep you occupied so you don't pick at leftovers, or succumb to that second piece of pie.

A Word From Verywell

If you have diabetes that doesn't mean your holiday is going to be doomed no matter what. You can enjoy the food and the company while sticking to your health goals. All you need is a plan of action—limit the picking, help yourself to some vegetables and turkey, enjoy a small amount of your favorite dishes, and move a bit. You will feel satisfied and content with your choices, all while maintaining good energy and blood sugar.