Make Your Holiday Menu Diabetes-Friendly

Diabetes, Diabetes Type 1, Diabetes Type 2, Healthy Living, Healthy Recipes and Nutrition, Nutrition
on November 1, 2011
Mark Boughton/styling: Teresa Blackburn

The approaching holiday season can be a challenge for people who have diabetes and their families. But a diabetes diagnosis doesn’t have to short-circuit your celebration. “The holidays are about familiar family favorites and flavor,” says Nancy Hughes, author of 15-Minute Diabetic Meals, part of the American Diabetes Association’s library of cookbooks. “You don’t have to let go of that. Food brings memories to life. So don’t give up Aunt Nancy’s special pie—balance it out with other choices.” We polled Hughes and authors of other American Diabetes Association cookbooks for their tips on making your holiday table healthier.

RELATED: Surviving the Holidays With Diabetes

  1. Don’t plan a special meal.“The way people with diabetes should eat is the way we should all eat,” says Linda Gassenheimer, author of the upcoming book Fast and Flavorful: Great Diabetes Meals from Market to Table. In a nutshell, that means choosing fresh vegetables, fruits, lean meats and seafood, whole grains and healthy fats and limiting sweets and unhealthy fats.
  2. Control portions.People with diabetes can enjoy most traditional recipes as long as the portions are reasonable. Robyn Webb, whose latest book, The American Diabetes Association Diabetes Comfort Food Cookbook, was published in September, suggests putting thought into presentation to make small portions seem more satisfying. For instance, serve cream soup in tiny espresso cups or the dressing for your Thanksgiving turkey in 2-ounce ramekins.
  3. Add fresh veggies whenever you can.For example, spike a favorite dip with diced tomatoes, or toss in extra spinach when a recipe calls for it. “Not only are you adding nutrition, but you’re able to feed more of your crowd with fewer calories,” says Holly Clegg, author of Holly Clegg’s Trim & Terrific™ Diabetic Cooking.
  4. Use herbs, spices and aromatics.“Our modern flavor enhancers are fat and sugar,” says Mediterranean cuisine expert Amy Riolo. “When you try to eat healthfully and cut those things out, you lose flavor.” Compensate with aromatics like the classic combination of sautéed onion, carrots, celery and garlic, and fresh herbs and spices.
  5. Get back to simplicity.“The word ‘casserole’ can raise suspicions when you’re trying to eat healthy, because you don’t know what’s in it,” says Riolo, author of The Mediterranean Diabetes Cookbook. Instead, simply sautee or roast vegetables to let natural flavors shine.
  6. Switch to low-fat dairy. To lower your intake of unhealthy saturated and trans fats—important because people with diabetes are at higher risk of heart disease—modify recipes with low-fat dairy ingredients such as reduced-fat cream cheese, Greek yogurt and nonfat milk, suggests Clegg.
  7. Offer variety. Along with the traditional desserts, include a bowl of fruit salad on the table for guests who want a healthier option. Offer a healthier appetizer (like hummus dip with vegetables) as well as calorie-free beverages.
  8. Put salad in the spotlight. Go beyond the typical lettuce-and-tomato combination and create something special that complements a holiday meal. Hughes suggests baby greens with sliced pear and blue cheese crumbles, dressed with balsamic vinegar and oil.
  9. Do a dry run. If you’re trying new recipes or modifying old ones, try them out on your immediate family a few weeks before their pubic debut to give you time to tweak them and get it right. “When you change things, you’ve got to experiment,” Webb says.
  10. Get feedback. If you have diabetes, check your blood glucose two to three hours after your Thanksgiving meal to see what worked and what didn’t, and keep a record so you know what changes you need to make next year, Webb suggests. Or ask for feedback from family members or guests.


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