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9 Meal Tricks Every Diabetic Should Follow to Survive Holiday Dinners

Whoa! Did you know the average American may consume over 4,500 calories at a holiday feast? For the diabetic, the meals can be a nightmare with so many temptations. Thankfully, we have nine ways to savor the food without compromising your health!

SoupBrent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Two weeks out

Don’t wait until the day of the feast and just wing it. Start by checking out these 15 diabetic-friendly recipes. Then: “Ask the host what is on the menu so you can bring a healthy dish for you to enjoy,” says Angela Ginn-Meadow RD, LDN, CDE, senior education coordinator at University of Maryland Center for Diabetes and Endocrinology. Ginn-Meadow suggests some tasty appetizers such as butternut squash soup, dried apricots with a sprinkle of blue cheese and almonds. Delicious sides dishes could include Brussels sprouts with balsamic glaze, mixed green salad with poached pears, dried walnuts and champagne mustard vinaigrette. For dessert, bake a cake using Splenda or applesauce as the sweetener. by the way, if you’re looking for a step-by-step guide to reverse diabetes, check out this plan.

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The main event

There are some simple tricks to enjoying holiday meals when you’re a diabetic. One of them is to maintain the same eating schedule. Fasting isn’t a wise move, as you’re more likely to overeat when dinner is served. “Staying on your normal schedule is important regarding the timing of meals and medication,” says Ginn-Meadow. For example, if dinner is going to be between lunch and dinner time, opt for a snack with protein and carbs. Ginn-Meadow recommends six ounces of light yogurt, five to six Triscuits with cheese, or a small apple with a smear of peanut butter. However, if dinner is served at 5:00, be sure to eat a lunch with veggies, protein, and complex carbs.

Sorry, no free passes today

A beautifully dressed table with a cornucopia of delicious food makes even the strongest dieter go weak in the knees. It’s only one day, right? You’ll get back on track tomorrow. Not so fast. “Diabetes does not go away for a day,” says Ginn-Meadow. If you do decide to go head first in the buffet and indulge, you’ll need to move more. “Burning calories and using carbohydrates efficiently will help maintain your blood glucose throughout the day,” says Ginn-Meadow. The price for overindulging and not moving more? Hyperglycemia the next day. (Here’s the difference between hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia.) Being tired, running to the bathroom every few minutes, and having a headache is no fun the next day. “Keep your blood sugar in target,” advises Ginn-Meadow.


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Divide and conquer!

One of the best things you can do before diving in is to survey the foods first before filling your plate. “Save one-quarter of your plate for the items you waited all year for. Fill one-half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables and the remaining one-quarter with lean protein such as turkey or roast beef,” says Ginn-Meadow. Here’s some help: The 15 best foods for diabetes, according to science.

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Mindful eating tricks

There’s no reason why you should feel like you can’t enjoy a feast with your family and friends. In fact, there are a lot of tricks to eating healthy and not feel like you’re missing out. “Eat on a smaller, salad-sized plate as it forces you to take less,” says Deborah Malkoff-Cohen, MS, RD, CDN, CDE, of NYC Eat Well. Focus on savoring the flavor and texture. Put your fork down between bites and chew your food thoroughly. “After the plate is finished, talk and visit for 20 minutes and wait before eating more. Chances are you’ll be full and forgo that extra plate of food.”

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These appetizers get the green light

You don’t necessarily have to pass on the appetizers or pre-game snacks—here are some healthy ones. Portion control is key, so be mindful of how they will add up for this day of feasting. Malkoff-Cohen suggests these tasty protein and veggie appetizers: veggies and spinach dip, deviled eggs, stuffed mushrooms with spinach and Gruyere, fresh veggies, shrimp cocktail (be careful with the sugary sauce), cheese, Mediterranean skewers with grilled veggies, chicken or beef or one with a feta cheese, tomato, olive and tomato combo.

SidesElena Veselova/Shutterstock

Sides matter

Often the main dish takes a back seat to the delicious and varied side dishes. But they can really get you into trouble if you don’t keep track of the carbs in your favorites. A sugary sweet potato casserole with marshmallows, for example, chimes in at 30 carbs per half cup. A quarter cup of homemade gravy and a half-cup of mashed potatoes is about 50 carbs. “Some better side choices are green beans, carrots, Brussels sprouts, creamed spinach, green bean casserole, and collard greens,” says Malkoff-Cohen.


AlcoholJacob Lund/Shutterstock


The best non-alcholic choices for diabetics are here, but if you want to toast with something that has a kick, Malkoff-Cohen says liquors like vodka, brandy, whiskey, tequila, or gin are your best bet. Drink over ice and add a splash of no-calorie mixer like diet lemonade. “Be careful of the mixers,” warns Malkoff-Cohen. “A gin and tonic has 16 carbs and a rum and coke has 39 carbs!” If you’re going to tip one back while watching the football game, choose a low-carb beer and limit our intake. Make it a dark beer and you’ll take in fewer carbs.


Pumpkin-pieBrent Hofacker/shutterstock

Save room for dessert

Yes, you can have dessert! “Before dessert, go for a 30-minute walk to help lower postprandial spikes,” says Ginn-Meadow. “And share it with someone you love,” she advises. A small slice of pumpkin, apple, blueberry, or cherry pie will set you back between 40-58 carbs. The best option? Cheesecake, says Malkoff-Cohen. “It has more fat and protein which delays the absorption of the carbs.” Your best bet to indulge your sweet tooth may be to bake one of these 10 delicious diabetic desserts and bring it to share.

Lisa Marie Conklin
Lisa Marie Conklin is a Baltimore-based writer and writes regularly about pets and home improvement for Reader's Digest. Her work has also been published in The Healthy, HealthiNation, The Family Handyman, Taste of Home, and, among others. She's also a certified personal trainer and walking coach for a local senior center.