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Thanksgiving Eating With Diabetes

Plan for When One or More of Your Guests Has Type 2 Diabetes


Updated November 23, 2010

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Thanksgiving is a holiday with many traditions, but healthy eating is usually not one of them. That can be particularly troublesome if you or one of your guests has type 2 diabetes. Balancing delivering on a classic spread with being sensitive to dietary needs (if you're the host), trying to thwart temptations (if you're a guest) -- it can be a gravy trail of minefields.

The good news is that, with some planning, you can make it through the holiday without disappointing your diners or wrecking a diabetes diet plan.

Here are some tips to help you through planning your meal:

Identify the Real Needs of Your Guests

If you have guests who have a specific medical condition, like diabetes or food allergies, do your best to be mindful of their dietary needs. Dietary needs based on medical conditions are real needs, while food preferences should be less of a worry. Uncle Steve can pass on the sweet potatoes if he doesn't care for them.

Set a Healthy Eating Tone for All

Don't feel guilty about making your side dishes diabetes-friendly for Aunt Susan. In cooking to take her needs into account, the rest of your family benefits from what is a more healthfully prepared dish. You may be surprised by how many of your other guests appreciate that. Gaining weight over the holidays is a concern for many people.

Keep it Traditional, But Add a Twist

Some suggestions:


  • Use herbs, citrus fruits, spices and aromatic vegetables like onions, celery and carrots to flavor your bird. Skip the butter; the drippings alone can be the base of an excellent low-fat gravy.
  • Try making 2 turkey breasts instead of one large bird. You will have enough meat for a large crowd, and going this route ensures that it's all lean.
  • Bake your turkey breast-side down. Use low-sodium turkey or chicken broth to baste your turkey every 30 minutes. Pull your bird out of the oven when a thermometer plunged into the meatiest part of the breast reads 160 degrees. Cover it with aluminum foil, and let the turkey rest for 15 to 20 minutes before carving. This will allow the turkey to come up to 165 degrees and retain all of the natural juices.
  • Pull the skin off of the bird before you serve.

Candied Sweet Potatoes:

  • Try this instead of your regular, sugary recipe: Cut raw sweet potatoes into wedges. Melt and stir light butter and low-sugar maple syrup in a saucepan (1 teaspoon each per potato). Add cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. Arrange potato wedges on the baking sheet and pour butter mixture over wedges. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes in a 325-degree oven, or until soft.

  • Use the same recipe above to cook acorn squash: leave skin on, cut into wedges and scoop out the seeds. Cook as described above with the skin-side down on baking sheet lined with parchment paper. They can be eaten with a spoon, much like you would eat a wedge of cantaloupe.

  • Serve mashed pumpkin instead:

    Two Pumpkin Recipes

Mashed Potatoes:

  • Skip the butter and sour cream. Whip well-cooked potatoes with skim milk, salt and pepper. Leave the skins on for a more organic look (and more fiber).

  • Mash cooked cauliflower instead of white potatoes, or try a 50/50 mix:

    Potato and Cauliflower Mash

  • Rather than serving candied sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes, combine the two dishes and make mashed sweet potatoes instead.


  • Substitute white for toasted whole-wheat bread in your favorite stuffing recipe. Skip the butter and use apple cider for flavor and moisture.
  • Better yet, try a grain that is even higher in fiber as the base of your stuffing: Cooked barley and quinoa work nicely and can be mixed with traditional stuffing vegetables and herbs. This can also be prepared on your stovetop, freeing-up needed oven space.

Vegetables and Fruit Relishes:

  • Green beans, sauteed spinach, steamed broccoli and asparagus all add color, fiber and low-carbohydrate options to your menu. All are nice with a simple seasoning of olive-oil flavored fat-free cooking spray, roasted garlic or garlic powder, salt and pepper.
  • Rather than serving high-fat appetizers, make a colorful vegetable tray. Serve with hummus, or mix a dry dip seasoning packet with unflavored Greek yogurt instead of sour cream.
  • Serve a salad made with baby spinach, roasted butternut squash (which you can buy frozen and diced and cook ahead of time), grated Parmesan cheese, and light Italian dressing.
  • Cook one bag of fresh cranberries (see directions on package), but use a sugar substitute for the sugar when making cranberry compote or sauce. For variety, mix with equal parts of unsweetened applesauce.


  • Instead of making several desserts, make one good dessert. Make just enough for everyone to have a slice. If you have diabetes, and there are leftovers, send them home with your guests.
  • Try something different, like serving fresh berries skewered with cubes of sharp cheeses.

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