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Jo-Anne M. Rizzotto, M.Ed, R.D., L.D.N., C.D.E.

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Diabetic-friendly Holiday Meal Planning

Ask the Expert


I have a family member who's coming to our house for the holidays. She has diabetes. Is there anything I should keep in mind when planning meals?


Meal planning guidelines for individuals with diabetes are the same as for those of us who do not have diabetes and want to eat healthy. Eating healthy but allowing for some indulgences during the holiday season is OK for everyone, including those with diabetes. The key is planning ahead when having a guest with diabetes for dinner. With your thoughtfulness in preplanning the holiday meal, it will be easier for your friend to enjoy herself.

Some tips for the holidays:

• Serve foods, such as fruit, nuts in the shell, or a fresh vegetable tray with light spreadable cheeses or dips, to be enjoyed whenever guests need to eat. Certain diabetes medications may require a person to eat a snack sooner than the meal can be served.

• When planning your menu, provide a balance of carbohydrate, protein and fat. The Thanksgiving meal is a good example: roasted white meat turkey, baked sweet potato, plenty of greens and perhaps a fruit cup for a starter. You might add a tossed salad as an option (even if it isn't a traditional part of the holiday meal).

• Serve food family style or buffet-style so guests can choose their selections and control portion sizes. People with diabetes generally are advised to fill most of their plate with vegetables, whole grains and unsweetened fruits, with smaller portions of low-fat dairy products and lean protein foods, and very small amounts, if any, of alcohol-containing, high-fat or high-sugar foods.

• Provide a choice of low-sugar, low-fat desserts. For example, substitute artificial sweeteners for part or all of the sugar used in recipes. Using artificial sweeteners will decrease the carbohydrate content of the food, allowing your guests to eat more carbohydrates during the rest of their meal.

• Use one-third less sugar in your recipes. Serve pumpkin or apple pie because each has fewer calories and carbohydrates than pecan pie.

• Serve a variety of sugar-free beverages, including water. Another option is a spritzer, which can be made with seltzer water, a splash of cranberry juice and lime. If your guest prefers wine, offer a wine spritzer.

• Limit added fats such as butter, oil, cream or cheese to your food preparation. Use nonfat milk or low-fat milk in recipes; evaporated skim milk is a good substitute for cream. Provide reduced-fat cream cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, salad dressings or other toppings as choices. Fat-free dips are a good alternative. Serve sauces and gravies in separate bowls and let people choose the amount to add to food.

• Ask your guest if there are any particular "favorite" holiday foods that she usually eats and try to have one or two available for her.

• Finally, consider asking your guest when she usually eats her meals, and, if possible, think about adapting your meal schedule to better accommodate hers.

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