Holiday Eating Strategies for People with Diabetes By Joan Schwegler, RD, CDE

The holidays are here, oh how time flies! So give yourself a present this season by following a few tips to keep on track managing your diabetes. After all, the holidays are about social gatherings with family and friends and what would a party be without food! Planning and moderation are the keys so don’t be sabotaged in your attempt to keep blood sugars under control. Healthy eating during the holidays is all about choices; with a little preparation, you can enjoy your favorite foods and resist the temptation to overeat.

Are you preparing the holiday meal this year?

Include nutritious food choices like vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean meats on the menu. Plan healthier versions of your traditional foods by substituting light or fat free sour cream in casseroles, sautéing vegetables in defatted broth rather than butter or adding a buttered-flavored spray to vegetables instead of heavy cream sauces, broiling, grilling or roasting meats and poultry on a rack so the fat can drip off, removing the skin from poultry, degreasing gravies by refrigerating and skimming off fat after cooling, substituting egg whites for whole eggs in recipes and whipping chilled evaporated skim milk for dessert toppings instead of using whipped cream. Calories can add up so try to avoid tasting too often when cooking and resisting the temptation to graze by putting leftovers away promptly.

Did you receive a party invitation?

Accept the invitation and have fun. Focus on conversation with family and friends instead of eating. Remember, if you are not planning the party menu yourself, the food options may not always be the healthiest so offer to bring a lower-calorie dish that you will enjoy. A colorful plate of veggies with a low fat yogurt dip will be warmly appreciated by the host or hostess. Don’t arrive at the party on an empty stomach – skipping meals or snacks earlier increases the likelihood of overeating later. Try to stick to your meal plan. Practicing moderation and consistency in carbohydrate intake throughout the day is the key to blood sugar control rather than saving all the “carbs” for later.  So go ahead, enjoy small portions of your favorite foods, eat slowly and practice mindful eating – concentrate on the flavors and textures.  Keeping hydrated by sipping calorie-free drinks such as sparkling water or flavored seltzer will help you feel full. If you choose to consume alcohol, drink in moderation because the calories can add up! The recommendation is no more than 1 drink for women and 2 drinks for men and should be consumed with food to prevent low blood glucose later, especially for someone taking insulin or certain diabetes medications.  A drink is defined as one 5 fl oz glass of wine, 12 fl oz of beer or 1 1/2 fl oz of distilled spirits (80-proof).  A wine spritzer made with club soda or a light beer is a good option to save on calories.

Dining out this holiday season?

The festivity of the holiday season often lends itself to sharing meals with family and friends at a favorite restaurant. Most restaurants will offer a combination of healthy and unhealthy items to choose from so it is important to read the menu carefully.  Menu item descriptions can be very helpful in choosing a lower fat menu item. Avoid menu items that include words such as “fried”, “crispy”, “creamy”, “buttery”, “bisque”, “cheesy”, “smothered”, “gravy”, or “encrusted”. Menu items that are served in a broth, red sauce, or wine sauce are lighter and lower in fat. Restaurants usually serve larger portions – one meal can often feed two or three people! Remember, the strategy is moderation so ask to have half of the meal packaged for take home before you start eating or request a lunch or kids portion when ordering dinner. Limit the bread or rolls by asking  to have them removed from the table and save your “carbs” for a whole grain option like wild rice or choose a small baked potato instead of French fries.  Salad is a good option but make sure to request dressing “on the side” and use a small amount.  Salad toppings like croutons, bacon bits and cheeses can turn a healthy option into a not-so-healthy option, so add sparingly. You can still enjoy a holiday dessert – share one with your dining partner. The trick is to substitute small portions of sweets for other carbohydrates in your meal plan, for example, have the small piece of pie for dessert instead of the roll at dinner. Dining out doesn’t always lends itself to eating at routine times so be mindful that medications may need to be adjusted. If meals are delayed and you are taking insulin or certain diabetes medications you may need a snack at the time you would usually eat your meal. Service in restaurants can be slow, especially during the busy holiday season, so when taking fast-acting insulin for meals wait until you are served before taking it to balance with food.

Going ice-skating?

Dress warm and stay active! Physical activity will help you burn calories, avoid weight gain and keep blood sugars under control.  It is also a good way to reduce the stress that often goes along with menu planning, shopping, cooking and decorating. So don’t take a holiday from your regular exercise routine! Try a seasonal activity, build a snowman, have a snowball fight! Walk a few laps around the mall.  Taking a stroll after eating a holiday dinner is a nice way to appreciate the outdoor decorations with family and friends.

The holiday season is a time to cherish loved ones, ring in new traditions and enjoy some traditional foods.  Whatever holiday you are celebrating, planning your strategy ahead of time will go a long way in reducing the anxiety associated with food focused holidays.

Enjoy this healthier holiday dip at your next party:

Spinach-Roasted Red Pepper Dip

Serving Size: 1 Tablespoon, Servings Per Recipe: 36


  • ½ cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • ½ cup plain low-fat or fat-free yogurt
  • ½ cup light mayonnaise dressing or salad dress­ing
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
  • 1 cup loosely packed fresh spinach leaves, coarsely chopped
  • ¾ cup bottled roasted red sweet peppers, drained and chopped
  • ¼ cup thinly sliced green onions
  • 3 red and/or yellow sweet peppers, seeded and cut into strips, or desired dippers

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, stir together mozza­rella cheese, yogurt, mayonnaise dressing, 2 tablespoons of the Parmesan cheese, the flour, and the Dijon mustard.

2. Stir in the spinach, roasted red peppers, and 2 tablespoons of the green onions. Spread the cheese vegetable mixture evenly into a 1-quart ovenproof shallow dish or a 9-inch pie plate. Sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese.

3. Bake the dip, uncovered, for 15 to 20 minutes or until the edges are bubbly and the mixture is heated through. Sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons green onions. Serve with red and/or yellow sweet pepper strips. Makes 2¼ cups.

NUTRITION FACTS PER SERVING: Calories: 21, Total Fat: 2 g (0 g sat. fat), Cholesterol: 3 mg, Sodium: 47 mg, Carbohydrates: 1 g, Fiber: 0 g, Protein: 1 g.

Used with permission from Diabetic Living® magazine. ©2007 Meredith Corporation. All rights reserved. For more diabetes-friendly recipes, visit­