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Making small changes can turn Thanksgiving dinner into a healthy, diabetic-friendly family tradition

by Kate Evans

Preparing some healthy, diabetic-friendly dishes to share with family and loved ones at Thanksgiving holiday gatherings can be as easy as making small substitutions to recipes or adding a new dish to the menu.

If you have someone attending that’s a newly diagnosed or long-term diabetic or that has special dietary needs, you’ ll make it easier for them to make good food choices at your home.

Stacy Schultz, War Memorial Hospital registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator, said that many of her patients worry about getting through their Thanksgiving and holiday dinners. Most don’t want to gain back the weight that they’ve worked so hard to lose or have their blood sugar spike dramatically after the meal, she said.

Have a plan

Schultz said that we all celebrate the holidays and get together with family for gatherings. It’s important for people to have a plan going into the gatherings as to how they’re going to approach food choices.

Each person is different with their nutritional requirements for diabetes or other medical conditions. Some may need low sodium, low carbohydrates, low gluten or vegetarian dishes, Schultz said. Generally, we could all do with less added sugars and less carbohydrates. She tells patients to drink water, diet soda or unsweetened tea with their holiday dinner.

For gathering organizers, Schultz recommends spreading out serving the food over several hours with having appetizers first, then dinner with clean-up, going for a short walk and having mini-desserts like mini-cupcakes or mini-pumpkin pies at the end.

Most people feature either turkey or ham as the main meat for their Thanksgiving meal, Schultz said. A void smothering the ham in sugar, she said.

Healthy dishes

Schultz advised people to bring healthy, diabetes-friendly covered dishes centered around non-starchy vegetables. Look for recipes that feature beets, asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, cucumber, green beans, wax beans, sauerkraut, kale, spinach, tomatoes, turnips, zucchini, peppers, carrots, squash, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower. Those offer a wide variety of choices for side dishes.

Take a vegetable platter or a fresh fruit and vegetable platter to your Thanksgiving dinner that has fresh produce from the Farmer’s Market or a produce stand, Schultz said. She cautioned that some recipes take healthy vegetables — like green beans or carrots — and add starches or sugar to them as in green bean casserole or carrots with brown sugar.

“Quit smothering everything in sugar. Individual foods have individual tastes. Sugar disguises the natural taste,” Schultz said.

Some healthy side dish ideas could be mashed or roasted sweet potatoes, spinach, apple and pecan salad, roasted Brussels sprouts, coleslaw with a little Splenda, broccoli, cauliflower and carrots and a variety of salads.

You could make cauliflower stuffing, carrot salad with raisins, pecans and apples, stuffed butternut squash and sweet potato salad. Extra protein like small squares of cheese or a handful of nuts could be added to salads to make them more nutritious. There is a wealth of recipes for healthy salads, stuffings and non-starchy vegetable side dishes online and in modern cookbooks.

Limit starches

Schultz said that people should plan to eat just one or two starches with their Thanksgiving meal. That can mean picking either mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes – not both. Choose either stuffing or hot rolls.

Hosts can offer a wide variety of non-starchy vegetables as part of the meal. Maybe serve a light, brothy soup as an appetizer.

Preparing less starchy foods and cutting back on sugar in recipes will make your holidays much healthier, she said. Cut out the sugary drinks and add a little exercise if you’re going to be eating more.

Schulz noted that “we really gorge ourselves at Thanksgiving and are miserable for hours.”

She always tells folks that it’s not the turkey at Thanksgiving that makes you sleepy — it’s all the carbs and added sugars that you eat at the meal that put you out like a light.

Some options

After we eat we’re supposed to be energized instead of falling asleep and sleeping through our company because we’ve overeaten, said Schultz. She suggested that instead of trying to attend a number of Thanksgiving dinners, skip a couple of them and just stop in after dinner to enjoy everyone’s company.

Schulz said that she started doing a little walk after Thanksgiving dinner with her kids when they were young. It gets the stomach settled down and gives you time to talk as a family.

“The best thing to teach kids is that our health is probably the most important thing we have in life,” Schultz stressed.

Holidays and loved ones

Thanksgiving and the holidays are all about spending time with family, friends and loved ones and enjoying each other’s company. Some families play games like Bingo and cards. Spend time together as family and focus less on the food.

Our health is very important for our daily activities and our future, Schultz said. It’s important any time we can make small contributions toward our health.

Schultz shared several healthy, diabetic friendly family recipes from her cookbook, “Grandma Zona’s Recipes,” that could be used for Thanksgiving dinner.

Mayonnaise Apple Cider Salad Dressing

2 cups mayonnaise
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar 1/2 cup Splenda
Mix all three ingredients adjusting to taste. Diabetic friendly.


1 bag of slaw mixture

1/2 cup Mayonnaise Apple Cider Salad Dressing

2 tbsp dried onion flakes (optional)

Open and pour slaw into bowl. Add Mayonnaise Apple Cider Salad Dressing. Stir well.

Brussels Sprouts

15-20 fresh Brussels sprouts

1/3 cup olive oil

3-4 tbsp Montreal steak seasoning

1/3 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Place sliced Brussels sprouts and raisins on a greased cookie sheet. Mix olive oil and steak seasoning together. Pour and cover sprouts and raisins with oil mixture. Bake for 10 minutes. Flip sprouts and raisins. Bake for another 10 minutes or until tender.

Cucumber, Tomato and Onion Salad

2 cucumbers
2 large tomatoes
1/ 2 onion, sliced
1/2 cup Mayonnaise Apple

Cider Salad Dressing Prepare and mix all vegetables in a bowl. Add Mayonnaise Apple Cider Salad Dressing as desired.