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Healthy Holiday Meals

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Healthy Holiday Meals

Five tips for enjoying a simple and satisfying spread 

’Tis the season when we celebrate holiday traditions and create lasting memories with family and friends. This year, social gatherings are especially meaningful following the separation we experienced due to COVID-19 last year. How wonderful it will be to enjoy festive meals and visits with folks who live near and far (check out the latest CDC guidelines for information on safer gatherings). However, multiple celebrations, hurried schedules, and endless food choices during the holidays have the potential to wreak havoc on your daily diabetes management. 

Five tips for healthy holiday meals

No worries! Here are five tips and strategies to boost your meal-planning confidence during the busy holiday season. 

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1. Figure out your menu in advance.

While it’s not always possible (or realistic) to create your entire menu ahead of time, it can be helpful to think about your food choices before mealtime. Meal and snack planning may help you estimate your carbohydrate intake in advance, potentially lessening the stress of last-minute carb-counting. You are also more likely to make nutritious selections if you plan out several of your holiday meals.  

Pro tip: Figure out what prep work you can do ahead of time. Pre-prep vegetables, hard boil eggs, and mix seasonings or meat and poultry rubs in advance. Pre-package your favorite nutty snacks (e.g., almonds, walnuts, pistachios, and sunflower seeds) for a quick grab-and-go. Chop up veggies and store them in airtight containers in the refrigerator. No time to chop? Purchase pre-cut vegetables as needed.  

2. Keep it simple and satisfying.

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to nutritious eating for everyone living with diabetes. Whether you choose a low-carbohydrate, Mediterranean, plant-based, or different style of eating, enjoying traditional holiday fare with healthy and simple ingredient swaps may help you manage your carbohydrate and calorie consumption while boosting your nutritional intake during the holidays.   

Pro tip: Instead of trying to remember your favorite holiday recipes, save them in a designated place. It could be a binder in your kitchen, an old-fashioned recipe box, or a folder (or scan) on your computer.  

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T’ara’s Favorites

We asked T’ara Smith, MS, Nutrition Education and Senior Manager of Beyond Type 2 and developer of taratalksfood.com, to share her favorite nutritious holiday recipes, which include easy-to-find ingredients. She has been living with LADA (latent autoimmune diabetes in adults) since 2017 and has a passion for creating exceptional cuisine for her friends and family. Smith says, “My family and I love these recipes because they’re easy to prepare, even during the hectic holiday months. The Herb-Roasted Chicken and Sautéed Garlic Green Beans recipes add elegance to any holiday meal. Several of my relatives and close family friends are living with diabetes, and we all enjoy these nutritious and traditional holiday dishes, made with simple ingredients.”   

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3. Embrace your kitchen inventory.

Take stock of what you have on hand in your refrigerator, pantry, and kitchen cabinets before putting together your holiday menu. Check to see if you have required ingredients, herbs, spices, and canned goods before you finalize your grocery list, so you can be sure that you will only purchase what you need. This organized approach will help you stay within your budget (whether shopping in-person at the grocery store or online) and prevent duplicate purchases, as well as reduce food waste. Cross off the ingredients that you already have at home to make this a seamless process.  

Pro tip: Check out what’s in your freezer. If there are items that can be used for recipes, make sure to use them for your holiday menu. You can also suggest a dish to bring to a relative or friend’s home based on what is already stocked in your refrigerator, freezer, or pantry. Bonus? It will help you clear out your overpacked freezer.  

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Grocery Shopping Apps 

Try a free grocery shopping list app. These apps make it simple to share a virtual food shopping list with family members or roommates and keep inventory of what you have in stock at home, and they often provide nutrition information. A few options include:  

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4. Spice it up!

T’ara Smith is a big fan of using seasonings, herbs, and spices, which provide robust flavor to your favorite holiday dishes without adding carbohydrate, fat, calories, or sodium.  

Smith’s herb and spice tips: 

  • Use fresh and dried herbs in sauces, salsas, and dressings.  
  • Use dried herbs and spices in rubs, marinades, dips, and dressings.  
  • Store spices and herbs in a cool, dry place and use by the expiration date.  
  • Use seasonings with strong aromas, such as curry, onion powder, turmeric, garlic powder, ginger, and garam marsala, in place of salt.  
  • Use potent dried herbs for robust flavor. 
  • Try a spice grinder for whole spices, such as cinnamon, peppercorns, and seeds.  

Pro tip: When you shop for veggies and fruits in the produce aisle, don’t forget to pick up fresh herbs. Use fresh, delicate herbs to top finished meals. These include basil, cilantro, parsley, chives, mint, and dill.  

5. Meditate and be mindful, so you can enjoy your food and festivities. 

Even with the best of intentions, eating well at home, at parties, or while dining out can be challenging. Mindful practices can help boost your mental and physical health, especially if you feel stressed or overwhelmed during the holidays.   

We spoke with Peter Friedfeld, who was diagnosed with diabetes twice — first incorrectly with type 2 and then correctly with type 1 diabetes in 2016. He balances his busy career and volunteerism with his personal life and loves spending quality time with his husband, rescue dogs, and fabulous family.   

Friedfeld shares that when he was initially diagnosed with diabetes, he felt challenged by his busy schedule, especially during the holidays. He now embraces physical activity, meditation, and yoga as essential parts of his daily routine. “I continue my practice of meditation and yoga throughout the year, including [during] the hectic holiday season,” Friedfeld says. “I’ve made a daily commitment to meditate, and this regular practice has helped me be calm, centered, and committed to a life of healthier living, which includes enjoying food.”  

He continues “You don’t need a treadmill or exercise equipment to meditate, and you can do it anytime, anywhere, even in the car en route to a holiday party. I started taking an online meditation course developed by Sam Tullman [secondcocoon.com], who lives with type 1 diabetes. Sam’s program and support helped me learn calmness and focus, [as well as] how to savor the flavor of my food, including traditional holiday meals. Meditation helps me be calm, and I don’t feel the need to stress eat or overeat.” Friedfeld is a founding member of diabadass.com, where people living with diabetes can connect as well as participate in yoga and workout sessions.   

Pro tip: Try a meditation app, such as Calm, Headspace, The Mindfulness App, or Exhale. Many of these apps include free trials.  

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Staying Hydrated  

Try these tips to stay hydrated, and think before you drink (alcohol, that is): 

  • Drink plenty of water, tea, seltzer, or other calorie-free beverages instead of sugary punch or mixed fruit drinks. Add lemon or lime to your water to jazz it up.   
  • If you decide to drink alcohol, make sure not to drink on an empty stomach.  
  • Women should limit alcoholic beverages to one per day, and men should have no more than two drinks per day. One drink is equal to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits, or 1 ounce of 100-proof distilled spirits.  
  • If you do drink alcohol, remember to check your blood glucose levels often, as you may experience hypoglycemia (low blood glucose) or hyperglycemia (high blood glucose) in response. 

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Have a happy and healthy holiday season! 

Want to learn more about staying healthy during the holidays? Read “Holiday Health Tips: Overcoming Hurdles Using Self-Care Behaviors,” “Master Holiday Health Pitfalls,” and “Diabetes, Alcohol, and the Holidays.”

Susan Weiner, MS, RDN, CDCES, FADCES

Susan Weiner, MS, RDN, CDCES, FADCES

Susan Weiner, MS, RDN, CDCES, FADCES on social media

Susan Weiner is the owner of Susan Weiner Nutrition, PLLC. She lectures nationally and internationally on nutrition, diabetes, and lifestyle related topics and is the co-author of The Complete Diabetes Organizer and Diabetes: 365 Tips for Living Well. She has authored college textbook chapters on various nutrition topics, as well as dozens of articles for peer reviewed journals and popular press. Weiner earned her Master’s Degree in Applied Physiology and Nutrition from Columbia University.

Learn more about Susan Weiner:

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