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[1] 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. 

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[2]. 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[3], 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[4], Mediterranean[5], plant-based[6], 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.  


T’ara’s Favorites

We asked T’ara Smith, MS, Nutrition Education and Senior Manager of Beyond Type 2[7] and developer of[8], to share her favorite nutritious holiday recipes, which include easy-to-find ingredients. She has been living with LADA (latent autoimmune diabetes in adults)[9] 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[10] and Sautéed Garlic Green Beans[11] 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.  


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:  


4. Spice it up!

T’ara Smith is a big fan of using seasonings, herbs, and spices[19], which provide robust flavor to your favorite holiday dishes without adding carbohydrate, fat, calories, or sodium.  

Smith’s herb and spice tips: 

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[21] 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[22] 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[23] and then correctly with type 1 diabetes[24] 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[25], meditation, and yoga[26] 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 [[27]], 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[28], 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[29], Headspace[30], The Mindfulness App[31], or Exhale[32]. Many of these apps include free trials.  

Staying Hydrated  

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


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,”[36] “Master Holiday Health Pitfalls,”[37] and “Diabetes, Alcohol, and the Holidays.”[38]

  1. COVID-19:
  2. carb-counting:
  3. walnuts:
  4. low-carbohydrate:
  5. Mediterranean:
  6. plant-based:
  7. Beyond Type 2:
  9. LADA (latent autoimmune diabetes in adults):
  10. Herb-Roasted Chicken:
  11. Sautéed Garlic Green Beans:
  12. sign up for our free newsletters:
  13. AnyList:
  14. Mealime :
  15. OurGroceries :
  16. Bring!:
  17. Cozi Family Organizer:
  18. ListEase:
  19. seasonings, herbs, and spices:
  20. turmeric:
  21. Meditate:
  22. dining out:
  23. type 2:
  24. type 1 diabetes:
  25. physical activity:
  26. yoga:
  29. Calm:
  30. Headspace:
  31. The Mindfulness App:
  32. Exhale:
  33. alcohol:
  34. hypoglycemia:
  35. hyperglycemia:
  36. “Holiday Health Tips: Overcoming Hurdles Using Self-Care Behaviors,”:
  37. “Master Holiday Health Pitfalls,”:
  38. “Diabetes, Alcohol, and the Holidays.”:

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Disclaimer of Medical Advice: Statements and opinions expressed on this Web site are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the publishers or advertisers. The information, which comes from qualified medical writers, does not constitute medical advice or recommendation of any kind, and you should not rely on any information contained in such posts or comments to replace consultations with your qualified health care professionals to meet your individual needs.