Hosting Diabetic People for the Holidays

Submitted by Rienne Schinner MLIS on Fri, 12/06/2019 - 8:15am

Let me quickly introduce myself. I'm Rienne Schinner, Dr. Schinner's wife. I may not be a Milltown Family employee, but I'm a medical librarian and have spent a lot of my career thus far helping both consumers and health professionals locate the best medical information online. My dad is a recently diagnosed Type 2 diabetic and he's been fortunate enough to control his diabetes fairly quickly, mostly by watching what he eats and exercising. But this brings about a dilemma for me. If Dad would come see us for the holidays, WHAT would I be able to serve him? Since the CDC reports 30.3 million people in the US were diabetics in 2017, I’m not alone in wanting to make a delicious, healthy holiday meal for a loved one with diabetes! (

For me, one of the biggest highlights of the holiday season is the food. The holiday cookies, cheesecakes, super rich mashed potatoes, rolls … it’s a veritable smorgasbord of deliciousness. However, finding something appropriate to eat (or to make) if you or a loved one have diabetes this time is difficult with all the temptations. I want all the traditional goodies myself, but I would want to make sure that he had a good meal as well.

Key dietary rules for diabetics:

  • Monitor the consumed sugar
  • Eat a variety of veggies and fruits, watching the fruits for excess sugar
  • Eat a lower carbohydrate diet
  • Be careful with alcohol consumption

It may be easier to think about it in terms of our healthy food rules. ChooseMyPlate is a great way to think about how much of each type of food we should be eating. While it seems like a buzzkill to follow that for a holiday meal, it’s extra important if you have diabetes. Even if they can plan ahead to indulge in a treat, following a balanced plate will help keep sugars in check.

Choose My Plate


50% of the plate being fruits and veggies means a wide variety of those items should be available. If starchy veggies are consumed, ¼ should be starch, ½ non-starchy, and last ¼ protein.


“Starchy” veggies vs “non-starchy” veggies

Both types of vegetables have a lot of minerals, vitamins, and fiber. Your “starchy” vegetables have more starch, protein, carbs, and calories than the non-starchy types. While both are OK to eat, the starchy veggies should be consumed in moderation. The higher carbohydrate content makes them harder to metabolize, and cause blood sugar to increase more quickly than non-starchy vegetables.

Starchy veggies

Beans (black, cannellini, kidney, navy, pinto varieties) Lentils Pumpkin
Butternut Squash Parsnips Sweet Potatoes


Peas Taro
Corn Potatoes Yams


Non-starchy veggies are essentially “free” foods, one can load up on these and use them to satiate hunger. A wide variety of these on the table will help satisfy the daily vegetable requirement, and one can eat a lot of these.

Non-Starchy Veggies

Amaranth Celery Peppers
Artichoke/Artichoke hearts Coleslaw (sans dressing) Radishes
Asparagus Cucumber Rutabaga
Baby corn Eggplant Salad greens
Bamboo shoots Greens (collard, kale, mustard, turnip) Sprouts
Beans (green, wax, Italian) Hearts of palm Squash (summer, spaghetti, zucchini)
Bean sprouts Jicama Sugar snap peas
Beets Kohlrabi Swiss chard
Brussels sprouts Leeks Tomato
Broccoli Mushrooms Turnips
Cabbage Okra Water chestnuts
Carrots Onions Yard-long beans
Cauliflower Pea pods  


As for desserts, honey and maple syrup are higher in sugar and should be avoided, but substitutes like Stevia or Xylitol are sugar free sweeteners. They’re also readily available in stores. For recipes with white and brown sugar, consider omitting the brown sugar to lower the sugar content. Think also about making fruit-based desserts, which will be sweet anyway because of the fruit. (Just please not fruitcake, yuck!)


So for Christmas favorites, we can still cook all our favorites, but note people with diabetes might make the following adaptations at the table:

  • Eat light meat without the skin. Cooks should consider a prep method other than dry brining the turkey to cut down on sodium.
  • Have fewer mashed or sweet potatoes (and making some sweet potatoes with less brown sugar and marshmallows would also help)
  • Choose a vegetarian stuffing (sage/onion, etc.) that was baked on the side (dressing)
  • Choose more vegetables for their plate (make a wider variety of non-starchy veggies, and use fresh or frozen varieties when possible. Rinse canned veggies to get rid of as much excess sodium as possible).
  • For dessert, try to make a lower/no sugar option, or make mini versions of your favorites (muffins, cupcakes, spritz cookies) so everyone can still enjoy!


Good websites to find diabetic friendly recipes include: 

Diabetes Forecast


Diabetic Gourmet magazine

Food Network

I'll be using some of these for sure the next time my dad comes to town. 

Hosting diabetics seems challenging, but it doesn’t have to be! It seems like most people know someone with diabetes or who is pre-diabetic. People diagnosed with diabetes have often been through diabetic education and know what (and how much) they can eat. Check with them or ask them to bring/recommend a favorite dish that they would enjoy and be able to eat. Otherwise, they can eat most of the traditional foods in moderation. Hopefully, the next time my dad comes for a nice meal, we'll all be able to enjoy something tasty!

Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and delicious holiday!