Thanksgiving and Diabetes

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With the arrival of October comes the necessity to discuss Thanksgiving and diabetes.

I know our American friends don’t celebrate Thanksgiving until November but in Canada, we will be feasting on turkey dinner this coming weekend.

I just love all the preparations, the baking and cooking certainly fill the house with the most amazing, mouth-watering scents.

Thanksgiving is full of traditions

I love the chaos and noise that arrives when family members drop by for the yearly feast.

Because my husband is a Newfoundlander, I learned to make the traditional Jiggs dinner which we all love. We also have the crowd over the next day for turkey hash that is made from the leftovers.

What traditions does your family have?

This means we actually have two days of feasting which is definitely hard on the waistline and more difficult to manage our grandson’s type 1 diabetes.

This year because of COVID, sadly we won’t be able to have the crowd come home.

Travel is restricted so our Thanksgiving guests will be limited to our daughter and her family who live literally only about a three-minute car drive away.

So what happens if like us, there is a diabetic in the family?

Do you need to change your meal plan?

Do we have to give up the pie?

What about an adult drink?

These are all questions that any diabetic will be asking at this time of year.

Plan ahead

As with anything diabetes-related planning is key.

We all know there will be tons of food at any Thanksgiving gathering so why not make it easier on yourself and plan.

Check your sugars often and follow your diabetes care plan carefully especially in the days leading up to Thanksgiving.

You want to have your blood sugars as close to within range as possible before the holiday.

This will allow you to be able to indulge a bit, but don’t overdo it.

When it comes to Thanksgiving dinner, we all know that turkey is the star of the show.

Thankfully turkey is a fabulous protein source with no carbs so a good-sized portion is a great start to filling that plate. A typical adult serving would be about 3 ounces or the size of a palm.

I don’t know about you but our turkey is always stuffed with dressing before cooking so the dressing can be flavoured by the juices of the meat while cooking.

Unfortunately, dressing or stuffing has the highest carb counts. If you plan on eating dressing (stuffing) know the carb count ahead of time so you can accurately dose for insulin.

Remember potatoes, gravy, cranberries and fresh rolls all contain high amounts of carbs as well.

Vegetables are typically carb-free unless they are prepared with sauces.

When it comes to desserts, the portion size is more important than what you are eating. If there are two desserts that you really can’t decide which one you want, try having a half serving of each. Remember to count the carbs.

Knowing ahead of time what you will be eating can make carb counting and insulin dosing that much easier.

Watch your portion sizes and that brings us to our next topic.

How a kitchen scale and a measuring cup can help

Thanksgiving and Diabetes - kitchen scale and measuring cups

I make everything homemade so just reading the label for a carb count won’t work for us.

I use an app for a nutrition calculator I found online. It works great, you just type in the ingredients of the recipe then enter how many serving that makes, and voila, it tells you the complete nutrition information.

I print the nutrition label for commonly used recipes which is a huge time saver any time I make that recipe.

We also use a kitchen scale and measuring cup a LOT. It is a great way to ensure proper portion sizes which ultimately makes insulin dosing more accurate.

Be selective

There is always an abundance of food for Thanksgiving dinner. This makes it so much easier to be selective about your carb choices.

If there are appetizers available try to either wait for the main event or choose low-carb options.

For example, our grandson absolutely loves mashed potatoes and gravy but is not so fussy about dressing. Easy to decide what to give him right.

He would also prefer to have a piece of pie instead of cranberry sauce.

By being selective and only choosing your favourites, it can help reduce your overall carb count for the meal and you still get to enjoy the foods you love.

With Alex being such a young child, we find it helpful to give him choices rather than just load his plate with everything. Getting him involved in his food choices makes for a happier mealtime.

Simply asking him if he wants potatoes or dressing, gives him a much-needed sense of control.

Naturally, beginning the meal with your blood sugar numbers close to within range allows more freedom with the food choices.

Yes you can have dessert too

Providing you still have room in your belly, there are always the most mouth-watering desserts available at Thanksgiving.

Every year I make homemade apple pie, pumpkin pie, and assorted squares and cookies.

What favourite desserts do you make?

It is just as difficult (if not more so) to choose just one dessert.

Typically what happens here is people want a half portion of more than one dessert.

My husband likes a half slice of apple pie and a half slice of pumpkin pie. Then much later in the evening, he will have a square or cookie with a cup of tea.

With Alex, we know ahead of time that he wants pie so we are sure to include that in his carb count and give him his insulin accordingly.

Adult beverages

While our grandson is much too young to have any adult beverages the time will come when he will be of age to possibly want to indulge in a cocktail or glass of wine.

It is important to understand that these drinks will also need to be counted in your carb count.

If you are diabetic and choose to indulge in adult drinks, I urge you to first check out my article on the best alcohol choices for diabetics.

When it comes to alcoholic beverages it isn’t just the alcohol to be concerned with. The mixes tend to be high in sugar as well.

Another thing to consider when thinking about adult drinks is the fact that these drinks can affect your blood glucose levels for many hours after consumption.

Sure we serve wine with our dinner for the adults but we also serve water.

Whether diabetic or not, a glass of water aids in the digestion of any meal.

After dinner walkThanksgiving and Diabetes - brisk walk

So now that you’re stuffed and you have indulged in not only a great meal but also a delicious dessert, why not head outside for a brisk walk.

As a diabetic, this will help lower those blood sugar levels in a natural way.

Oh sure, you drank water to help flush the extra sugars out, you took your appropriate insulin dose, adding that walk will only further benefit you.

First and foremost it will help alleviate that uncomfortable, overfull feeling.

It is also good for your heart to get out there and get pumping.

I know our grandkids love to head outside to play after dinner while the grownups are cleaning up.

I must admit there are times I have headed out the door with them for a few minutes of a brisk walk and left the dishes till a little later.

Final thoughts

As you can see from this article, Thanksgiving and diabetes don’t have to be a nightmare.

Diabetics can certainly enjoy Thanksgiving as much as anyone else.

Thanksgiving is about spending time with family and the food part just takes a little preplanning.

Be sure to get control of those blood sugar levels before Thanksgiving so you are starting at your healthiest.

Be selective about the carbs you eat. In other words, choose your favourites and just eat something because it is there.

Choose low carb appetizers or hold off for the main event.

Be mindful of portion sizes and try half portions of more options.

Drink plenty of water.

If you indulge in wine or some other cocktail be sure to include that in your carb count.

Know the carb count of the food you are eating, try using a nutrition calculator to make it easier with homemade recipes.

Use a kitchen scale and measuring cups to help determine portion sizes and carb counts.

Take your insulin and enjoy an after-dinner walk to help keep those blood sugar levels from spiking too much.

Above all enjoy yourself, after all, it is a time to celebrate.

I am not in any way a medical practitioner, please do not rely on the information on our website as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or another healthcare provider. We only share our experiences.

I wish you all a safe and happy Thanksgiving.

Don’t forget to leave your tips or maybe even your favourite recipes in the comment section below.

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4 thoughts on “Thanksgiving and Diabetes”

  1. You have some really excellent tips here for managing diabetes, and especially been able to enjoy special occasions like thanksgiving dinner which is so important.
    it might take a little bit of planning ahead but it just goes to show it can be done, I really like how you give your grandson plenty of choices so he still feels in control, having a condition like diabetes can often take things like that away from you so I think that is great!
    Its such a shame we are unable to meet up with family and friends this year as we would normally but I’m sure you will still have a lovely time.

    Happy thanks giving!!!!

    • Thanks, Amy. When dealing with diabetes, everything you do requires pre-planning. It doesn’t take long to become quite proficient at it. We are fortunate that we can get together with our daughter and her family. The rest of the family will be greatly missed but we can Facetime or Skype which is amazing. Hopefully, by Christmas, we may be able to have more family get together. I wish you all the best and if you celebrate Thanksgiving I hope it is wonderful for you even if it is different from other years.

  2. It’s really interesting to see what some people’s experience with diabetes can be like and this article definitely opened my eyes to how much you actually have to think about what you eat if you are a serious diabetic. There is all the usual problems with desserts and sugary foods but I didn’t think that you may have to consider what you drink as well!

    Thanks for this article and I look forward to seeing some more from this very interesting and informative writer.
    Enjoy your thanksgiving 🙂

    • Thank you for dropping by Jonathon. Proper diabetes management can be all-consuming. Everything a diabetic does affects their blood sugars. It isn’t just about the food and drink choices but also exercise and even sleep can affect their numbers and ultimately their health. There are many complications that can arise when diabetes is not properly managed. While you may not be diabetic yourself, I encourage you to learn as much as you can about this disease. Knowing what to do if you recognize hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia in a friend or relative may just save their life.


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