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The Holiday Table Re-Imagined

Transforming your favorite holiday dishes into diabetes-friendlier fare

No need to fear the holiday cheer. Temptations are lurking everywhere, and traditional holiday foods are potentially swimming in fat and overflowing with sugar. But with a few simple substitutions and an eye toward portion control, you may be able to turn ‘naughty’ foods nice. Here are some of my favorite ways to lighten the holiday meal and make it diabetes-friendlier, while maintaining the festive flavors.


Stuffing is carbohydrate-rich no matter how you prepare it, but increasing the proportion of mushrooms and other vegetables will help to bulk it up and minimize the carbs and calories per serving. Consider moistening your stuffing with low-sodium broth, instead of butter and sausage and their less healthful fats. Experiment with herbs and spices to add flavor without fat or calories; sage is a Thanksgiving classic, and I like rosemary and thyme as well. If you crave sausage, opt for meat made out of lean turkey instead of fattier pork. And pump up the nutrition with whole grain bread instead of white or corn bread cubes. If you feel like something a little snazzier, try a whole grain rice or quinoa-based stuffing, and dress it up with nuts and dried fruit.  Recommended serving – ¼ to ½ cup

Mashed potatoes

Celebrate the potato for its potassium, vitamin C, and magnesium. However, some add-ins – like butter, sour cream, and cheese – may turn mashed potatoes into a dish packed with saturated fat. Combine them instead with nonfat buttermilk and low-sodium broth for a tangy moistness. As always, I suggest mixing in non-starchy vegetables to dilute the calories and carbohydrates per serving. I prefer steamed, pureed cauliflower, but use whatever you like, including carrots or zucchini (without the seeds). If twice-baked potatoes are more your style, use the same substitutions for butter and other fatty add-ins with reduced-fat cottage cheese or goat cheese and just a smidgen of cheddar or Parmesan. However you cook them, remember that eating potatoes with the skin on will boost your fiber intake. Recommended serving – ½ cup


It’s the pan juices that give gravy that complex, meaty flavor. But unless you remove most of the fat, gravy also may give you excess calories and saturated fats. I use a gravy separator to remove the fat. If you don’t have one, simply pour the juices from your roasting pan into a glass bowl and freeze for ten minutes. Then scoop off the fat with a spoon. Add low-sodium broth to achieve the consistency you prefer.Recommended serving – 2 tablespoons

Cranberry sauce

Cranberries are loaded with antioxidants and health-boosting phytochemicals. Unfortunately, they’re hard to enjoy without gobs of sugar or other sweeteners. It’s difficult to prepare a low-calorie, low-carb cranberry sauce without substituting artificial sweeteners. I prefer to add sweetness in the form of other fruits – one of my favorites is a cranberry relish with oranges, walnuts, and as little sugar as possible.  Recommended serving – ¼ cup

Green bean casserole

Crispy fried onions and creamy sauce (sometimes taken out of a soup can) boost the calories of this otherwise healthful green vegetable. Better – and just as festive – is a dish of steamed green beans sprinkled with toasted almonds. If it’s the casserole part you and your family are hungry for, skip the crispy onions. Instead, top with breadcrumbs tossed with sautéed onions. And make your own white sauce with non-fat milk, flour, and herbs and spices. Recommended serving – ½ cup casserole or 1 cup steamed beans


For me, the holidays scream pie. You don’t have to give it up completely, but if your holiday meal used up your carbohydrate allowance, save a sliver of pie for dessert a few hours later. If you’re the designated baker, trim the sugar by a quarter to a third of what the pie filling recipe calls for or use a combination of sugar and artificial sweetener. Another good idea is to limit the amount of crust: bake a fruit pie with just one crust or turn it into a fruit crisp instead. You can even forego the crust on your pumpkin pie and call it a custard. Be sure to use low-fat milk too. Recommended serving – 1/8 to 1/10th of an 8-inch pie

By carefully thinking through your ingredient and recipe options, you can wow everyone at the table with a healthier twist on holiday classics. And that’s a delicious way to make the holidays sweet.

For more tips on surviving and enjoying the holidays, visit The DX archive.

Jill Weisenberger, MS, RD, CDE*, is the author of  Diabetes Weight Loss Week by Weekcontributing editor for Environmental Nutrition, and has written for many publications including EatingWell, Diabetic Living, Her Sports + Fitness, and LifeScript. Weisenberger is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

*“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.

© 2013 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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