A Guide to Staying Healthy this Holiday Season

With the holiday season rapidly approaching, it is time to consider how we can manage our health during a time of year filled with special food traditions. From Thanksgiving turkey and stuffing to Christmas candy to New Year lunches filled with hoppin’ john and greens, it is important that we look for meaningful ways to enjoy our seasonal favorites while also maintaining our commitment to health. In this blog, we will provide you with some tips and tricks for you when you attend your family’s holiday gatherings. We hope these suggestions help make this holiday season your healthiest one yet!

Thanksgiving Meal.

Thanksgiving Meal.
Julianna Lyle, ©2023, Clemson Extension

Tips for Success During Holiday Gatherings

Don’t Go Hungry to Your Special Event: How many of us are guilty of saying, “I am going to eat a big meal at Thanksgiving lunch, so I am going to skip my breakfast today”? While it is tempting to save room for that Thanksgiving lunch or dinner, we must consider the potential impact that skipping breakfast may have on our ability to control cravings and our blood sugar for the remainder of the day. Breakfast is important because, as it states in its name, we are “breaking our fast” from the night before and refueling our body with energy that will carry us throughout the remainder of the day. Current research suggests that the dysregulation of eating patterns from skipping meals may increase an individual’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes and increase one’s risk of becoming obese; this is compared to individuals who eat 3 consistent meals a day. This is because skipping meals is associated with an individual feeling a greater sense of hunger throughout the remainder of the day and overeating at the meals following breakfast.

Often, those individuals who choose to skip breakfast state that they simply do not have time to eat or they do not know what to prepare. Breakfast does not have to be stressful – remember to focus on consuming high-quality carbohydrates, such as whole grains, paired with a lean source of protein and some healthy fats. Your body and blood sugar will thank you!

Options For a Healthy Breakfast Include:

  • Microwavable oatmeal topped with peanut butter, strawberries, and almonds
  • Whole wheat toast topped with scrambled egg and a side of melon.
  • Crustless vegetable quiche muffins
  • Low-fat, plain, Greek-style yogurt topped with fresh fruit and nuts

Check Your Blood Sugar Numbers: Holiday mealtimes frequently exist outside of normal mealtime hours. This can lead to us snacking more while we wait for that meal to come out of the oven. Because of this, it is important that we keep a regular schedule for monitoring our blood sugar levels. That holiday cheese board might look tempting; however, the mindless snacking, especially if we’ve skipped our breakfast, could raise our blood sugar numbers before we even sit down for our holiday dinner. Food logs and journals are a great way to keep track of what you are consuming each day, especially at your holiday mealtimes. Cellphone applications are a discrete way to quickly jot down what you consume, and many applications have places where you can include notes of your blood sugar numbers. Monitoring your blood sugar throughout the day can help you determine which foods are commonly causing your blood sugar to spike, which will help you to be the most informed when you sit down to your holiday meal.

Check out these cellphone applications that can help you manage your blood sugar and health: HGIC 3889, Smartphone Apps for Diabetes Self-Management Support.

Bring a Side Dish That Fits Into Your Healthful Eating Plan: Many holiday meals are centered around a key protein and side dishes. At Thanksgiving, we think of turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes. At Christmas, we think of ham, prime rib, or duck with sides of mac and cheese, potatoes, and rolls. New Year’s Day is full of rice, peas, and greens. One of the ways we can make the biggest impact on the success of our health at a holiday meal may include bringing a side dish that we know will fit into our healthful eating plan. According to the Plate Method, a healthy eating tool for individuals with diabetes, we should aim to fill half of our plate with non-starchy vegetables. This includes things such as lettuces, carrots, tomatoes, summer squash, cucumber, broccoli, brussels sprouts and more. However, many times at holiday gatherings, our sides may not include these items, or if they do, they may be topped with fried onions, breadcrumbs, or may be baked into a casserole with other starchy or fatty sauces. To make sure that you are prepared, consider offering to bring a side dish – this will ensure you have a delicious side to go along with your meal and feel confident knowing what’s in it and how it affects your blood sugar. Some holiday side dish options you can bring include:

  • Parmesan zucchini and tomato gratin
  • Carrot and apple slaw
  • Lemon roasted broccoli

Remember, healthy foods do not have to be boring. Don’t forget to flavor your side dishes with herbs and spices! This will keep you feeling satisfied and your taste buds happy.

Plate method.
Plate method.
Photo Credit: American Diabetes Association

Watch Out For Portions: We like to joke at holidays like Thanksgiving that we plan on eating ourselves into a post-feast coma. With so much food, it can be easy to overeat to the point that we are busting at the seams. Unfortunately, this means that we may be overconsuming foods that can negatively impact our blood sugar. A simple trick you can employ is to use a smaller plate – this helps us control portion sizes but still allows us to enjoy the foods we love. The traditional American dinner plate is roughly 13 inches in diameter; this leaves more room to fit a lot of food on that plate at a special meal. It can be challenging to fix an appropriately portioned plate with the array of foods available at our holiday tables; however, remember to build your plate according to the Plate Method that we mentioned previously: ½ of your plate should be for non-starchy vegetables, ¼ of your plate should be for a lean source of protein, and the last ¼ should be for carbohydrates or starchy vegetables.

  • Non-starchy vegetables include spinach, broccoli, bell peppers, mushrooms, and zucchini.
  • Lean proteins include turkey, chicken, or fish for the holidays.
  • Carbohydrates or starchy vegetables include mashed potatoes, beans and peas, corn, winter squash, and sides like macaroni and cheese, rice, and desserts.

Remember to be mindful in selecting the foods you choose to celebrate with. Focus on foods that are special to your holiday, but don’t feel like you have to restrict any foods from your plate. Instead, add smaller portions of these foods and balance them with other vegetable options.

Get Active!: Since many of our holiday traditions center around food, it is important to remember that we should try to balance our calories in with our calories out. This means that if we know we’re going to enjoy a heavier holiday meal, consider setting aside some time to get outside and be active. It is recommended that adults get 150 minutes of moderate physical exercise each week, and the holidays are a great time to be active. If you’re worried about time with your family being hindered, ask your family to take a stroll around the neighborhood with you. You can catch up with each other while getting some movement in. If you want to get a little rowdier, a game of touch football with the kids in the backyard is a great way to have fun with the whole family. However, if you are looking to start your day on a calmer note, 30 minutes of gentle yoga in the morning before heading to your holiday party is a great way to move more and manage stress. All these activities can help to increase insulin sensitivity and promote blood sugar balance, which is key to your holiday health success.

Check out these great Extension programs to add more physical activity to your day!

Ask For Support: Friends, family, and those around us are a great source of support! They can offer guidance and provide encouragement as you navigate the holidays while on a health journey. Ask for support when you need it! Remember, when you are asking for support, use “I” statements, framing the responsibility of your health on yourself but allowing room for others to encourage you.

For example:

I am really trying to manage my diabetes this holiday season, and I am worried that our Thanksgiving meal may throw me off track. I could really use some support this year.

Remember, Enjoy Yourself: Above all else, remember that the holiday season is meant to be enjoyed. Give yourself some grace and allow yourself to have fun and embrace your family’s holiday food traditions. Life deserves to be lived, and breaking bread with our friends and family is an integral part of what it means to come together and celebrate how thankful we are for one another. Remember, you are capable of taking charge of your health this holiday season. With these tips and tricks, you are sure to be successful!

Stirring Up Healthy Recipes

Stirring Up Healthy Recipes is a FREE monthly cooking class that provides practical nutrition education to those living with a chronic disease diagnosis.

If you have not registered for Stirring Up Healthy Recipes – what are you waiting for? You can sign up by following the link HERE.

Diabetes-Friendly Side Dishes

Cinnamon Roasted Carrots with Cranberries

Spiced Apple Carrot Slaw

Peppery Mashed Turnips

Lemony Broccoli

Parmesan Zucchini Tomato Gratin


  1. https://www.geisinger.org/health-and-wellness/wellness-articles/2020/11/04/13/04/how-to-have-a-diabetes-friendly-thanksgiving
  2. https://www.eatingwell.com/article/8009258/tips-to-enjoy-thanksgiving-if-you-have-diabetes/
  3. https://www.diabetesfoodhub.org/articles/6-tips-for-a-happy-healthy-holiday-with-diabetes.html
  4. https://www.diabetesfoodhub.org/articles/surviving-your-first-holiday-season-with-diabetes.html
  5. https://www.lvhn.org/news/managing-diabetes-during-holiday-season

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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