Thanksgiving dinner

Diabetes Nutrition Tips for the Holidays

Mashed potatoes, stuffing and pie, oh my! The holiday season brings lots of carbohydrate-heavy meals and sweet treats to the table, which can be intimidating for someone with diabetes. Many children with diabetes base their insulin dose off of an insulin-to-carbohydrate ratio (ICR) and, though they don’t have to eat differently, they do need to calculate the exact grams of carbohydrates eaten in each meal or snack to determine the right amount of insulin needed.

Use these tips to help make carb counting a little easier this holiday season.

Use a reference. There are plenty of great resources, like the Calorie King® book or website, or an app such as GoMeals® or MyFitnessPal which can be used to double check carb amounts for food you aren’t sure how to count. You may not know all the ingredients in the green bean casserole, but a quick search for it will help you get a close estimate on how many carbs to count.

Measure, measure, measure. The more you are using measuring cups at home, the easier it is to estimate portion sizes when you are eating other places. Your hand can also be used as a guide; 1 cup is about the size of a clenched fist, a cupped palm is about ½ cup, an open palm is a good portion size for meat, 1 tablespoon is the size of your thumb and 1 teaspoon is the size of the tip of your thumb.

Watch for sneaky carbs. Think about every food item on your plate. Sometimes it’s easy to forget certain foods, like gravy or extra condiments, may contain carbohydrates. You may also be surprised by the amount of carbs in other foods, like holiday punch or cranberry sauce – which is much higher in carbs than a typical serving of fruit. These have a lot of added sugar! Even grabbing one small cookie or piece of candy for a snack might have enough carbs that it needs to be covered with insulin.

Don’t forget about healthy eating. It’s okay to enjoy treats during the holidays, but your goal should be to focus on choosing healthy foods the majority of the time. For healthy eating, try to fill your holiday plate with non-starchy vegetables and choose white meat without the skin. Remember that if you do go back for second helpings, you will need more insulin to cover any extra carbs.

Practice your math skills and calculate carbohydrates in recipes made from scratch. First, write down the amount of carbs in each ingredient in your recipe. Next, add these together to find the total carbs in the whole recipe. Finally, divide the total carbs by the number of servings your recipe makes to see the grams of carbohydrate per serving. Websites like www.caloriecount.com or the MyFitnessPal app can make this easier. Write it down so you will only have to do the math once for favorite recipes!

Nationwide Children’s Hospital has a multidisciplinary team that works together to care for patients and families affected by diabetes. Our goal is to empower families to successfully manage diabetes at home in order to provide as normal a life as possible for children with diabetes.

Tracie Rohal RD, LD, CDE
Tracie Rohal, RD, LD, CDE is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator with the Department of Endocrinology. She completed her Bachelors of Science in Clinical Dietetics and Nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh and has worked at NCH since 2012. Tracie enjoys running, traveling, cooking and volunteering with Girls on the Run of Franklin County.

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