Written by Lauren Ranley, MS, RD
The weather is changing, and depending on where you are in the world, temperatures may be starting their inevitable decline. But with frigid temperatures comes the warmth of the holiday season. Navigating the holidays while managing diabetes can feel challenging, especially for those who find it easy to overeat at food-centered festivities. For some, the holiday season means more indulgences, meat-centered meals, and a loving family that questions your motives for choosing tofu over turkey.
You may feel well-established in following a whole-food, plant-based diet, but what happens when meal-prepped lunches become three-course meals with endless dessert options? No need to worry, we are here to help. Your only worry will be seeing that aunt who squeezes a little too hard when she hugs you, not your blood sugar levels.
Follow the 80/20 Rule
At Reversing T2D, our approach focuses on a whole-food, plant-based diet. However, going entirely plant-based may not be a realistic option for everyone, and we recognize that. You can still effectively improve your blood sugar levels by following the 80/20 rule.
Plant-based foods should comprise 80% of your overall diet. Foods eaten consistently and regularly will have the most significant impact on your health and diabetes management. The remaining 20% offers wiggle room for processed foods or occasional meals that may not fit into the plant-based meal plan.
Let’s apply the 80/20 rule to the holiday season. Usually, holiday meals consist of a single meal on a single day (if traveling for several days, check out this blog about eating plant-based on the go). Diabetes management during the holidays is possible by balancing your favorite holiday dishes, healthy options, and physical activity.
7 Ways to Enjoy the Holidays While Keeping Blood Sugar Levels Stable
Here are some tips on how to enjoy the holidays while keeping blood sugar levels in check:
- Take a survey of all the available foods before you make your choices. Having a plan allows you to sample foods you enjoy without abandoning the good habits you’ve formed.
- Include your favorite holiday foods on your plate and enjoy them in moderation. Allowing yourself to eat your favorites can prevent overeating later.
- Don’t focus on weight loss during the holidays. Instead, try to maintain your current weight.
- Don’t arrive on an empty stomach. Arriving hungry may cause you to eat more than usual.
- Plan activities after meals that will help keep blood sugar levels down. Go for a family walk or play a game of catch in the yard.
- Offer to bring a healthy dish with you! (see recipes below)
- Once you’ve finished eating, move away from the table. You may be tempted to eat more if you linger at the table.
To be clear, the 80/20 approach is not meant to encourage overindulging. We can be mindful of how we feed ourselves and still enjoy the meal. Focus on the distribution of food groups on your plate. Load up your plate with vegetables first, then add a complex carbohydrate and protein source (of course, plant-based is preferred!). If your options don’t allow for a plant-based protein or there’s butter in the sweet potatoes, be mindful of your portion sizes. Is there a dessert you’ve been eyeing? Consider this when eating your main course to avoid eating past the point of comfortable fullness.
The same principle applies to desserts, as well. Keep your blood sugar in check by scoping out your options and considering a smaller portion size. Enjoy your dessert with a side of fruit for added fiber.
Plant-Based Tips for Planning the Holidays
Fully committed to the whole-food, plant-based diet? I’m so happy you’re here! Here are some tips for planning for the holidays:
- Make a side dish (or more, if you like) that follows the oil-free, whole-food, plant-based approach.
- If you feel comfortable, request the host to set aside a portion of specific dishes before they add animal products to it
- Test out recipes for a plant-based protein that will serve as an excellent alternative to turkey, ham, etc.
- Make your own plant-based meal, sides and all, and bring it with you
- Offer to host! This will give you more control over what ingredients get used in the meal.
5 Holiday Plant-Based Recipes
Looking for some healthy yet delicious plant-based recipes to add to your holidays? These are five winners to try!
1. Pear Walnut Brussels Sprouts
Roasted veggies are always an easy dish to add to a meal. Try these roasted Brussels sprouts with pears and walnuts!
2. Mac and Cheese
Mac and cheese, the ultimate comfort food, can still be a staple in your holiday celebrations.
3. Crispy Sage Tofu
Tofu is an excellent substitute for turkey or ham; try this crispy tofu recipe.
4. Easy Vegan Gravy
It wouldn’t be a holiday meal without gravy, would it? Here is a simple plant-based gravy recipe.
5. Apple Cranberry Slaw
We didn’t forget about the cranberries! This apple cranberry slaw recipe will become a new family tradition.