The Best Thanksgiving Tips to Hit Your Plate


Editor’s note: In 2021, we know the holidays are looking different. If you need help navigating the holidays right now with diabetes, visit for some general guidelines. 

This article is part of our library of resources for Celebrations & Holidays. Check out our food and drinking tips as well as an array of holiday carb charts here.

Gobble, gobble. It’s here, that holiday that revolves around eating. And while having diabetes means there may be more bells and whistles in the whole chow down, it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the full extent of the holiday. 

Planning Thanksgiving

Your carb-counting life just got way easier!

Whether you are staying home or traveling to a loved one’s this year, you may be able to determine carb counts ahead of time (carb charts for common holiday foods are here) and calculate the appropriate amount of insulin. And if you can’t plan in advance, there are tons of carb-counting apps available to help you in an instant. 

If you are shifting plans a bit because of COVID-19:

  • Consider cooking for others: If you are staying home and not hosting your normal crew but still want to cook up a storm, ask around on neighborhood message boards to see if anyone in your area needs help with a meal because they would normally have joined someone else’s household. Arrange drop-offs of food for a few neighbors and spread joy (and happy bellies!).
  • Plan a virtual cook-off: Enjoy a virtual celebration and competition all in one. Before Thanksgiving, share a planned menu with a group of friends or family who will be hopping on a video call with one another for Thanksgiving. Each home cooks their own version of the same menu, then you can argue it out over your video call about who made the best mashed potatoes or sweet potato casserole. Just like regular Thanksgiving 😉
  • Arrange a game night: With fewer people in the house, it may be easier to take part in classic games like Speed, Monopoly, or Checkers. Or hook up that gaming system and have family and friends from other households battle it out in online party mode.

Thanksgiving Day

Not cooking for yourself? Talk to your host.

Don’t be afraid to tell the host prior to the event that you have diabetes so you can plan ahead, discuss food options, and offer to bring some food favorites that will work best for your blood sugar management. If you are planning on eating food you did not prepare, see if the chef has recipes available for you ahead of time, so you know the menu and can count carbs.

This is also a great time to educate your host and the small group of people you will be celebrating with about your safety needs amidst COVID-19, since people with diabetes—while not more likely to catch coronavirus—can experience more severe outcomes from the disease. 

Practice known safety precautions

If you are celebrating with people outside your household, consider getting vaccinated if you are not already. COVID-19 is still out there and you can still contract it. Studies show the three vaccines currently available in the US (Pfzier, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson) provide significant protection against severe outcomes and hospitalization from the virus, no matter the variation.

If you are not vaccinated, stick to the proven safety precautions. Only attend gatherings with small groups of people. Wear a mask when interacting with people outside your home, eat in pods (every same-home group can get their own seating area), and stay 6 feet or more away from people outside your home. As much as you can, try to stay outdoors, but if you do need to head inside, open all the windows and keep ventilation going. Wash your hands often, and disinfect surfaces regularly.

Carb-counting is still a thing

Even though in 2021 you deserve to get a to-do item removed from your list, carb-counting is here to stay. This can be particularly difficult when eating meals prepared by others, as hidden carbohydrates like added sugars in gravies or dressings can throw off your blood sugar levels. Keeping blood sugar levels in a healthy range is vital to stay well, so consider a few options:

  • Bring a dish to your Thanksgiving celebration. This may be helpful for both you and your host. You’ll know there’s at least one dish with no carb surprises and you’ll also be contributing to the gathering (without asking them to prepare something especially for you).
  • Pack measuring cups. If you’re feeling a bit stressed about carb-counting, bring measuring cups and prepare a specific, measured plate for which you don’t have to guestimate. Exact measurements help ensure that you’re dosing insulin correctly. This could also be a visual cue to others that opens up the discussion on diabetes and helps to educate others.
  • Bring a Carb Count Chart. They’re printable and mobile-friendly. You can also use a carb-counting app or website. You can’t cover what you haven’t counted!

Picking the perfect menu

Choose your carb

Of course you can eat carbs, but know how many grams of carbohydrates you’re consuming so you can dose insulin accordingly. Keep in mind that starchy sides can vary greatly in carb count. One half cup of mashed potatoes is 15 g of carbs whereas one half cup of candied yams is a whopping 45 grams. That’s a big difference!

The low carb-ies

Vegetables and high-protein options such as meat won’t require as much insulin and will therefore be less likely to result in a high blood sugar. You could also consider low-sugar dessert options to limit the amount of insulin you need to take. And if one more person asks you if you’re dieting, you can politely explain it isn’t a calorie issue; it’s all about the carbs.

Other Thanksgiving Tips

Walk it off: Incorporating a brisk walk into the afternoon could help lower BGLs with all that sugar intake. Be sure to only exercise within the limits prescribed by your health care professional though.

Consider meal timing: Because thanksgiving meal times may vary from your typical eating routine, be sure to keep a close eye on your blood sugar levels and always have emergency sugar on you in the chance that you go low.

No surprises: Watch out for hidden carbs (or gluten). You know those inconspicuous glazes and dressings—what was once a low-carb vegetable could turn into what is now a high-carb meal.

Celiac considerations: Similar to letting your host know that you have diabetes, if you have Celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity (which is very common in people with Type 1 diabetes, in particular), you should not hesitate to let your host know. Many are unaware of what gluten actually is (it is the general name for the proteins found in wheat, rye and barley), so be sure to explain that grain items such as oats, barley and your run-of-the-mill flour contain gluten. Rice and corn are gluten-free options. Remember that even small doses of flour in gravies and soups can cause an adverse reaction.