Holiday Meals: Carb Counting Guide
The holidays are about being thankful and spending time with family and friends. But for our families living with T1D, there’s an added challenge - counting carbs for holiday foods.
Counting carbs is always a challenging task, but it can be especially difficult during the holidays with tons of high-carb foods around. Here at the U-M Pediatric Diabetes Clinic, we are ready to help! Check out our carb counting tips and some diabetes-friendly recipes below so you can kick back and enjoy the holidays.
Get the Facts
Do you know how many carbs you ate today at lunch? Was your last snack closer to 20 grams or 30 grams of carbs? Some people with T1D find carb counting easy, while others may struggle with finding the right answers. Some use apps like Calorie King, Fooducate, or mySugr (check our favorites under Digital Tools!) to keep track of all their numbers, and others find it easier to do the math (and it can be a lot of math!) in their heads. Whether you’re newly diagnosed with T1D, a pro at living with diabetes, or just someone trying to stay healthy, everyone can always use a refresher on carb counting.
One of the most important steps in carb counting is being sure you know how to read the labels on your favorite foods. Our diabetes educators go over this essential skill in our Beyond the Basics class, but if you need a refresher, check out our Reading Food Labels handout to review the key pieces of information you need to read in the Nutrition Facts. The American Diabetes Association also breaks down this information on their website here. It's a great resource for anyone who wants to learn more about how different ingredients can impact T1D.
Helpful Hack: Counting Carbs Like a Pro!
Are you a parent trying to carb count for a young child with diabetes? Check out this parent’s guide to counting carbs like a pro. Also, talk to your diabetes educator if you're having trouble keeping your child's blood sugars in range. Need help with the insulin dosing math? Be sure to download our Calculation Sheet for Insulin Doses.
Need a hand in finding carb counts for classic holiday dishes? Check out this Holiday Carb Chart and Hannukah Carb Chart available from T1D Beyond, as well as their Holiday Survival Guide.
Quick Quiz: Can You Guess the Carbs?
Can you guess which Thanksgiving food item has the most carbs? Answers are below! (NOTE: Carb counts will change according to recipe and preparation. Averages for one standard serving size are provided.)
Did you get them correct? If so, congratulations! And if not, no worries. We are here to educate. Something that has been helpful for our patients is this Reading Food Labels handout with a lot of information about how to read Nutrition Facts.
(ANSWERS: Turkey: 0g per slice; Pumpkin pie: 22-34g per slice; Yellow sweet corn: 30g per cup; Mashed potatoes: 33g per cup; Yams: 38g per cup)
Trade Up Your Traditional Dishes
Are you looking for diabetes-friendly recipes for your Thanksgiving or holiday meal? Check out some of these ideas courtesy of HealthLine and DiaTribe:
There’s no need to skip this Thanksgiving staple! Try one of these savory meat-eater options or substitute the sausage with savory peppers and mushrooms for a vegetarian choice.
Side Dish Substitutions
Whether you’re gathered for a turkey dinner, a holiday ham, or some delicious brisket, what holiday dinner is complete without the side dishes? Check out these recipes for delicious side dishes that won’t have your blood sugars skyrocketing before dessert.
Mashed cauliflower has a much lower impact on blood sugar without sacrificing taste or texture! Cook with butter and garlic for a savory replacement with much fewer carbs than traditional potatoes.
Green beans, mushrooms and onions are all great healthy options to fill up on without stacking up on a plate full of carbs.
Need a bread fix? Try these dinner rolls which use a popular very low carb dough involving cream cheese, mozzarella, almond flour, and coconut flour. Be mindful of the fat content and how it might affect your blood sugar. You can read more about the relationship between fat and blood sugars below.
With changing colors and cooler temperatures, there’s nothing like an apple pie or cinnamon-spiced dessert to warm the tummy. Here’s a handy sample meal carb sheet that will help give some guidance into how many desserts have a surprising amount of sugar. Be sure to check out our guide to Fall Treats for some tips on monitoring sugar and carbs.
Baking cookies, cakes, or breads this holiday season? Try almond or coconut flour as a substitute for regular white or wheat flour while baking. These flours have a much lower impact on blood sugar, since they have 3-4 times fewer carbs and more fiber than traditional flours.
Looking for a delicious treat to bring to Thanksgiving? Try this spice cake with brown butter frosting for a new family favorite!
Swap out that pumpkin pie for these convenient and health-minded cookies packed with delicious fall flavors.
Holiday Eating Tips
Around the holidays, there are lots of eating behaviors that can cause blood sugars to rise out of the target range. Check out some of these tips below from DiaTribe's Adam Brown on how to avoid some common issues that may pop up at your holiday gathering.
Stock up on vegetables and try to eat them first. Eating the veggies first will give your insulin time to start working before you tuck into higher carb dishes. Plus, you have the added benefit of filling up on healthy items which can help curb your appetite from overeating other dishes!
Try to avoid “resolution planning.” The new year may be a chance for a new you, but don't let that be an excuse for unhealthy eating during the holidays! The best time to start a new healthy habit is always today. If you think "I've already been unhealthy today, so I'll start fresh tomorrow", just remember your next dietary choice could be the one that gets you back on track.
Avoid “domino foods.” You know those snacks that once you start, you just can’t stop? Controlling yourself once you start snacking can be much harder than avoiding these foods from the start. If you can’t curb your appetite for salty or sweet snacks, try some healthy alternatives like nuts or sunflower seeds instead!
Pay attention to grazing opportunities. Big family get-togethers are a prime spot for large bowls of snacks like chips, pretzels, or other goodies. You may think “I’ll just have a little”, but making repeated trips without counting the carbs can quickly result in a blood sugar snowball that can get out of control. Put some snacks on a plate or in a smaller bowl so you know how much you’ll be eating and then you can give insulin accordingly.
“Am I really hungry?” Asking yourself this question may stop you from eating out of boredom or just because there is food nearby. If the answer is no, then try to wake your brain up by playing a game, taking a walk, or engaging in another activity further away from the temptation of food.
Bring your own predictable snacks. If you’re not sure what’s on the menu or if you need peace of mind while traveling, pack some bags of dependable snacks with their carb counts labelled on the bag. If you start to go low, it can be handy to have snacks that you know will put you back in target range reliably.
High Fat = BG Confusion
Have you ever had pizza and wondered why after two hours your blood sugar reading was still 200+?
It’s because pizza is not only a high carb meal, but it’s also high in fat. During the holidays, we need to be extra diligent with these high fat, high carb dishes -- they’re everywhere. From baked casseroles to pizza; burgers to Auntie Marla’s famous bread pudding. If you're looking for some helpful advice to tackle the "pizza problem," check out this article by Certified Diabetes Educator Gary Scheiner.
Make sure you are carb counting correctly and if you need a little help, check out our Nutrition and Meal Planning FAQs here.