Thanksgiving Pantry & Menu Ideas

By Roberta Kleinman|2014-04-28T10:45:07-04:00Updated: November 20th, 2013|Diet & Nutrition, Newsletters|0 Comments

Holiday time can be challenging for anyone, but may be even more difficult when you have diabetes. People tend to eat comfort foods which are usually fatty, greasy and contain higher calories. Levels of cholesterol tend to increase during the winter months due to rich food choices. Blood sugar levels can soar when poor decisions are made. Eating extra large portions seems to be common.

Remember that “diabetes never takes a holiday” when you are planning your special meals. There are so many ways to feel satisfied during these times without raising your blood sugar, cholesterol or weight. Let’s review some everyday foods to keep on hand and in your pantry, especially during the holiday season. It is important to please yourself, your family, and your guests and still remain healthy!

Pantry Staples:

  1. Low sodium cooking broth (including, beef, vegetable and chicken stock) – easy to sauté foods with little salt or fat. It helps keep foods moist without oil. Use as a base for vegetable or chicken soup and add vegetables, pre-cooked chicken and spices for a quick homemade soup.
  2. Low sodium canned or boxed tomatoes – use for a sauce base without added sugars. Lycopene in tomato products helps reduce inflammation and is very therapeutic.
  3. Frozen vegetables – purchase them without added cream or cheese sauces. Grate your own shredded Parmesan cheese for extra flavor and protein.
  4. Canned or in the pouch fish – keep tuna, salmon and sardines on hand. Fish packed in oil has more calories so look for fish packed in water on the label. Add whole grain crackers for a simple, healthful lunch.
  5. Canned beans – use garbanzos, black beans, kidney beans, cannellini beans, or navy beans. Add to casseroles to increase fiber content. Rinse the beans with water to remove excess sodium. Keep split peas, barley, bulgur, quinoa, lentils, oat bran and wheat germ available if you are more adventurous. These products are available at all grocery chains. They are carbohydrates so watch your portion size.
  6. Seeds, nuts, nut butters – Protein rich and easy to add to foods for flavor and thickening. They are full of crunch and good fats but watch portion size since they are calorie dense. Make sure nut butters do not have added sugars. Try to choose fresh ground nut butters and look for almond or cashew butter for something different.
  7. Steel cut oats – Easy to prepare and a great breakfast. You can use for baking healthy cookies or add to foods for more fiber. Never skip breakfast thinking you can eat more at your Thanksgiving meal. Your pancreas can no longer handle it.
  8. Walden Farm sauces, syrups – these are flavorful without sugar, fat or the calories. They can make your cooking experiences more exotic and fun.
  9. Condiments – Search for low sodium soy sauce, low carbohydrate ketchup, mustard, olives, dry sun dried tomatoes and hot sauce.
  10. ‘100 calorie snacks’ – although not the most healthy they may prevent you from over eating other kinds of sweets that are not in a pre-packaged amount. Use in moderation. Sugar free candy and puddings should be in the pantry (also use in moderation since they are NOT calorie free, carbohydrate free and may cause stomach distress).
  11. Spices – Use spices generously. They supply all kinds of nutrients, antioxidants and anti inflammatory qualities. Ginger, peppers, onions, turmeric, oregano, thyme, garlic, parsley, basil, cilantro, rosemary, cinnamon, clove added to your meal lifts flavor and gives health benefits.
  12. Lemons and limes – put in sauces, drinks and vegetables for fresh, crisp flavor.
  13. Dips including hummus and salsa – crudités already cut up, washed and kept wrapped in paper towels are a good snack without blood sugar spikes. Include Edamame (soy beans) or whole grain toasted pita bread with mozzarella cheese as another option.
  14. No calorie flavored seltzer, sparkling water, crystal light mixes, diet soda, unsweetened tea and coffee. Never get your calories from beverages. Dry wine, light beer or plain hard liquor if you drink alcohol. No sweet mixers and drink with food (check with your physician if you are on diabetes medication).
  15. Sugar free, unsweetened or homemade cranberry sauce – Cranberries are an excellent fruit but canned regular sauce is full of added sugars.
  16. Cooking oils – stick to Canola oil, olive oil and grape seed oil. Mono-unsaturated oils lower the LDL without affecting the HDL. They contain anti-oxidants which lower heart disease and have anti inflammatory qualities.

Casseroles are a delight during the holiday season. They can be prepared early and heated when the company arrives. Here is an up-dated version of a sweet potato casserole which you can enjoy without the post dinner guilt and elevated blood sugars.

Unsweetened Sweet Potato Casserole with Marshmallow Topping

Ingredients (Serves 4):

  • 4 medium sweet potatoes sliced in eighths
  • ½ cup of unsweetened orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon of Splenda
  • 1 tablespoon of pure vanilla extract
  • 1 can of drained light crushed pineapple
  • 1 tablespoon of cinnamon
  • Pam cooking spray
  • Sugar free marshmallows
  • 16 whole shelled pecans


Boil water in a sauce pan and add peeled and cut potatoes for 10 minutes or when tender. Drain and mash them. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Coat an 8 inch square pan with cooking spray. Whisk together orange juice, Splenda, vanilla extract and cinnamon. Combine with the sweet potatoes and crushed pineapple. Top with marsh mallows and pecans and bake for 20 minutes or until light brown. You can broil for 1 minute if you like the marshmallows and nuts more toasted. Cover with foil if reheating.

The holidays are a time for enjoyment not stress and anxiety. Check blood sugars instead of testing them. Testing sounds like school and provokes a stress response. Checking means you need to stay aware and focused on your food choices. Always aim for improvement not perfection and enjoy your Thanksgiving holiday!

NOTE: Consult your doctor first to make sure my recommendations fit your special health needs.

About the Author: Roberta Kleinman

Roberta Kleinman, RN, M. Ed., CDE, is a registered nurse and certified diabetes educator. She grew up in Long Island, NY. Her nursing training was done at the University of Vermont where she received a B.S. R.N. Robbie obtained her Master of Education degree, with a specialty in exercise physiology, from Georgia State University in Atlanta, Georgia. She is a member of the American Diabetes Association as well as the South Florida Association of Diabetes Educators. She worked with the education department of NBMC to help educate the hospital's in-patient nurses about diabetes. She practices a healthy lifestyle and has worked as a personal fitness trainer in the past. She was one of the initiators of the North Broward Diabetes Center (NBMC) which started in 1990 and was one of the first American Diabetes Association (ADA) certified programs in Broward County, Florida for nearly two decades. Robbie has educated patients to care for themselves and has counseled them on healthy eating, heart disease, high lipids, use of glucometers, insulin and many other aspects of diabetes care. The NBMC Diabetes Center received the Valor Award from the American Diabetes Center for excellent care to their patients. Robbie has volunteered over the years as leader of many diabetes support groups. More about Nurse Robbie

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