5 Ways to Navigate Thanksgiving with Diabetes

Thanksgiving celebration traditional dinner. Roasted turkey garnished with cranberries on a rustic style table decoraded with pumpkins, vegetables, pie, flowers and candles. Festive table setting

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This year will mark my 31st Thanksgiving with diabetes. Sure seems like a lot, doesn’t it? As I try to wrap my head around that thought, I find myself thinking about how it all starts each year now.

Thanksgiving morning. The alarm will go off earlier than usual. We’ll need to be up for an early start that morning, so there is no time to waste (or sleep). My husband and I will head into the kitchen before the kids are up where we will have a big turkey waiting to be prepared for hours in the oven.

Navigating Thanksgiving with Diabetes. Pictured: A Thanksgiving dinner table with flowers, fruits, vegetables, pie, and a turkey.

I will chop up the veggies and fruits we’ll stuff into the bird with the various herbs and spices, and my husband will butter up the bird for cooking. While we don’t typically cook together, it’s fun to do on Thanksgiving. Then once the turkey is ready, we’ll pop him in the oven for most of the morning.

That’s how every Thanksgiving morning starts for us now.

The Challenges of Thanksgiving with Diabetes

Now, I’m not one to approach things with a negative attitude from the get go, but Thanksgiving morning is just hard for me. It’s a lot like Halloween because I know what’s likely to come. And I don’t just mean the early wake up call, although that’s not something I really look forward to. But there are just days that are more challenging than others when it comes to being diabetic. It is what it is. And Turkey Day is one of them for many of us who live with diabetes.

What IS The Main ISSUE?

I can’t think of another holiday associated with a larger variety of carbs than Thanksgiving. And that, my friend, is the main issue.

The turkey isn’t the challenge here, but your cousin Susie’s side dishes are. Cousin Susie is lovely, but you know she made that cranberry sauce with a pinch of this and a pinch of that. She doesn’t measure ingredients and has no clue how much of anything is actually in it.

The sweet potato casserole may as well be dessert, with the marshmallows she puts on top. And how many grams of carbs are in those fried onions on her creamy green bean casserole? Does anyone even know that? Or do you think it even matters if you’re basically guessing on everything else anyway?

Homemade Sweet Potato Casserole for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving with Diabetes is Complicated

Let’s complicate this a little more. Let’s eat at random times, too. Lunch at 2pm? Absolutely. Dinner at 4? Sure. And then when we’re done eating, we should just sit. Or nap. Either one.

Friend. I almost feel defeated before it even starts. Living with diabetes on Thanksgiving can be hard to navigate. There is just so much packed into this one day that can affect our blood sugar levels.

Maybe you have a thoughtful carb-watching relative that brings a side dish along with nutrition labels for you. So you need to do the math, but at least you have the opportunity to count the carbs! Maybe you’re hosting and you can watch the ingredients on nutrition labels yourself. Maybe you choose turkey and green beans and a salad to keep it low carb to avoid a sugar spike.

Or maybe you choose not to count carbs or stick to anything you would consider to be typical at all, which means you roll the dice on getting to play the chase-your-blood-sugar game afterward. That’s probably not the best plan, but there are a lot of scenarios that could play out.

Thanksgiving dinner with mashed potatoes and stuffing

How can we Un-Complicate Thanksgiving with Diabetes?

While it may seem the odds are stacked against us, there are things we can do to help our cause. And, as always, I’m not a doctor or nutritionist — I’m just a gal with 30+ years of experience living with type 1 diabetes. So please consult your doctor or diabetes educator on these ideas instead of just taking it from me.

Here are a few practical tips:

1. Plan Recipes Ahead

There are ways to make Thanksgiving-type recipes in a much more diabetic friendly way. And you can plan these things up front to take the stress off the holiday. Instead of the creamy green bean casserole, try roasting fresh green beans and tossing on a bit of parmesan cheese or some slivered almonds. Instead of the marshmallow-laden sweet potato casserole, try steaming cubed sweet potatoes and sprinkle on some cinnamon.

There are several options of diabetes friendly recipes you can prep ahead and take with you to cousin Susie’s. And you can share with others too.

green beans ready to cook

2. Make Wise Choices

If you just can’t say no to a favorite carb-heavy Thanksgiving dish (and no one says you have to), then choose to eat some of it and pass on a different carb-y food. Can’t do without homemade mashed potatoes? Skip the stuffing. Thanksgiving isn’t Thanksgiving without a yeast roll? Enjoy the roll and pass on the noodles.

Plan to build your plate with mostly roasted veggies or a salad. Then fill in with carbs and protein, which on Thanksgiving is traditionally turkey. Remember: we need protein and fats to lessen the blood sugar spike from the carbs. Let them work together to help you.

Deciding what you’ll eat in advance is always a good idea too, if you know the menu ahead of time. Deciding in the moment is far more emotional. At least it is for me!

3. Take a Walk

You may want to take a walk before the big Thanksgiving meal, so you’re in a really great range before eating. Or you may want to walk afterward to help the insulin’s effectiveness and limit some of the blood sugar spike.

You could consider starting a new tradition with a family football game in the afternoon or a turkey trot outside if the weather is nice. Either way, moving is always a good choice — especially on a day like Thanksgiving.

Young woman taking a walk on a walking trail on a sunny day

4. Save SOME for Later

Let’s say you love several carb-heavy dishes at Thanksgiving. Who’s to say you have to choose to eat them all in one meal or not at all? You could always eat some at the main Thanksgiving meal, and make a plate with the others for the next day or so.

This way you can make sure you don’t miss out on your favorite foods, but you can still be wise about only eating so many carbs all in one sitting.

5. Include Dessert

If you’ll be eating dessert, eat it right along with your meal instead of waiting a while afterward. If you’re having your main Thanksgiving meal at noon, don’t wait to eat pumpkin pie at 3pm!

Instead, eat it as one meal. In doing this, you can let the protein and fat in your main dishes slow the digestion of the sugars in the dessert and lessen the overall blood sugar spike.

Homemade pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving


While we may think Thanksgiving is focused on turkey and carbs (with a side of carbs), the real point of Thanksgiving is giving thanks.

So we do what we need to do as people who live with diabetes, and we make the choices we need to make. But instead of grumbling and complaining and thinking it will be an awful day from the start (like I so often do on hard diabetes days), let’s remember it’s a day of thanksgiving. A day of gratitude. A day to show appreciation. (I’m preaching to myself here.)

While Thanksgiving with diabetes may be challenging, we are still called to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Paul gave that direction to the people in Thessalonica in his letter to the church there, and it still holds true for us today. Similarly, in his letter to the church in Ephesus, he echoes the same idea:

Ephesians 5:19-20. Pictured a woman with her eyes raised to heaven and arms stretched wide to praise God.

He says “always giving thanks” in this verse. We were created to be a thankful people who show continuous gratitude to God.

Full disclosure: I find that sometimes the hardest days to shift my perspective aren’t the super hard times I go through, but the short-lived frustrations and inconveniences. It’s not the full-on blustery stormy days, but the rainy, dreary, gray days that get me. Is that true for you, too? But even in those times, we are still to be thankful. There is simply always something to be thankful for.

How Can You Be Thankful on thanksgiving with diabetes?

How can you be thankful, even in the midst of a challenging day like Thanksgiving with diabetes? What can you think of, what can you focus on, that will help to shift your attention and perspective? What kinds of ideas can you put in place to help the day be less stressful medically? Consider those questions today as you process through your approach to Thanksgiving with diabetes.

Thanksgiving table placesetting with a cloth napkin and berries

What kinds of foods can you coordinate or prepare that will help you on Thanksgiving? Check out my 12 suggestions of diabetic friendly Thanksgiving recipes.

When would be a good time of day for you to get a bit of exercise on Thanksgiving?

How can you have a thankful heart despite your circumstances on Thanksgiving, or on any day diabetes is more of a struggle to manage?

God, thank You for creating me to be a thankful and grateful person. Thank You for Your guidance and direction in life, reminding me to show appreciation and thanks. And thank You for this day of Thanksgiving we celebrate. This can be a particularly difficult day for me, and I pray that I will search for You even more on these days, that I would see Your goodness through the struggle. I pray You would nudge me to look to You more often in times of inconvenience and frustration. Help my heart to overflow with gratitude in all circumstances. Amen.

FURTHER READING: Psalm 145, Ephesians 5:15-21, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22

Join our “Heart of Thanks” reading plan!

You’re invited to join in on our first ever Bible reading plan read-along! For this month of November, we are focused on having a Heart of Thanks as we prepare for Thanksgiving. Jump on in with us and download your free reading plan today.


Navigating Thanksgiving with Diabetes. Pictured: A Thanksgiving dinner table with flowers, fruits, vegetables, pie, and a turkey.


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Kaycee - Devotions on Diabetes


Welcome to my Devotions on Diabetes website! Thanks for stopping by. I've lived with diabetes for 30+ years. And I'm here to provide you with a heaping helping of encouragement while you deal with diabetes and navigate this chronic illness with God by your side.

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Devotions on Diabetes: A 30-Day Journey to Anchor Your Soul is now available on Amazon.

Devotions on Diabetes: A 30-Day Journey to Anchor Your Soul by Kaycee Parker




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