Diabetic Thanksgiving Recipes: Giving Thanks to a Healthy Harvest

Holidays are notorious for having meals not necessarily the best for blood sugar control. Thankfully, many balanced Thanksgiving dishes make healthy eating enjoyable for diabetics.

When you’re dealing with diabetes, healthy holiday eating can seem like an intimidating task. Diabetic Thanksgiving recipes can make the festivities more fun, while also helping you keep tabs on your health. 

Whether at a small party or whole smorgasbord involving all loved ones, you can participate more fully in the week or day of Thanksgiving by balancing blood sugars. So join us as we explore blood sugar-friendly Thanksgiving foods, including diabetic Thanksgiving desserts to satisfy your sweet tooth. 

Benefits of Diabetic-Friendly Thanksgiving Recipes

This time of year can feel overwhelming, especially with health concerns. Fortunately, diabetes-friendly recipes can make holiday meals more manageable. Not only can these recipes be delicious, but they can also help you enjoy the holidays while supporting your health (without compromising on flavor). 

Blood sugars can soar after eating primarily carbohydrate-heavy dishes, making non-diabetics feel a bit unstable or grumpy. In other words, diabetic-friendly recipes can nourish everyone, especially during the holidays. Likely, your guests won’t even know the difference! 

Thanksgiving Foods to Embrace and Limit

When you have diabetes, you don’t have to skip holiday favorites altogether. There are ways to engage in the Thanksgiving meal while supporting your health. 

In general, it can be helpful to view recipes before family gatherings. This allows you to better plan ahead and can allow ample time to prepare if you offer to bring your own food. 


  • All three meals: Don’t skip breakfast or lunch to “earn” dinner. Doing so can throw off blood sugars and trigger symptoms. 
  • Exercise: Although it may sound unpopular, don’t eat so much that you can’t move. Try to exercise both before and after the meal. Even a short walk before or after the main meal can make a big difference in balancing blood sugars. 
  • Heart-healthy, plant-based oils: For example, swap butter or bacon grease for olive oil. 
  • Hydration: Drinking enough hydrating fluids can help you keep up with the day’s activities and promote digestion—especially when eating more than usual. Remember that hydrating liquids used as ingredients, like bone broth, also count towards hydration goals.
  • Lean proteins: Other than the obvious turkey, serve lean proteins like chicken or eggs, or plant-based options like nuts, seeds, and soy.  
  • Leftovers: Remember, you’ll likely be able to take home leftovers, allowing you to incorporate them in a way that’s better suited to your needs. 
  • Smaller portions: Try a little bit of everything—including carbs you love—instead of having heaping portions. Also, try to avoid eating seconds or thirds unless you’re genuinely still hungry. 


  • Alcohol: Although alcohol can be tempting, it’s best to drink in moderation or not at all. Beyond interacting negatively with some medications, festive cocktails can be full of carbs and sugar, which can further increase blood sugar. 
  • Starchy side dishes: Although it’s called the “Thanksgiving feast,” you’ll want to keep serving sizes small when it comes to foods that aren’t necessarily blood sugar-friendly. For example, cranberry sauce and sweet potato casserole should be doled out in smaller portions since they can quickly cause blood sugar to spike early on in the meal. 
  • Sugary glazes and sauces:  As a general rule, keep condiments, dressings, and anything you drizzle on top of your food to a minimum. These sneaky sources of sugar can cause blood sugar spikes. 

Diabetic Thanksgiving Recipes

Searching high and low for diabetes-friendly Thanksgiving recipes that won’t cause wacky blood sugar? Look no further than these low-sugar and low-carb ideas. 

Low-Sugar Thanksgiving Apps & Sides

At Thanksgiving, even the side dishes are something to brag about! 


Raw vegetables may not sound all that interesting, but you can eat veggies—like celery and carrots—fairly liberally when balancing blood sugars. Plus, they can be arranged into fun and festive designs and shapes on a platter, like a turkey or a cornucopia. 

Serve them alongside fruits or a fruit salad, keeping in mind that fruits contain natural sugars, so you may only be able to indulge in them a little. 

Another classic appetizer during this time of year is a cheese ball. Choose ingredients that are higher in protein and lower in saturated fat, such as Greek yogurt cream cheese (instead of regular cream cheese). Pair the cheese ball with whole-wheat, high-fiber crackers, or produce like veggies or apples, if you prefer. 


Mashed potatoes may introduce a lot of carbs into the meal, so if you’re eating them, it’s best to fortify them with protein-rich or healthy fat ingredients. 

Usually, mashed potatoes are mixed with ingredients like creams and butter, which are high in saturated fat and can aggravate diabetes symptoms. Instead, use Greek yogurt (which is high in protein) and olive to make mashed potatoes more creamy and satisfying while balancing blood sugars. 

Alternatively, try mashed or baked sweet potatoes! They offer marginally more, or different, nutrients than regular potatoes. Keep in mind that sides like sweet potato casserole or candied yams can still be dangerous for diabetics. 

Roasted Veggies 

Try roasted Brussels sprouts for a sensational veggie dish that balances blood sugars. Adding a bit of flavor like maple can make it more festive without throwing blood sugar out of whack, or you can add seasonal ingredients like pomegranates for some festive flair. You may even convince Brussels sprout-avoiders to indulge in the dish. 

If you—or other guests—aren’t keen on Brussels sprouts, roasted veggie medleys are also an option. You can roast almost any vegetables you have on hand or any leftovers from other recipes (like stuffing). 

Try roasted veggies mixed with roasted nuts on top for extra flavor and fun texture. Plus, nuts help balance blood sugar, thanks to protein and healthy fats. For example, roast and combine green beans with sliced almonds as a diabetic-friendly alternative to green bean casserole. 

Seasonal Salad

If it intimidates you to eat starchy vegetables or foods, try combining them with non-starchy vegetables in a salad. Incorporate seasonal ingredients, like cooked squash or even sweet potatoes, into a leafy green bed of lettuce—such as a mix of kale, spinach, or arugula). 

In general, the more greens, the merrier! Top with additional seasonal items, like pomegranate or dried cranberries, for a touch of natural sweetness. 

Cranberry Sauce

Is it a Thanksgiving spread if cranberry sauce isn’t on the table? Unfortunately, store-bought varieties are high in sugar or corn syrup, adversely affecting blood sugar. 

Homemade cranberry sauce can be a bit healthier, primarily if you use ingredients like dates to create the sweetness instead of adding (literally) cups of sugar to a big batch. 

Thanksgiving Main Courses

The good news about turkey is that it won’t raise your blood sugar since it doesn’t contain carbohydrates. So, naturally, the main focus of Thanksgiving dinner is friendly to diabetics. However, the same can’t be said about what it’s stuffed with. 

Here are a few tips for the main dish, including options for plant-based eating patterns. 


As mentioned above, turkey is a lean meat that is already recommended for consumption outside the holiday season. Roasted or air-fried varieties are healthier than fried turkey or turkeys covered in high-fat, high-sugar brines. 


Often served alongside turkey, stuffing is a delicious part of Thanksgiving dinner. Some consider it a side dish, although it gets enough attention to make it part of the main course.

Since stuffing contains lots of bread, many diabetics avoid this carb-heavy turkey counterpart. Fortunately, increasing the amount of nuts, veggies, and seasonings about the bread can make this dish a bit healthier for diabetics. 

Plant-Based Alternatives

Not in the mood for turkey or avoiding the main meat due to ethical values or personal preferences? Try a stuffed acorn squash instead. 

Acorn squash is simple to cook and can be stuffed with veggies, lentils, brown rice, or other ingredients. It’s also aesthetically pleasing since the squash operates as a sort of bowl. 

Diabetic Thanksgiving Desserts

Many diabetics believe desserts are out of the question since the typical mix of sugars and saturated fats can spell trouble for blood sugar levels. Luckily, there are options for a diabetic-friendly healthy dessert recipe. 

Apple Crisp 

Consuming apple crisp can help you to get an extra serving of fruit for the day. Making your topping from fiber-packed and protein-rich ingredients (like oats, nuts, and seeds) can help offset some of the sugars in the recipe. Adding cinnamon can also keep the dessert tasting sweet without too much sugar. 

Pumpkin Pie 

Pumpkin pie is another dish you expect to see at the table during Thanksgiving. A lot of sugar can lurk in the filling, and the crust often includes refined grains. 

As a solution, try using crustless varieties, crusts with nut flours (like almond flour) for added fiber content, or gluten-free pie varieties. 

Diet Tips for a Diabetic-Friendly Thanksgiving 

The following tips can help guide you as you build your Thanksgiving plate. 

Be Mindful of Portions 

As mentioned above, you’ll want to be mindful of how much food you’re dishing out. Since so many foods will likely be available, tend towards a smaller portion than you usually would, knowing you can return for another small, second helping if needed. 

Build a Balanced Plate 

In general, carbs shouldn’t take up more than a fourth of your plate. Ensure the other quarters are filled with foods rich in blood sugar-friendly protein, fiber, and healthy fat. 

Ideally, your plate should probably be about half full of veggies, a fourth full of lean meats like turkey, and have no more than a remaining fourth of carbohydrates or starchy foods. 

Look Out for Liquid Calories 

Like alcohol, you’ll want to minimize liquid calories. Even with drinks like sparkling cider, going overboard on sugars is easy. In general, drinks are less nutrient-rich than foods, so it’s best to obtain your vitamins and minerals from healthy foods instead of beverages. 

Try Healthy Cooking Techniques 

For any type of food you’re cooking, it’s essential to consider the cooking method. Generally, baking and grilling is healthier than battering or frying them. 

Cooking food at too high of temperatures can also be dangerous. Aim to cook meats and foods to a correct, safe temperature, but not to the point of charring

Test Blood Sugar 

Even with careful, measured planning, it’s possible to under or over-estimate your blood sugar or insulin needs. Testing blood sugar levels throughout Thanksgiving day can be helpful, particularly before and after the main meal. This can help you stay within target blood sugar ranges and offer you (and your loved ones) peace of mind about your health.  

Diabetic Thanksgiving Recipes: Thoughtful Takeaways

Although pervasive, the idea that holiday eating is a struggle for diabetics isn’t always accurate. In fact, many healthy yet delicious recipes are friendly for folks with diabetes. 

Even for guests who don’t have to consider blood sugar, these sides, meats, and sweets can be a tasty addition—they (likely) won’t know the difference! 


Cunningham J. 5 Diabetes-Friendly Recipes to Make you Thankful for Thanksgiving. Juliecunninghamrd.com

Eckstein KW. 8 Diabetes-Friendly Holiday Dishes for a Low Carb Thanksgiving. Rbitzer.com. Published November 2022. 

Penn Medicine. How to Have a Diabetes-Friendly Thanksgiving. Pennmedicine.org. Published November 2017.