I am living with type 2 diabetes. Learn the simple tricks and tips I've developed over the years for maintaining a healthy eating pattern while hosting a dinner party or other food-centric gathering.
Advertisement
a woman hosting a dinner party with friends and their children
Credit: Getty Images

As someone with type 2 diabetes, entertaining and even just cooking for family can be challenging to navigate. Over the years, I have had to adapt recipes to work better for my eating pattern, as well as make changes to how I approach a meal to ensure that I can enjoy myself, but not put my health at risk. In the process, I have learned a lot about how to approach gatherings with food in general, whether it is a simple dinner party with friends or a larger event. Here are some of my tried-and-true tips and tricks for hosting any food-centric gathering or celebration if you have diabetes.

1. Lighten the carb load by going half and half

Half rice and half cauliflower rice in that side dish. Half potato and half celery root in your mash. Half linguine and half spiralized zucchini noodles with your famous Sunday gravy. Half regular sugar and half sugar substitute in your bakes. By replacing half the volume of the main carb in any dish with an equal volume of something easier on your system means you can savor your favorite flavors while keeping your carb intake in check. Since celebratory meals are something that's meant to be enjoyed, this can help you serve something that everyone will love while aligning with your goals.

2. Reduce the sugar in your savory dishes

At Passover, for example, mains and sides often have both sugar and dried fruit in them, as do many other dishes like curries, tagines and other braises. But frankly, many of these dishes are just as delicious when less sweet. Reducing or eliminating the added sugar and dried fruit, and bringing out other flavors will serve both you and the dish well. Add naturally-sweet vegetables like onion, carrot and cabbage, or try fresh fruit like apple or pear instead of dried. (Dried is naturally sweeter than fresh fruit as the naturally-occurring sugars are more concentrated when the fruit is dehydrated.) Use apple butter or unsweetened applesauce to sweeten things up in your sauces instead of adding sugar or syrup. And warming spices like cinnamon, allspice and clove bring a sense of sweetness to the palate without adding actual sugar to your dishes.

3. Use almond flour for filler

Dishes like meatballs or meatloaves require a filler to help keep them light. Whether using breadcrumbs or grains or even matzo meal, adding these to a formed ground meat or seafood dish might keep them light on the tongue, but they add up the total carbs in your dish. Sub in finely ground almond flour or meal (which is slightly coarser) to keep them texturally pleasing while reducing the amount of total carbs in your main.

4. Learn to make a great popover

Bread on the table is a natural for any gathering, but that basket can make it easy to nosh on a lot of carbs before the main event, which is something to be aware of for those living with diabetes. Popovers are a wonderful light and airy roll to sub in, and since they have very little flour in them they can be a more diabetes-friendly alternative. 

5. Embrace the spritzer

A wine spritzer, half wine and half sparkling water, is a good option since it halves the amount of sugar and alcohol in the wine but is still festive, bubbly and fun. If you do choose to drink, alternating spritzers with plain sparkling water can keep you sipping more moderately all night long.

6. Don't skip dessert

Dessert is a key part of a celebration, and just because you have diabetes doesn't mean you should have to avoid it. But choosing wisely and focusing on moderation is going to be key. My great-grandfather never ate or ordered his own dessert, but he would ask for "just the Northeast corner" of whatever dessert the people on either side of him were having. He would take just one taste of each, and that was it for him, a couple bites of something sweet was enough for a post-meal treat. Instead of taking from someone else's plate, this can be mimicked by taking a smaller portion, enjoying it and waiting a few minutes before deciding if you really want to go back for more.

There are also several dessert options that are lower in added sugar and fit well into a diabetes-friendly pattern. Fresh fruit with some whipped cream is always a great dessert option that's low in added sugar. You could also make lower-sugar meringues, one-layer nut-based tortes garnished with powdered sugar instead of frosting or thin fruit galettes instead of deep-dish two-crust pies. And if you aren't making the desserts, have a "Northeast corner" of one or two of your favorite choices and get back on your regular program tomorrow.

What you can do if you're a guest rather than the host

If you are not the host, you can still have a little control over at least some of the meal if you offer to bring some food to share. Most hosts are delighted to have some things off their to-do list, and if you offer to make the specific types of dishes that can be hardest for you, like side dishes or desserts, you can make your own life easier. If a host insists they have it in hand, if you are comfortable, share your status and ask if it is OK for you to bring a dish anyway that you know works well for you. It's unlikely the host would want you to feel uncomfortable at their gathering, and owning your status as someone living with diabetes can help those around you support your goals, too. Be clear that you are not trying to alter their cooking or menu plans, and that you are happy to confer with them on the most appropriate dish to add so that it doesn't throw off any of their planning.

Bottom Line

Hosting a meal means that you have a lot of control over what that meal is, and therefore can help ensure that you are set up for success! Even if other folks are bringing dishes to share, you can help guide them, assigning out things like pre-dinner nibbles of hummus and crudités, green salads, vegetable side dishes or fresh fruit to serve with dessert. Then you can plan a meal that works well for your needs. Lean into protein and vegetables and swap higher-carb sides like pasta, rice or white potatoes for more diabetes-friendly root vegetables like celery root, parsnip and sweet potatoes, and whole grains like farro or freekeh when you can. Once you start applying these strategies, eventually they will become second nature to you. Happy entertaining!