Chapter 21: Party Planning For People with Diabetes

Excerpted from Vegans Know How to Party
By Chef Nancy Berkoff, EdD, RDB

Purchase a copy here

Fast Overview

Just as a fast review, there are two basic types of diabetes. People with Type I diabetes are reliant on injectable insulin. In the past, Type I diabetes was called juvenile diabetes. Individuals with Type II diabetes many times can be treated without insulin, with diet and exercise being important parts of treatment. In the past, Type II diabetes was called adult- onset diabetes. Neither type of diabetes limits itself to a particular age group, and so the more appropriate Type I and Type II terms are used today.

Everybody's cells get their energy from a sugar called glucose. Glucose is obtained from many different types of foods, such as potatoes, fruit, breads, pasta, etc. Glucose is stored in the liver. Your liver releases glucose into the blood when your body needs energy. The organs that needed the energy capture the glucose and use it. Insulin, a substance released by the pancreas helps glucose get inside cells. If you are a Type II diabetic, your pancreas might not be able to release all the insulin it makes. Without insulin, the body doesn't know how to use glucose. When the glucose can't get inside the cells, it accumulates in the blood. Too much glucose in the blood can lead to many medical problems. If necessary, you can help your body use the glucose it needs by taking diabetic medication properly, exercising, and eating properly. It has been found that just a ten-pound weight loss (in people who need to lose weight) helps insulin to work better and that regular exercise also helps your body use insulin.

What to Eat?

In the 1920's, after it was understood that injected insulin alone was not enough to control diabetes and that the way one ate affected one's diabetes, researchers set out to find exactly what type of diet should be recommended to people with diabetes. One theory, in the 1930's, was that people with diabetes knew intuitively what to eat. In other words, researchers thought that your body would tell you what it needed. That didn't work. Eliminating all sugar from the diet didn't either. After much trial and error, it was found that people with diabetes did best when they ate a balanced diet that kept them at their ideal body weight. Based on the balanced diet theory, the American Dietetic Association began to formulate diabetic diets. From observation it was found that the avoidance of certain foods did little to control diabetes, where a diet balanced in protein, fat, and carbohydrates seemed to help the condition. But how do you design balanced menus for all people with diabetes all the time? It couldn't be expected that every diabetic would visit their dietitian regularly to pick up menus. It was also not realistic to expect that people with diabetes could or would adhere strictly to menus for which they gave no input. This is when a great solution was devised - the exchange lists for meal planning.

Back to the Future

The exchange lists for meal planning, with variations on a theme, are what dietitians and healthcare workers have used to calculate diabetic diets for the past four decades. The exchanges are arranged into three groups. The carbohydrate group includes starch, fruit, milk, and vegetable exchanges; the meat group includes very lean, lean, medium-fat, and fat meats, seafood, poultry, and meat substitute exchanges; and the fat group includes saturated and unsaturated fat exchanges. Each exchange is assigned a calorie level; for example, one fat exchange is 45 calories. Each food within the exchange is assigned a portion amount. For example, one slice of bacon, one-eighth of an avocado, and one teaspoon of margarine are all one fat exchange and all worth 45 calories. People who have worked with the exchanges for a while find they can analyze a recipe or a menu in a matter of minutes.

The exchanges give patients and menu planners freedom of choice. Instead of being told that they must have grapefruit juice at breakfast time, a patient is told that they are entitled to one fruit exchange in the morning. This can be translated into the correct portion size of juice, fresh fruit, dried fruit, or canned or frozen unsweetened fruit.

People with diabetes are counseled as to the correct calorie level for maintenance of good health. The exchange lists allow them to select types and amounts of food while maintaining a healthy calorie level. For example, if told they could have 1 fruit exchange, 2 lean meat exchanges, 2 starch exchanges, and 1 fat exchange for breakfast, one person might select cantaloupe wedges, steamed tofu, and 2 slices of toast and margarine, while another individual might select tomato juice, hummus (as the meat exchange), and a toasted bagel. Both meals comply with the exchanges.

Let's Party

Holidays and special meal events can be frustrating times for people with diabetes and the people providing meals for them. While current theory has it that no foods need be excluded from diabetic diets (except for severe cases), daily intake must be balanced and within the person's calorie level. And although an occasional piece of cake might be allowed, holiday meals often have very few options for people with diabetes.

When designing festive menus, consider that everyone, including people with diabetes, can benefit from menu items that are tasty and fun yet lower in fat and concentrated sweets. Rather than having to create separate dishes for people with diabetes, offer lots of dishes that everyone can enjoy, with perhaps a portion variation for some of the more controlled people with diabetes.

Many of your favorite festive menu items already fit the bill, especially entrées (serve the sauces on the side). Instead of cranberry sauce, offer stewed apples with almonds, raisins, and cinnamon. Instead of chocolate sauce, offer fruit coulis made with frozen fruit, flavoring extracts, and fruit juice concentrate. Tofu makes a creamy base for savory or sweet sauces, requiring little sugar for sweetness (make a creamy dessert sauce with silken tofu, puréed strawberries, and orange zest). Poached or stewed fruit or salsas make low-sugar, lowfat accompaniments to roasted tempeh or seitan or other savory entrées. Once you get into this, you will be surprised at how easy it is to convert your party menus into diabetic-friendly meals.

Here's a traditional festive meal (and our thoughts on making it diabetic-friendly):

  • Crudités platter with sour-cream based dip (replace dip with a bean or lowfat soy yogurt-based dip)
  • Assorted dinner rolls (no problem)
  • Roasted seitan with rosemary and mushroom gravy (seitan is fine; serve gravy on the side or offer a fresh berry relish)
  • Cranberry sauce (offer stewed fruit compote or hot seasoned applesauce)
  • Mashed potatoes made with soymilk and vegan margarine (no problem; for a lower fat version, try using lowfat soymilk or lowfat vegetable broth)
  • Canned sweet potatoes with pineapple (Have you ever tasted baked fresh sweet potatoes? They put canned to shame. Simply bake, cube, and serve with a bit of vegan margarine, or mash them with a small amount of vegan margarine, nutmeg, and ginger. Canned, unsweetened pineapple is fine.)
  • Green beans with almonds (no problem)
  • Bread stuffing (no problem; a little high in fat, but it's a party!)
  • Traditional pumpkin pie (several choices here: for example, make a lower sugar, lower fat pumpkin custard with canned pumpkin, silken tofu, and apple juice concentrate)

Parties for Everybody

With an eye to individual people with diabetic needs, here are some suggestions for festive foods that can fit into a diabetic pattern.

Company Breakfast:

  • Fresh fruit slices with citrus-maple syrup dip (dip made with 2 cups lowfat soy yogurt, 1 Tablespoon orange or lime juice, and 2 Tablespoons maple syrup to serve 12 people)
  • Baked apples seasoned with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and apple juice
  • Peaches with raspberry sauce (frozen or juice-packed peaches; sauce made with soy yogurt, frozen unsweetened raspberries, and orange juice concentrate)
  • Silken tofu omelets with fresh chopped herbs and veggies
  • Cornbread and zucchini muffins (made with juice concentrate rather than sugar) with raisins and nuts and served with hot fruit compote (stewed apples, pears, peaches, and dried fruit)
  • Baked oatmeal (made with layers of prepared oatmeal, unsweetened canned or frozen fruit, dried fruit, and fruit-flavored soy yogurt)


  • Grilled vegetable platter (zucchini, onions, tomatoes, bell peppers sliced, brushed with olive oil, sprinkled with chopped oregano and basil then grilled); served with fresh salsa
  • Twice-baked potatoes (stuffed with potatoes mashed with silken tofu and unflavored soy yogurt, chopped fresh parsley, and onion and garlic powder)
  • Mock "Shrimp" and "crab" stuffed mini-pitas (vegan shrimp and crab products chopped with fresh vegetables) or vegan "shrimp" wrapped with snow peas
  • Stuffed mushrooms (bread stuffing made with water chestnuts, chopped onions, and minced garlic)
  • Spinach dip (thawed frozen chopped spinach mixed with soy yogurt, fresh bread crumbs, chopped fresh parsley, and chopped green onions)
  • Crudités with creamy dill dip (dip made with dill weed, soy yogurt or sour cream, chopped bell peppers, and black pepper); cruditiés can be any crunchy veggie, such as jicama, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, cherry tomatoes, radishes, canned asparagus, canned baby corn, snow peas, or mushrooms.


  • Banana cake (see recipe later in this chapter) served with a fresh or frozen fruit sauce (purée strawberries with a small amount of orange juice concentrate and vanilla extract)
  • Chocolate banana cake (banana cake made with the addition of 2 Tablespoons of cocoa powder) served with fresh or frozen berries
  • Poached pears (poach pears in apple juice flavored with cinnamon and ginger)
  • Fruit smoothies (made with fresh or frozen fruit, soy yogurt or silken tofu, and juice concentrate)
  • Pudding parfaits (made from vegan pudding mix and lowfat soymilk, layered with unsweetened granola and chopped dried fruit)
  • Fruit tarts (purchase prepared tart shells or arrange vanilla wafers or ginger snaps in individual dishes; fill with low-calorie vegan pudding and top with fruit)
  • Mini sundaes (made with sorbet or frozen vegan desserts, topped with chopped nuts, chopped fruit, and fruit sauce)
  • Ice cream club sandwiches (made with vegan graham crackers, sorbet or frozen vegan dessert, chopped fruit, and chopped nuts)


  • Flavored coffees
  • Hot herbed tea with citrus slices and mint sprigs
  • Fruit punch (made with unsweetened juices, sparkling water, and sherbet)
  • Fruit smoothies (made with unflavored soy yogurt or tofu, fresh or frozen fruit, spices)

The following recipes are written in amounts for caterers, or for prepping ahead and freezing or storing for later use.

Red Onion and Basil Salad Dressing

Makes 1 pint or 2 cups

  • 3 Tablespoons diced red onions
  • 1 Tablespoon diced white onion
  • 1 Tablespoon dried basil
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup cold vegetable broth
  • 2 Tablespoons vegan mayonnaise (or 3 Tablespoons soft tofu)
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a non-reactive bowl until well mixed. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

One portion (1 ounce) = 20 calories, 3 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fat, and no protein, or approx. 1/3 bread exchange, 1/8 fat exchange

Oatmeal Apricot Bars

Makes fifty 2 x 3-inch bars

  • 1 pound vegan margarine
  • 1 pound brown sugar or sugar (favorite vegan variety)
  • 1/2 pound unsweetened applesauce (1 cup)
  • 3 ounces unsweetened apple juice concentrate (1/3 cup)
  • 11/2 pounds all purpose flour (or half and half unbleached and whole wheat flour)
  • 1 pound 12 ounces uncooked quick oats (43/4 cups)
  • 3 Tablespoons baking soda
  • 2 pounds chopped dried apricots (31/2 cups)
  • 1 pound chopped golden raisins (2 cups)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a mixer bowl, combine margarine and sugar and beat until well mixed. Add applesauce and concentrate and beat until smooth.

Combine flour, oats, and soda. Add to margarine and mix until just combined. Mixture should be crumbly.

Spread half of mixture evenly on 4-5 ungreased baking sheets. Cover mixture with chopped fruit. Top evenly with remaining mixture. Bake for 35 minutes or until golden brown. Depending upon oven space, you may have to do this in batches.

Cut into bars and serve warm or allow bars to cool. Serve with stewed fruit or yogurt with chopped dried fruit.

Note: Make this recipe ahead of time and either store in airtight containers in the freezer, or in a cool, dark area.

One bar = 245 calories, 46 grams carbohydrate, 8 grams fat, and 3 grams of protein. Approx. 21/2 starch exchanges and 11/2 fat exchanges.

Banana Cake

Makes three 9-inch cakes or 25 portions

  • 1/2 pound vegan margarine (about 1 cup)
  • 1/2 pound sugar (about 1 cup) (favorite vegan variety)
  • 1 pound applesauce (about 4 cups)
  • 2 Tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup silken tofu
  • 21/2 pounds mashed bananas (about 51/2 cups)
  • 2 pounds cake flour (about 4 cups)
  • 3 Tablespoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 8 ounces unflavored or vanilla soy yogurt (about 1 cup)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a mixer bowl, combine margarine, sugar, applesauce, and vanilla and mix until well combined and fluffy. Add tofu and mix until well combined. Add bananas and mix at medium speed for 2 minutes.

Combine flour, powder, and soda. With the mixer at low speed, alternate adding dry ingredients and yogurt. Mix until well combined.

Place batter into 3 greased and floured 9-inch cake pans (if loaf pans are used instead, baking time will have to be increased). Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the pan comes out clean.

Cool and then remove from pans. Serve as breakfast bread with fresh fruit or as a dessert, served with sorbet.

One portion = 250 calories, 40 grams carbohydrates, 11 grams fat, and 3 grams protein, or approx. 31/2 bread exchanges, 2 fat exchanges.

Roasted Two-Pepper Soup

Serves 10 (4-ounce or 1/2 cup portions)

  • 1 pound green bell peppers (about 2 cups)
  • 11/2 pounds red bell peppers (about 3 cups)
  • 1 ounce olive oil (about 2 Tablespoons)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup finely diced onions
  • 1/2 cup finely diced fresh tomatoes
  • 2 Tablespoons ground oregano
  • 11/2 pints vegetable stock (about 3 cups)
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper

Pierce whole peppers and rub with oil. Place on ungreased baking sheet and roast in 375 degree oven until skins are blistered. Remove from oven, place in a plastic bag, and allow to cool (this makes removing the skin easier). Peel, seed, and chop peppers. Set aside.

Lightly sauté garlic and onions in a medium stockpot (use oil or vegetable spray). Add tomatoes and oregano. Sauté until soft. Add stock, white pepper, and chopped peppers and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for 15 minutes.

If desired, purée for a creamy texture. Pair with crudities and crunchy bread for a light supper.

One portion= 96 calories, 15 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams fat, 3 grams protein, or approx. 1 bread exchange, 1/2 fat exchange

Fruit Cobbler with Biscuit Topping

Makes ten 3 x 2-inch portions

Use a combination of unsweetened peaches, apples, pears, cherries, and berries in this cobbler.

  • 3 pounds mixed frozen fruit (peaches, apples, pears, cherries, and berries), drained (about 6 cups)
  • 3 cups juice (juice drained from fruit plus unsweetened apple juice to make total amount)
  • 1 cup sugar (favorite vegan variety)
  • 6 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh orange zest
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon zest
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 2 cups vegan biscuit mix
  • 3/4 cup water

Reserve fruit in large mixing bowl. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a small stockpot, heat juice to boiling. Lower heat. Mix sugar, cornstarch, zests, cinnamon, and ginger together and add to juice. Stir to combine. Add water and whisk until thickened.

Place fruit in a 9 x 12-inch casserole or baking dish. Pour thickened juice over fruit.

In a separate bowl, combine biscuit mix and water. Mix until soft dough is formed. Roll biscuit dough on a floured board to a 2-inch thickness. Place rolled dough on top of fruit. Bake at 425 degrees for 25 minutes or until browned.

Serve warm and use for breakfast, or allow to cool and serve as a holiday dessert with flavored whipped topping.

One portion = 195 calories, 30 grams carbohydrate, 8 grams fat, and 1 gram protein or approx. 21/2 starch exchanges, 2 fat exchanges

Excerpted from Vegans Know How to Party
By Chef Nancy Berkoff, EdD, RDB

Click here to order a copy of Vegans Know How to Party

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