Eating Out When You Have Diabetes
Whether it’s the local pizza joint after a game, the food court at the mall, or barbecued ribs on your best friend’s back porch, eating out is probably a part of your social scene.
You don’t want to miss out on these activities just because you have to watch what you eat, and the good news is you don’t have to. You can pretty much eat the same foods as your friends and family — you just have to keep track of what you eat and eat certain foods in moderation.
Which Restaurant Should I Choose?
If you’re choosing where to eat, think about the places that offer you the most options — even fast-food places have healthy choices on their menus. Whenever possible, look for nutritional facts on the meal you plan to order — like calorie, carbohydrate, and fat content. This information is available in many chain restaurants (you may need to ask for it) or online. Or ask your server what’s in the food you’re eating.
Don’t worry — you’re not limited to places that serve only soy burgers and carrot sticks. If you can order a meal that includes a good balance of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, you’re doing OK. But if you find that certain restaurants don’t offer many vegetable choices or that they only serve fried food that’s covered in cheese, you might want to pick a place that offers more options.
You might find that there are more healthy breakfast choices — like yogurt, fresh fruit, and scrambled eggs — for you at the diner than at the coffeehouse, so convincing your friends to chow down on diner food is one option.
But if your friends prefer the coffeehouse, one alternative is to buy something to drink and bring a snack in your backpack or purse that’s easy to eat discreetly, like pretzels or raisins. Some people may be embarrassed or worried that the manager might give them a hard time, though. If you think you may get caught in a situation like this, you can talk about what to do with your doctor or dietitian and how to adjust your meal plan or insulin doses.
What Should I Order?
When it’s time to order, follow the same rules for food content and portion sizes that you follow at home. Your meal plan probably calls for you to eat a good balance of proteins, fats, and carbs. Usually, you can get all of the nutrients you need at a restaurant, too.
These tips can help:
- Change and rearrange. To get a well-balanced meal in a restaurant, feel free to substitute certain ingredients or side orders (for example, you could substitute salad for fries). Don’t feel weird about it — people ask for substitutions all the time. You can also ask for a different preparation, like having your chicken broiled instead of fried.
- Watch the sides. Avoid foods with sauces or gravy, and ask for low-fat salad dressings on the side.
- Pick your own portion. Restaurant portions often offer enough food to feed your entire crew, but try to eat the same portion of food that you’d eat at home. Either eat only part of your order and take the rest home or split it with a friend.
- Master menu lingo. Watch out for words like “jumbo,” “supersize,” “deluxe,” or “value” when eating at your favorite fast-food joint or the food court at the mall. Instead, order junior- or regular-sized sandwiches and sides.
- Split with a friend. Are you hungry for some fries? Order a healthy sandwich and side salad for yourself and sneak a few of your friend’s fries instead of ordering your own. And dividing an entrée or sandwich between friends also helps keep portion sizes under control.
- Go light on buns and crusts. Choose thin-crust pizza over the deep-dish pie and skip double burgers and extra-long hot dogs to keep carb intake under control. And keep in mind that English muffins, bread, and small buns often contain fewer calories and fat than croissants and biscuits.
The same tips apply to eating at your school cafeteria. To be a healthy eater at school, make sure you pick a variety of healthy foods and stop to think about when you’re getting full.
What Should I Bring With Me?
When you go out to eat, you should bring the things you take with you everywhere, like testing supplies, snacks, and medications. A quick-reference guide to food content and portions can make choosing healthy foods a little easier. (If you don’t have one, you can get one from your doctor or dietitian.) If you use things like artificial sweeteners or fat-free spreads, bring them along, too.
If you take insulin, there’s no need to stay home if you have to eat later than usual — in most cases you can just make a few simple adjustments to your medicine schedule.
Do you have questions about how to make eating out even easier? Talk to your doctor or dietitian.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: August 2013