DINING OUT WITH DIABETES – HOW TO NAVIGATE THE MENU
If you like to dine out, there’s no need to deny yourself if you have diabetes. The goal is to stick with your diabetes meal plan, as much as possible, while still enjoying yourself and your meal.
Remember that consistency is key when it comes to keeping blood sugar levels stable. Consistency with what you eat, the time you eat, and how active you are.
The more your restaurant experience resembles your meal plan at home, the more successful you will be with keeping your blood glucose in your target range.
STICK WITH YOUR MEAL PLAN
Give yourself a head start. Pull up the menu online and take time to look it over before leaving home. It can help reduce the stress of having to make up your mind quickly and prevent you from making an impulsive decision.
Look for words that suggest healthy cooking methods such as roasted, broiled, steamed, or grilled. Aim to avoid fried items, but don’t be afraid to ask if the food can be grilled instead. Most restaurants are willing to make small adjustments.
Be mindful of hidden added sugars that can be found in barbeque sauces and salad dressings. And watch out for hidden carbs in menu items that are “crispy” or breaded.
Avoid the temptation of obvious carbs by foregoing the basket of bread or chips on the table. Order a salad instead of an appetizer to fill the time until your meal is served. But remember to be conscious of extras like croutons, or bacon bits that can sabotage your efforts.
BE MINDFUL OF THE TIME
Timing of meals is important, particularly when taking insulin or oral medications that increase insulin production. Plan to eat out at about the same you would have eaten at home. Avoid wait times at restaurants by going a little off-peak or making a reservation.
If it’s necessary to dine later than usual, have a snack containing about 15-20 grams of carbohydrates at your usual mealtime.
Start out the day following your usual meal plan and avoid “saving up” or eating very little throughout the day. This strategy usually ends up leaving you feeling starved and may impair your ability to stay on track.
ESTIMATE PORTION SIZES
Restaurant-sized portions are usually (almost always) larger than what you would eat at home. In fact, one serving may be twice or three times the size.
Use your best judgment to eyeball the correct portion size and plan to take home some of your meal from the start. Leftovers make for a great lunch the next day. Ask for sauces or dressings on the side and put yourself in control of those portions.
With a little investigating, you may uncover a restaurant that offers half portions. Or consider a tapas-style or small plate restaurant or one that allows you to share an entrée.
ASK TO MAKE SUBSTITUTIONS
Don’t be afraid to ask how the food is prepared. Now more than ever, restaurants are sensitive to their client’s special dietary needs.
Whether it be vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free, they are most often happy to be accomodating and willing to make substitutions. It never hurts to ask.
To make your meal healthier, ask if brown rice is available in place of white. Instead of fries, ask if you can substitute a baked potato or a double portion of a vegetable.
Ask how the vegetables are prepared and if they can be served without butter or sauces. When ordering chicken, ask if it can be prepared skinless.
If you are ordering pizza, ask if it can be made with a thin crust. Ask for less cheese and more veggies. Avoid meat toppings that are usually high in fat.
When eating out at breakfast or brunch, ask if eggs can be prepared with just the egg whites. Substitute whole-wheat toast for white.
DON’T FORGET TO ACCOUNT FOR YOUR DRINKS
Stay away from sweetened sodas or iced teas. Instead, substitute water, diet soda, unsweetened iced tea, seltzer, or club soda. Add a lemon or lime slice for flavor and interest.
If your diabetes is well controlled, and your doctor has agreed, an alcoholic beverage with your meal is usually fine. Drink it slowly alternating with sips of water. Limit alcohol to one drink and choose a dry wine or mixed drink with a sugar-free soda.
Coffee and tea are fine by themselves. Choose sugar-free sweeteners and ask for low-fat milk or unsweetened plant or nut milk. Be wary of specialty coffees. They often are high in sugar, sweetened with syrups, creams, and toppings.
LEAVE ROOM FOR DESSERT
Dessert doesn’t always have to be a no-no. Fresh fruit is a good choice if it is available. Compensate by forgoing a carb at the meal, or using it to replace an evening snack.
Or if you desire a sweet dessert, suggest you split it or share it with someone at the table. Look for something without icing. Or go with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Get in a little activity to help offset extra calories by having parked further away from the restaurant. Or take in a short walk after you get home.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Dining out when you have diabetes can be a challenge, but not an impossibility. If you go with the right mindset you will have a good outcome.
Set yourself up to succeed. Look at the menu in advance and make your selections without pressure. Make a reservation and arrive on time. Eyeball your portions and take home the extra.
Don’t be afraid to request substitutions. If you frequently eat at the same restaurant, you will get to know what changes to the menu are available. And they will get to know your needs.
Let friends at the table know you have diabetes and ask for their support. Most importantly this should be a time to enjoy yourself and have fun.
If you would like help with preventing or managing diabetes, consider a One-on-one Nutrition Counseling session with one of our experienced registered dietitians or join the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) designed to help you make better food choices and decrease your risk for developing diabetes. Additionally, our Diabetes Self-Management Education and Support(DSME) group helps improve your skills for managing blood sugars to reduce your risk for developing diabetes-related complications. Schedule an Appointment Today! (240) 449-3094. Many of our services are covered by insurance.