Planning ahead is key to enjoying a healthy restaurant meal.
Healthy eating is easy when you can cook for yourself—but what about when you can't? What happens when your office holds a potluck, or when your friends want to try a new restaurant? When eating out with diabetes, one of your most effective tools is simply a plan. Prepare yourself for the decisions you know you'll be making so you never have to miss another meal out.
Consider the Options
Get to know diabetes-friendly restaurants in your area and choose carefully. Restaurants known for fresh vegetables, lean proteins, and reasonable portions are great to have on your go-to list. If you're eating fast food, you can still make smart choices within the standard offerings. Avoid options that are full of sugar and simple carbs and opt for something with more protein. If you're not sure what's best for you, ask the restaurant to provide more information about their menu items so you can make an educated decision.
You don't want to be thinking about your meal for the first time when you sit down at the table. Many restaurants post their menus online so you can check out the offerings and get an idea of what fits into your meal plan. Giving yourself time to read and think reduces the risk of an impulsive unhealthy choice, but it also means you're less likely to limit yourself unnecessarily to standard options. A salad is easy, but don't get one only because you didn't see the garden veggie tagine or the grilled salmon.
Avoid an Empty Stomach
Try to arrive at the restaurant having eaten a balanced snack beforehand. The hungrier you are when you sit down, the more likely you are to choose something that sounds good but doesn't meet your dietary needs. If you've had a healthy snack, like a serving of unsalted almonds or some Greek yogurt, it will be easier to resist bread or appetizers that can detract from your diabetes management goals. Keep glucose tabs on hand in case your diabetes medications kick in before you have a chance to eat.
Don't assume you have all the answers—ask your server for specifics about your dish and its preparation. Choosing a grilled chicken breast over a fried or breaded one will make a difference in your post-meal blood sugars. Real information removes the guesswork and helps you make an informed decision that will satisfy both your taste buds and your meal plan.
Look for words that could signal a healthier choice, like "light," "lean," or "fresh," and pay attention to what sides might be included. If your meal comes with a salad, go with a vinaigrette over a creamy dressing. Remember that restaurant portions are typically larger than a standard serving size, and a physical frame of reference for a normal portion can be helpful in ensuring you eat a reasonable amount. You can also ask your server for a box with your meal so you can divide the portions before you eat.
Decide on Dessert
If you have a sweet tooth that can't be tamed, offer to share a dessert with others in your group. Serve yourself a portion and eat slowly so you'll still feel satisfied even with less. Be cautious of anything glazed or frosted and remember that you can ask the server to hold things like whipped cream or candied nuts to keep the carb count down.
Back to Basics
When in doubt, rely on your knowledge. You know what foods tend to spike your blood sugar and you can stay away from menu items that include those ingredients. Avoid simple sugars, moderate your bread and starch intake, and don't forget to look for carbs that might be hiding in a sauce thickened with flour or flavored with brandy.
Though the circumstances aren't as easy to control, eating out with diabetes doesn't have to derail your good habits. With a little awareness, preparation, and moderation, every meal can help support a healthy lifestyle.
By Samantha Markovitz