Going out to eat is a big part of our busy, modern lives. Although dining out can be super convenient (not to mention fun), many restaurants serve extremely large portions of high-calorie, high-fat, high-carbohydrate food. These can be difficult to navigate when you need to maintain safe glucose levels.
Still, you don't have to miss out on the celebrations, events or even the just-don't-feel-like-cooking dinners that happen every day. There are ways to enjoy going out to eat while keeping your blood sugar at a healthy level. With your doctor's approval, give these tips a try:
1. Plan Ahead
Before going out to eat, be sure you have a general idea of what types of foods are available at the restaurant. Many places have menus online, and some have listed nutrition facts. Keeping in mind how many carbohydrates you can eat, look at the menu and pick out items that match your limits.
If the restaurant does not list nutrition facts, scan the menu for lower-calorie preparation methods, such as steamed, grilled or broiled. Making your selection ahead of time helps you know you're making the best choice for your health when the server comes.
2. Choose the Right Beverage
Water and unsweetened tea are your best bets at a restaurant. That's because sugary beverages (juice and soda) cause your blood sugar to spike even faster than most foods. Some restaurants also offer free refills on soda without you asking. If it's front of you, you're more likely to drink it.
If you want to drink alcohol, try to limit the quantity and avoid any sweet mixers — again, juice and soda.
3. Skip the Bread
Bread or chips regularly served before meals are high in carbohydrates — and easy to eat mindlessly. It can be difficult to maintain normal glucose levels if you start your meal with a large dose of carbs. To help yourself out, ask the server to take the breadbasket away — or not bring it at all.
4. Start Your Meal With Soup or Salad
A broth-based soup with loads of vegetables or a dinner salad is a great way to fill up on fiber with few calories or carbohydrates. Fiber is great if you have diabetes because it can help stabilize blood sugar. Stay away from high-calorie dressings, opting for olive oil and vinegar instead.
Starting with a healthy soup or salad can help curb your hunger so you don't start your entree feeling starved, which can lead to overeating.
5. Swap the Sides
Restaurants often are glad to accommodate special requests, so feel free to swap out items on the menu. To keep your blood sugar steady, ask to substitute any high-carbohydrate sides — French fries, bread or potatoes — with an extra serving of vegetables. This will save you a huge number of carbohydrates and calories and keep your blood glucose from spiking.
6. Take Home Half
Before your meal even begins, consider boxing up half right when it arrives to take home. You can also ask you server to box it before bringing it to the table, which is convenient and can save some temptation. You can also consider sharing an entrée with a friend. Considering portion sizes at many restaurants, these are great ways to cut calories and prevent overindulging.
7. Practice a Polite Response
Depending on who you are sharing a meal with, some people can try to derail your commitment to a diabetes-friendly diet. Do you have that friend who always wants dessert, but wants to share it? Or who says "just one bite won't hurt?" Be sure to have a plan ready for dealing with these types of situations. Brainstorm a polite response for these types of requests so you can be prepared.
While you get the hang of adjusting your dining out habits, it's important to check your blood sugar levels after eating. Based on your readings, you can determine if you need to make more adjustments next time. Overall, you can eat healthfully and enjoy yourself with a bit of planning and a few intentional decisions.