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10 Tips for Eating Out

Ideas for diabetes-friendlier restaurant meals

Sometimes it feels as though we’re always in a hurry these days, especially when it comes to eating. Whether sitting down at a table, ordering food to-go, or zipping in the drive-through, restaurant meals just seem to be part of getting the job of eating done fast. And there are so many options – from burgers and fries to burritos, from a breakfast muffin to a pasta dinner – it can be a challenge to stay on track. I have gathered these healthy eating tips from some notable Diabetes Online Community (DOC) names to help you enjoy eating out (or ordering in!) while still following your meal plan. Others have found them useful and I hope you will too!

Tips for eating out with diabetes Tip 1: Watch the portion distortion – ask dining companions to split, share.
 Hope Warshaw, RD, CDE*, author of Guide to Healthy Restaurant Eating
Restaurant portions are often double or even triple as much food as you want or need to eat. So I advise taking portion control into your own hands! Ask one or more of your dining partners to split and share. Order an extra plate or have portions split down the middle in the kitchen.

Tip 2: Up the veggies, lower the carbs. Substitute for starches, order doubles.
 Amanda Cedrone, a journalist who has lived with type 1 diabetes for twenty-three years
Remember that you’re the customer and, in most cases, should feel free to make special requests. Burgers, sandwiches, and dinner entrées often come partnered with starchy sides such as French fries, potato chips, rice, beans, or potatoes. Options? Ask to substitute a side salad instead. Or hold the mashed potatoes and double up on the broccoli. These special requests might help you lighten up on fat grams, too.

Tip 3: Order using the “one half, one quarter, one quarter” guideline.
 Bennet Dunlap, blogger and d-dad of two young adults
Contemplate your plate in quarters (even if all your food isn’t on one plate). Fill half your plate with vegetables – a side salad and a serving of cooked vegetable, an entrée salad, or double serving of one vegetable. Keep the protein to one quarter of your plate rather than the typical half. Two ways to do this: Order a menu item that combines your starch and protein. Think spaghetti and meatballs, quesadilla or turkey burger. To not overeat, split the entrée or take half home. Or split and share a portion of fish, chicken, or red meat and a starch. Think grilled salmon and baked potato, or teriyaki chicken and corn on the cob.

Tip 4: Make menu creativity your modus operandi in restaurants.
 Tami Ross, RD, CDE, 2013 President of American Association of Diabetes Educators and co-author of What Do I Eat Now? A Step-by-Step Guide to Eating Right with Type 2 Diabetes
Don’t feel compelled to order an entrée. It could easily result in overeating. Limit portions from the start by ordering salads, soups, appetizers, or small plates. Mix and match to create a healthy meal in just-right portions. Then tell your server what you want delivered when.

Tip 5: Savor a healthier bagel breakfast.
 Kelly Kunik, a blogger who has lived with type 1 diabetes for thirty-five years
I love everything bagels and going out for a ‘bagel moment’ on the weekends. But most bagels, especially those large ones from New York, are too high in carbohydrates for me to eat in one sitting. Here’s my secret weekend strategy: I eat one half – the one with all the seasonings – with cream cheese. I order a side of sliced tomatoes, raw red onions, lettuce, and capers and pile them high. Then I savor every bite!

Tip 6: Ordering a salad? Make “dressing on the side” your menu mantra. 
Contributor: Hope Warshaw, RD, CDE
Salads often serve up healthy nutrient-dense vegetables, as long as they’re not topped with high-fat additions like cheese, pasta, tuna, or chicken salads, fried noodles, croutons, and the like. Ladles of salad dressing can undo your healthy intentions. Always order dressing on the side to control your fat grams. Use a small amount of a dressing you enjoy. Dilute thick dressings, like thousand island and blue cheese, with lemon or vinegar.

(Read more about surprisingly unhealthy salads here.)

Tip 7: Say “no” to pre-meal nibbles, such as bread and butter, chips, or fried noodles.
 Amanda Cedrone
No need to have enticing pre-meal nibbles rack up carb grams and your blood glucose level before the main course arrives. Team up with your dining companions to send the nibbles back to the kitchen. If others want them on the table, keep them beyond arms’ reach.

Tip 8: Please bring me a to-go container when you bring my meal.
 Tami Ross, RD, CDE
Eating alone? No one wants to share? Opt for a to-go container. But don’t wait until the end of the meal to request it. Order it to be served with your meal. When you get your meal immediately box up half so you won’t be tempted to overeat. The leftovers become tomorrow’s ready-to-heat and eat lunch or dinner.

Tip 9: Skip dessert unless it’s delectable.
Contributor: Bennet Dunlap
To keep a handle on calories, carbs, and unhealthy fats, I find it best to skip dessert most of the time. That’s not so hard for me because, when I think about it, most desserts aren’t worth the calories and quick glucose rise. But on occasion and when you know a dessert will be worth every bite, go ahead, order one and split it. A few bites might be just enough to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Tip 10: Cancel your membership to the “Clean Plate Club.”
 Constance Brown-Riggs, RD, CDE, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and author of The African American Guide to Living Well With Diabetes
One more way to avoid those huge portions – let some food go to waste. While I know there are more environmentally advantageous ways to conquer large portions, it’s still better to have some food go to waste than to your waist (or to higher blood sugar levels)! Make it a habit to leave a few bites on your plate – particularly foods with a high carb count.

Hope Warshaw, MMSc, RD, CDE*, is the author of several best-selling books published by the American Diabetes Association, including Diabetes Meal Planning Made Easy and Guide to Healthy Restaurant EatingShe’s a frequent contributor to Diabetic Living. Warshaw is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

*“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.

© 2013 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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