How to Eat Out with Diabetes


In general, you eat away from home the same way you do at home except that you have somewhat less control over what you choose. Unless you’re in the hospital (where there will be a profes­sional dietician available to you) or in prison, eating out should pose no great problem. Most restaurants have such a varied menu that you will have no trouble finding things that fit into your food plan. Not only that, but many have what they call “dieter’s sections” on the menu or there are items highlighted as being “heart healthy” or “lean cuisine.” And you can always ask the waiter how the food is prepared. Don’t be embarrassed; people ask this all the time.

There are some specialized restaurants that might give you pause, but there are ways to deal with them, too.

  • Fast-food joints. The best thing is not to go into them in the first place, but if you absolutely can’t help it (you’re with a group of co-workers and you’re the only one who votes no to fast food, or you’re on an interstate and you’re starving and there’s no place else to eat), choose the salad bar with low-fat dressing or grilled or roasted chicken (not fried). As a last resort, eat a hamburger, but hold the cheese and the mayonnaise.

Eat Out with Diabetes

  • Italian restaurants. Choose a tomato-based sauce on your pasta instead of one made with cream, and eat chicken or fish pre­pared relatively plainly. Try to stay away from lasagna and veal or eggplant parmigiana; they’re loaded with high-fat cheese.
  • Delicatessens. Most delis now have a wide variety of salads (avoid salad with a high-fat mayonnaise dressing), but if you want a sandwich, stick to lean roast beef or poultry. Traditional deli meats (corned beef, pastrami, tongue, brisket of beef) are among the highest-fat proteins. Never eat chopped liver, and when you’re having a bagel with cream cheese and lox, ask for the low-fat variety or use only half a portion of regular cream cheese.
  • Chinese restaurants. Watch out for food that’s deep fried: any­thing that’s described on the menu as “crispy” is usually rolled in a coating of some sort and dropped into hot fat. If you’re eating soup, stay away from crunchy Chinese noodles; they’re prepared the same way.

Other ways you can be good to yourself in restaurants include staying away from the bread and butter before your appetizer or entree is served. If you’re really hungry, ask the waiter for a small plate of raw vegetables such as carrots, radishes, or celery, or or­der a salad—that usually shows up quickly. Ask for low-fat dress­ings or request that it be served in a small dish on the side. If the waiter balks at this, consider this attitude when it comes time to leave a tip. Don’t forget that you are the paying customer, and the restaurant needs to please you, not the other way around.

When you’re invited to someone’s home for dinner, things become a little more difficult because you usually have no choice in the food that is offered to you. There are still things you can do to maintain control, however, and even if you can’t, don’t forget that it’s only one meal.

If the home you are invited to belongs to a close friend, they may already know that you are a diabetic and serve something appropriate to your needs. If you can’t say something beforehand about food preferences, it’s usually better not to mention that you have diabetes. This can throw people into a panic about what to feed you, and they’ll watch you anxiously all evening to see if you’re about to collapse onto their dining room table. It’ll make everyone uncomfortable. Rather, eat a smaller amount of food and if you feel the need to explain, try something like, “I’m trying to shed a few pounds, so please don’t be offended if I eat lightly.” This is something everyone can relate to, it’s a polite warning, and no one gets put on the defensive.

If you have chosen to say nothing in advance, and most peo­ple prefer not to, you can still do fine at someone else’s table. Here are some ways to stay in control:

  • Have only one drink before dinner—heavily diluted with wa­ter or diet mixer. Keep your wine consumption during dinner down to one glass or less
  • Look over the hors d’oeuvres choices and choose the least ca­loric and fat filled. Take the raw vegetables (and don’t dip them into anything) instead of the cheese, or if there is only cheese and crackers, choose the hardest cheese (which contains the least fat) and eat it without a cracker. Stay away from things like cocktail weenies rolled around pastry, salted nuts, and crunchy snacks poured right out of a bag. The good thing about this part of the meal is that people are concentrating on each other, and no one notices what kind of snacks you are or are not popping into your mouth.
  • At the dinner table, eat what fits into your diet, and don’t eat what you don’t want to. Your obligation is to yourself, not to your hosts. You can always say you’re allergic to something if there’s a comment.

Eat Out with Diabetes

  • You can eat part of what you’re served: Cut the steak in half; peel the skin off the chicken if it’s fried or greasy looking; scrape off cream sauce before you eat what’s under it. If any­one says anything, say that the food was delicious but you’re stuffed and can’t eat another bite. This comment could also work to get you out of eating dessert if you want to pass.
  • If you’re invited to a cookout or barbecue, try to choose a meat you can eat without a bun. Choose the coleslaw, three-bean salad, or rice or pasta salad, and leave the mayonnaise-soaked potato salad alone. Fill up on watermelon and fruit and have only a small cookie or piece of brownie for dessert. Drink light beer, diet soda, or unsweetened iced tea (carry your own pack­ets of artificial sweetener in case there is none available).
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About the Author: Leona Kesler is a head-chef at a very popular food restaurant in New York. Also she is a blogger who shares her experiences, tips, and other informative details about food and cooking. Her recipes are featured on many magazines.

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