Eating healthily and sticking to a daily meal plan at a restaurant can be a challenge for someone with diabetes. The food often contains more fat and salt, comes with fewer fruits and vegetables, and the portions are usually larger than at home. Nevertheless, you can make good choices and still enjoy the pleasures of dining out.

For some people, a restaurant meal is an occasional outing; for others, it is a daily occurrence. If you regularly eat at restaurants, it is even more important to make healthy choices.

Tips for making better choices

  • Watch out for buffets; they encourage over-indulgence. If you do go, check out the entire buffet first, before filling your plate.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask restaurant staff about the ingredients in the different dishes; this will help you make informed choices.
  • As an entrée, order vegetable soup or salad – a good way to get your serving of vegetables while calming your hunger!
  • To cut down on fat, order dishes that are grilled, baked or steamed.
  • Avoid fried and breaded foods, and the skin on chicken or other poultry.
  • Choose tomato sauces instead of cream-based sauces.
  • Ask for salad dressing (vinaigrette) on the side so you can control the amount you use.
  • Many dishes automatically come with fries. Tell the server you want to substitute: rice, pasta, cooked vegetables, salad, etc.
  • Order regular or sparkling water, tea, herbal teas (tisanes) or black coffee instead of sugary drinks. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation and take the necessary precautions.
  • If you are still hungry for dessert, order fruit or a milk-based dessert. You can always share a large dessert with your dining companion.
  • Take leftovers home with you. This will encourage you to stop eating when you’ve had enough and you’ll get to enjoy the meal again at home the next day!

What about fast-food restaurants?

Fast food, which can be practical and cheap, should only be an occasional treat.

A few extra tips:

  • Avoid the large sizes, which are often displayed up front.
  • Combo or trio plates often combine less healthy foods. Don’t hesitate to substitute items.
  • Substitute fries for a salad to which you add the dressing yourself.
  • Order bottled water or a carton of milk instead of a soft drink or fruit drink.

Estimating carbohydrate content

To ensure that you eat the normal amount of carbohydrates stipulated in your daily meal plan, or to adjust the dose of your insulin injection (if applicable) based on carbohydrate content of your meal, you need to know how to estimate serving sizes. With regular practice at home, you will be able to easily estimate the carbohydrate content of your restaurant meal.

The amount of carbohydrates in mixed dishes can be difficult to determine (stir fry with tofu and vegetables, pasta casserole with meat, sushi, etc.). Ordering a meat or alternative served with sides can make it easier to estimate the serving sizes.

Many restaurants post the nutritional content of their dishes on their web site. You can study their menus and the nutritional information before dining there. You can choose what you are going to order in advance, from the entrée to the dessert, based on the carbohydrate content of each dish.