Nothing beats home-cooked meals. But it is nice to go out to eat after a long workweek or to celebrate a special occasion. It’s a good way to unwind and socialize.
And like many other things, it’s also a little bit more complicated when you have type 1 diabetes. Not every T1D might feel the same way as I do, but there are times when I feel worried about going out to eat. Specifically, I start asking myself questions like, “Will there be a decent variety of lower-carb choices on the menu? Have I had this kind of cuisine before, and can I accurately predict how it will impact my blood sugar? Can I order what I actually want to eat without worrying about the carb content? Will the portion sizes be too small or too big? How long will it take for my meal to arrive, and does this mean I can safely pre-bolus for it?” Sadly, those are just a few of the questions that come to mind before some restaurant excursions.
That’s why I like to remind myself of the following five tips. They’re pretty common sense, but then again, they’re also key for me to enjoy a meal out guilt-free and in a way that works best for my diabetes.
- Cut down on carbs, as needed. I’ve learned that one of the best ways to make sure my blood sugars cooperate during a dinner out is to try to reduce my carb intake as much as possible. After all, most restaurants don’t have nutritional information readily available for diners to consult. As a result, it’s impossible to know every single ingredient that could be in a given dish, let alone their carbohydrate content. So that’s why I cut corners where I can. If I’m craving a burger, I order it and ask for it without a bun. I substitute fries or other starchy sides for a salad or seasonal vegetables. If I notice that a pizzeria can make a cauliflower crust instead of a normal one, then I ask for it. I find that using this strategy helps me in just about any kind of restaurant. And if I find myself wanting to order something really high carb (which is rare), then I rely on tip #2.
- Ask for a doggy bag. Say I ordered pasta at a restaurant. At most places, there could be upwards of 80 or 90 carbs in that one dish, which is just too much for me to consume in one meal. So I make a plan to eat half of it and bring home the rest. It’s a tried-and-true technique that works for anyone who’s trying to watch what they eat, not just people with diabetes. It’s a win-win because I can still order that carb-y dish, but I don’t have to worry about potentially taking too much or too little insulin to cover it. Fewer carbs in one sitting means less room for error.
- Load up on veggies. I incorporate as many vegetables as I can into my meals at restaurants. In addition to subbing sides, I also will focus on eating those if they come with an appetizer. For me, it’s all about filling up on the healthy stuff so I don’t leave the restaurant with too much food guilt.
- Share with your table mates. Whether I’m with a large group or just part of a pair, I almost always offer to share appetizers or desserts as a subtle form of portion control for myself. Who doesn’t love splitting an order of nachos or a slice of cheesecake? It’s a great way to start off or end a meal out that involves minimal guilt or blood sugar concerns.
- Order drinks with care. I’m very careful when it comes to choosing drinks that have zero carbs, or at least very few carbs. More often than not, I stick with water or unsweetened iced tea with lemon to accompany my meals. But when I choose to drink alcohol at a restaurant, I try to order a glass of wine or lower carb cocktails. I tend to have better luck with those, because I can more accurately predict how they’ll affect my blood sugar, if at all. I do like beer and order it from time to time, but I limit myself to no more than two – any more than that and I push my luck by running the risk of experiencing high blood sugars.
But arguably my most important, unofficial sixth rule is to remember to enjoy myself. There’s no sense in stressing too much about what my blood sugar might or might not do (unless there’s extenuating circumstances, then I totally pay it proper attention). I like to bear in mind that no matter how my blood sugars may react to certain foods, I still have to eat. Why not appreciate every aspect of the experience?