by Melinda D. Maryniuk, MEd, RD, CDE
On average, Americans eat five of the 21 traditional meals in a week away from home. Whether it is in a “fine dining” full-service restaurant, one of the many fast-casual or fast-food restaurants on every corner, your workplace cafeteria or a friend’s home… eating away from home is a frequent challenge.
This series offers tips for how you can enjoy eating in each of these settings – while keeping your blood glucose and weight in check. The key is to I-PLAN. When you learn to I-PLAN ahead, you’ll find eating healthy and enjoyable! This is the first article in the series: Dining in Restaurants.
Following the I-PLAN guide to eating out involves 5 steps:
Inspect Your Attitude
Do you treat every meal out as a reason to indulge? It’s important to adopt a healthy mind-set and a positive, mindful, “can-do” attitude. Recognize the importance of knowing your meal plan, knowing the portions you aim to eat and take steps to PLAN ahead so you can be prepared to make the best choices. Adopting a healthful attitude when eating out will make the next steps easier.
When you take the time and prepare for eating out, you’ll do well! That doesn’t mean starve for a few days so you can binge. You also don’t want to save all your calories or carbs throughout the day in order to spend them at the restaurant. It’s better to stick as close to your usual plan as possible- even if that means eating a little extra when you’re out. A few other tips to help you prepare:
#1 Think about how the time you plan to eat may affect your usual diabetes routine. Be prepared for the unexpected. If you usually take insulin before a meal, don’t take it until you’re at the restaurant and you’re certain the food is on its way. You may need to have a small snack before you go out if you know the meal will be later.
#2 Check online to see the menu. Making your selection in advance will help you stick to your commitment to eat healthy, and many chain restaurants will have nutrition information on the web that can help guide your choice.
#3 Plan for what you might drink. Remember, calories from alcohol can add up quickly. Also, pre-dinner drinks on an empty stomach could lead to hypoglycemia.
#4 Bring your diabetes supplies to the restaurant. You may want to check your BG before and after your meal.
#5 If you eat out often, you might want to invest in a book such as “Eat Out, Eat Well” from the American Diabetes Association* or check an app like “Calorie King”*
Often you’ll find the calories posted on the sign board listing the menu or nutrition information may be displayed in a framed sign hanging on the wall. If you don’t see it, ask and most chains will have a handout they can offer you with nutrition information. A few other tips to help you look:
#1 As you make your way to the table, look at what people are eating. Are the portions really large? Are there breadbaskets on the table? Do you see someone eating a dessert you’ve just got to try? Think about how you want to adjust what you order based on what you see.
#2 Look for the healthy choices: Vegetable-based salads, grilled meats and fish, steamed veggie side dishes, fruit or sorbet for dessert are all great options.
#3 Look for the words on the menu that signal hidden calories, carbs and fat. Either choose to avoid them, or eat a little less. Red flag words include: creamed, Alfredo, buttered, stuffing, breaded, au gratin, tempura and fried.
#4 Look for someone at your table who might want to share a dish. Splitting an entrée and/or appetizer is a great way to get to taste different dishes without all the calories / carbs.
Remember – you are not a guest in someone’s home. You are a paying customer. You have a right to make special requests (within reason, of course!) Some suggestions for things you can ask include:
#1 If bread is too tempting, ask for it to be removed. Or ask that the basket include only two pieces – one for you and one for your partner. You may want to also consider this approach for foods like chips and salsa where the temptation can be to just mindlessly eat.
#2 Ask for dressings and sauces on the side.
#3 Ask for the portion size that you want. For example, if you’re treating yourself to some French fries, but don’t want to see a huge mound on the plate, smile and ask if the waiter could make sure you only get 15 fries
#4 Ask how dishes are prepared. If you order the grilled fish thinking you’re getting the healthy choice and find it swimming in butter, you’re not getting what you expected.
#5 Ask for a take-away box to be delivered with your meal so you can split a large portion right at the beginning — instead of nibbling away at it through the course of the meal and being over-stuffed.
You’ve done your homework. You’ve planned ahead. Now, enjoy your meal. Taste the food. Savor the flavors. And most of all, enjoy the company and conversation. After the meal, check your blood glucose. If you weren’t in the expected range, think about what you’d do differently next time. Don’t feel guilty… you have the opportunity to learn from each experience. The next day, plan for a little longer walk and give yourself credit for each step you’re taking towards making healthier choices.