There are many retirees living with diabetes in South Florida where I educate people in a self management program; a big proportion of them spend a majority of their time eating out in restaurants. They admit that eating out is a luxury, but after spending years raising young families they have disconnected from the kitchen and are willing to spend money for food.

Eating out can be a very social experience and often they live in communities where restaurants are readily available. I actually teach a couple who only make coffee in their kitchen and eat out for every meal! The husband always jokes that they should make the kitchen into an extra closet or large plant box. Surely this is very unusual, but I would like to share some restaurant tips with you that I frequently share with my patients.

Research Before You Head Out!

Before you head out the door, search on-line for restaurant reviews and menus. Many restaurants, especially the chains, offer full menus with nutritional information (calorie/sodium/carbohydrate counts) as well as portion sizes. Be prepared before you go so you can make healthy choices. Take home printed copies of the menu to be ready for the next trip.

Avoid Buffets

Avoid buffets as often as possible. Although it sounds great economically, having too many choices with “as much as you can eat” can be dangerous for anyone – even more if you have diabetes. Calories, fat, sodium and carbohydrates pile up and you think you are “just tasting everything.”

Always Consider Portion Sizes

When served in a sit down restaurant consider portion size before you start. Here are a few tips for sit down restaurants:

  • Share an entree and each order your own salad.
  • Order 2 appetizers as your entire meal.
  • Refuse the bread/butter basket.
  • Ask for the lunch size portion even at dinner.
  • Split the meal portion as soon as it arrives and put in a take home container immediately.
  • Have soup and a salad without a main course.
  • Drink a full glass of ice water before starting your meal.
  • Do not arrive starving!

Drink Water!

Drink water with lemon, seltzer, mineral water, sparking water, unsweetened tea, coffee or diet soda. Do not take in extra sugar or calories from liquids.

Choose the Healthy Option for a Side

Restaurant Tips - Steak and vegetables.Request a substitute side – instead of fries or onion rings which come with the dish, choose a side salad or steamed vegetables, baked sweet potato, or quinoa. Thinking about a condiment? Ask for mustard, tomato slices, lettuce, sprouts or raw onions instead of BBQ sauce, ketchup, mayonnaise, creamy sauces or extra cheese. If you choose the baked potato, try salsa and chives instead of butter, salt, bacon bits and sour cream.

Be Smart with Salad Bars

Think vegetables and protein and avoid carbohydrates like crackers or bread. Stay away from dressings that are high in fat like Blue cheese. Skip fried onion pieces, bacon or lots of croutons and go with better choices like a handful of nuts or seeds. Ask for oil and vinegar or lemon slices and skip high fat dressings completely. Ask if they have low fat or fat free dressings if you prefer the creamy types (read the label; these may have extra carbohydrates).

Constantly eating out is not for everyone but being prepared when ordering in a restaurant can be useful! Think before you order and do not show up starving!

I’ll have some more tips for you next week! See Nurse Robbies Restaurant Tips | Part 2.

NOTE: Consult your doctor first to make sure my recommendations fit your special health needs.