Eating out is enjoyable and convenient, but keeping to your nutrition plan while eating out might be difficult if you have diabetes. Many restaurants, thankfully, now provide healthful options. Furthermore, menus and nutrition information are frequently available online, allowing you to plan your meal before you arrive at the restaurant. Here are some tips to protect your diabetes management plan from being derailed by restaurant meals.

Look Ahead

To determine if the menu and nutrition facts are available online, go to the restaurant’s website. These are useful resources for preparing your order. If you can’t find this information online, call the restaurant and ask if the meal may be prepared with less salt, fat, or sugar. Food can frequently be prepared in a healthy manner. Rather than having things breaded and fried, ask whether your food can be prepared as follows:

  • Broiled
  • Roasted
  • Grilled
  • Steamed

Other substitutions you might want to ask if the chef can use include:

  • Whole-grain bread or pasta instead of white varieties
  • Brown rice instead of white rice
  • Skinless chicken
  • Less oil, butter or cheese
  • Veggies on a thin crust pizza

You don’t need to feel self-conscious about requesting healthier options or substitutions. You’re doing what it takes to stay committed to your treatment goals. And, most restaurants want to make customers happy.


Restaurants typically serve huge servings, maybe twice or more than what you ordinarily consume. If you’re eating out, try to consume the same size portions you would at home by:

  • Choosing the smallest meal size if the restaurant offers options
  • Sharing meals with a dining partner or two
  • Requesting a take-home container
  • Making a meal out of a salad or soup and an appetizer
  • Eating slowly so that you’ll feel full before you’ve eaten too much

It can be tough to resist overeating at a “all you can eat” buffet. Even a tiny amount of a variety of foods can build up to a significant number of calories. The “plate” method can be useful when you’re at a buffet. Half of your plate should be non-starchy veggies, a quarter protein, and the last quarter starch.

Make Changes

Don’t settle for what comes with your sandwich or meal.

  • Instead of French fries, choose a diabetes-friendly side salad or a double order of a vegetable
  • Rather than traditional salad dressing, use fat-free or low-fat dressing, or add a squeeze of lemon juice, flavored vinegar, or salsa to your salad
  • Instead of shredded cheese and sour cream, ask for salsa or Pico de Gallo
  • Substitute ketchup, mustard, horseradish, or fresh tomato slices for house dressings or creamy sauces on a sandwich

Bacon bits, croutons, cheeses and other add-ons can sabotage diabetes nutrition goals by quickly increasing a meal’s calories and carbohydrates. If you’re eating somewhere that provides free bread or tortilla chips on the table and you don’t want them, tell the waiter not to bring them.


Sugar-sweetened sodas, juices, and milkshakes can add a lot of calories to your meal, especially if the restaurant allows you to replenish them for free. Drinking a glass of water before you eat will help you feel fuller faster. Instead of high-calorie beverages, consider the following:

  • Water
  • Unsweetened iced tea
  • Unsweetened tea or coffee
  • Sparkling water
  • Mineral water
  • Diet soda

An occasional alcoholic drink with a meal is usually fine if your diabetes is well managed and your doctor agrees. Keep in mind, though, that alcohol contains empty calories. Alcohol might induce a potentially dangerous low blood sugar level if you use insulin or other blood sugar-lowering drugs. If you’re taking these drugs and drinking alcohol, make sure you eat something. If you do consume alcohol, go for varieties that are lower in calories and carbs, such as:

  • Light beer
  • Dry wines
  • Mixed drinks made with sugar-free mixers, such as diet soda, diet tonic, club soda or seltzer

Limit your alcohol consumption to one drink per day for women of all ages and men over 65, and two drinks per day for males 65 and younger.

Scheduled Meals

If you take diabetic medicines or insulin shots, eating at the same time every day can help you maintain stable blood sugar levels. If you’re eating out with others, keep these suggestions in mind:

  • Ask to schedule the gathering at your usual mealtime
  • To avoid waiting for a table, make a reservation or try to avoid times when the restaurant is busiest
  • If you can’t avoid eating later than normal, keep a snack on hand in case you experience low blood sugar symptoms


Because you have diabetes, dessert isn’t necessarily off-limits. Fruit is a good option, but if you want something sweet other than fruit, include it in your meal plan and compensate by lowering the amount of other carbohydrates in your meal, such as bread, tortillas, rice, milk, or potatoes. Consider splitting a dessert with a friend.

Final Thoughts

Follow your doctor’s or registered dietitian’s nutrition recommendations, whether you’re eating at home or out, such as:

  • Eat a variety of healthy foods, such as vegetables and fruits and high-fiber foods
  • Limit the amount of unhealthy fat in your diet, especially trans fats
  • Limit the amount of salt you eat
  • Keep sweets, such as baked goods, candy and ice cream, to a minimum

Don’t look for the closest parking spot to the restaurant. By parking further away, you can add some extra activity to your day. Better yet, leave the car at home and walk to and from the restaurant. All of that extra movement can help you prevent a blood sugar surge after a meal.

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