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Enjoy Eating Out When You Have Diabetes

Plan ahead and make restaurant meals a healthy part of your meal plan

Happy people eating out

Whether it's dinner from your neighborhood carry out or going to lunch with friends, eating out is a part of everyone's life. Having diabetes can make this tough, but with planning and thoughtful choices, you can enjoy a variety of healthy foods away from home. Use these tips to enjoy eating out while still sticking to your routine of eating healthy for diabetes.

Plan ahead

While restaurants are in the business of selling food, and not necessarily helping you stick to your diet, many offer healthy food choices and alternatives. You can plan what you want to order ahead of time by looking at menus online. It's also easier to make healthy food choices if you're not starving, so before a party or dinner, enjoy a diabetic-friendly snack. If you are going to a friend's house, ask if you can bring food to share, that way you'll know there are healthy options to eat.

If you have diabetes, it's important to know the number of carbohydrates you should have in each meal. Carbs can raise blood sugar levels more than other nutrients, so it's best to monitor them. Try limiting cheese, bacon bits, croutons, and other add-ons that can increase a meal's calories, fat, and carbohydrates.

Mind your portions

Many restaurants pack their plates with portions that are often twice the recommended serving size. You can avoid the temptation to overeat by:

  • Choosing a half-size or lunch portion

  • Sharing meals with a dining partner

  • Requesting a take-home container to put half your food in before you start to eat your meal

  • Making a meal out of a salad or soup and an appetizer

When at parties, chose the smallest plate available or a napkin to keep from overeating. A good rule of thumb is to fill half of your plate with vegetables or salad. Then split the other half of your plate between protein and non-starchy carbohydrates. If you have a sweet tooth, fruit is a good choice for dessert. Since you likely don't have a measuring cup or food scale handy, you can estimate serving sizes based on your hands:

  • 2 to 3 ounces is about the size of your palm

  • ½ cup is about the size of your cupped hand

  • 1 cup is about the size of your full fist

Healthier alternatives

As you decide what foods to add to your meal, consider how they are prepared. Rather than ordering something breaded or fried, ask that your food be:

  • Broiled

  • Roasted

  • Grilled

  • Steamed

Don't settle for the side dish that comes with your meal. Instead of fries, choose a side salad with fat-free or low-fat salad dressing, or extra vegetables. You can also control how much fat you eat by requesting butter, sour cream, gravy, and sauces on the side. If you choose a sandwich, swap house dressings or creamy sauces for ketchup, mustard, horseradish or fresh tomato slices. Drinking sugar-sweetened soft drinks is an easy way to rack up calories, so instead opt for water or unsweetened ice tea. If you drink alcohol, limit yourself to one serving and choose options with fewer 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

Add it to your food journal

Keeping a food journal is a great way to stay aware of what you eat each day. Diabetic Veterans can track both their meals and vitals with My HealtheVet's Track Health feature. Before your meal, take and enter your blood sugar level. Once you are done eating you can then record the foods you chose. This will help you, and your doctor understand your eating habits and create a diabetes meal plan that meets your lifestyle and health needs.

Read More

Eating Out When You Have Diabetes (Veterans Health Library)

Diabetes: Learning About Serving and Portion Sizes (Veterans Health Library) 

Recipes for a Diabetic-Friendly Meal

Healthy Eating for Diabetics

Nutrition Education for Diabetics (VA)


Updated April 22, 2019