Eating out with diabetes: best food choices

November 3, 2022 Providence Diabetes Team


In this article:

  • November is American Diabetes Month, and we’re offering some tips for eating out with diabetes.

  • Some easy food substitutions include ordering double veggies instead of fries, and ordering a squeeze of lemon with a touch of olive oil instead of heavy salad dressing.

  • Restaurant dishes that are popular with people who have diabetes include thin-crust veggie pizzas, turkey and beef burgers without the top bun and filet mignon.

It’s American Diabetes Month, and while it’s important to make people aware of their risk for the disease, we also want to offer resources for those living with diabetes. In particular, eating out can be a minefield — especially if you are newly diagnosed. There are so many “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” on a diabetes meal plan, it can be difficult to determine what’s safe, and what’s not.

Not all people with diabetes have the same treatment plan or nutritional goals. For some, the top menu consideration is to limit sugar, fat or salt; others focus on cutting total calories. Regardless, it is important to work with your physician to establish a good meal plan. And if you write out that meal plan, it’s that much simpler to find and order the right kinds of foods.

Start with good restaurant choices

For a meal plan to work, there are some commonsense steps you can take before you go out to eat — starting with choosing the right restaurants. Narrow down your list of restaurants by first looking at menus online. You can cross-check your food requirements against the menu to see how many items match up to your diet plan. If a restaurant offers a wide variety of dishes, that can make it easier to order, and you can probably add that restaurant to the list of places to go.
Some other factors to consider: Does the restaurant allow substitutions, or permit customers to split dishes at no extra charge? Does it have specialty, vegetarian or sugar-free options? Is it willing to prepare sauces to order that don’t have butter or salt? A good restaurant accommodates requests cheerfully and is worth visiting again and again.

Tips on what to order

Once you have decided on a restaurant, here are some tips for ordering: 

Instead of: French fries | Order: Double veggies

Ask for extra veggies instead of oily fries. Salad greens, broccoli and carrots offer color and variety to the plate, and they taste great. Alternatively, a plain baked potato is loaded with flavor even without toppings.

Instead of: Fried entrees | Order: Broiled fish or chicken

Fried foods can add major calories that nobody really needs — and broiled meats are just as delicious. If the restaurant can’t prepare an entrée without frying or breading, peel off the coating before eating.

Instead of: A whole entrée | Order: Salad with an appetizer

Many restaurants serve portions that are just too big. A salad with a tasty appetizer can be just as filling for most people and provide enough variety in ingredients to make it satisfying.

Instead of: Heavy salad dressing | Order: A squeeze of lemon with touch of olive oil

If low-calorie substitutes like vinegar or lemon aren’t available, just order dressings “on the side.” This goes for entrees and sides that come with sauces and gravies, too.

Instead of: White bread | Order: Whole-grain toast

Refined white-flour breads, rolls and bagels can cause insulin and sugar to spiral upward. Whole grains don’t cause these spikes and are healthier in general. If the temptation to dig into the breadbasket is too much, ask the server not to bring one!

Restaurants are better prepared to meet the needs of a person with diabetes if you contact them ahead of time. Ask whether dishes can be prepared with lower-fat oils, no extra sauces or less salt, or broiled instead of fried. And an internet search of diabetic-friendly restaurants in the area can bring up locations and menus that work well with many meal plans.

Restaurant dishes that are popular with those who have diabetes

If you’re looking for menu items that are sure to work with your eating plan, look for the following:

  • Thin-crust veggie pizza – The veggies will add fiber to your meal and counteract the sugar from the crust.
  • Fajitas – This Mexican menu item is full of vegetables, but it also gives you a healthy amount of protein, as well. You can keep your carb count low by skipping the tortilla or the rice and beans. For a super-low carb count, ask for the fajita to come wrapped in lettuce.
  • Turkey or beef burgers – You can take off the top bun to lower your carb count and eat your burger without the extra cheese or condiments.
  • Filet mignon – Sometimes a steak can be the healthiest thing on the menu — especially if you pair it with veggies. Just make sure your portion size is small.
  • Chicken kabob – Many restaurants will work with you to mix and match the amount of protein and veggies on the kabob so it fits within your eating plan.

As long as you plan ahead, you can enjoy some lovely meals out with family, friends or by yourself. Happy eating! 

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Related resources

Reduce your sodium intake

Stay strong with good nutrition in the new year

How much liquid sugar is hiding in your beverage?


This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.


About the Author

From nutritional and dietary advice to sleep tips to insights on general maintenance, the Providence Diabetes team is dedicated to helping those with this chronic disease maintain a healthy and fruitful life.

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