Whether your child is newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes or you’re just confounded by the idea of fitting a restaurant meal into a daily plan for your child, you’ll be encouraged to know that many of the tips and tricks for good blood sugar management when eating away from home aren’t all that different from general healthy habits you may already be following. Think: Portion control and know what’s on your plate.
Not so hard, right? Now for the details. Robyn Webb, nutritionist, best-selling cookbook author and food editor for the American Diabetes Association’s Diabetes Forecast magazine, has the following tips for families when dining out:
- Outgrow the children’s menu. Traditionally featuring fare like chicken fingers and fries, the children’s menu is essentially a roster of foods that all healthy eaters should avoid, says Webb. “If you look at chicken fingers, for example, they’re usually highly processed, consisting of mainly breading.”
- Stick to basics like chicken or fish instead. Or search the menu for special offerings: Some restaurants have a section on their menus for lighter fare that includes items that may please children like grilled chicken or an omelet. Even fast-food restaurants are offering healthier options like salads, apple slices and carrots.
- Divvy up. Many restaurant portions are oversized, which can throw off carb counts. Instead, consider sharing portions family style, or divide up the plate as soon as it arrives, putting some food aside to take home for later.
- Balance the plate. Take advantage of side orders, if available, to round out a starchy main course. If you order a high-carbohydrate item, pair it as a side with some protein, such as pasta with chicken or rice with stir-fried shrimp.
- Keep it simple. To avoid hidden ingredients and unplanned extras, keep dressings and trimmings as plain as possible, or just ask for everything to be served on the side right off the bat so you can keep an eye on portions.
- Have it your way. It’s in a restaurant’s best interest to keep customers happy, and most are used to dealing with special requests, particularly if they have a medical basis. You can mention when making a reservation and ordering that your son or daughter has type 1 diabetes and will need to be seated and served promptly, Webb suggests. Even a formal restaurant should be able to quickly bring an appetizer upon request. If you don’t want special treatment, bring along snacks in case you have to wait longer than expected for a table.
- Learn carb counts by heart. Though some chains offer nutritional information for their selections, use these as guidelines only, Webb suggests. In the end, the more know-how you have under your belt, the easier a restaurant meal will likely be. “Parents do need to know their carbs. They need to get to the point where they’re so educated they know these things offhand,” Webb advises.
Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring.