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Dining Out with Diabetes

Senior man smiling at restaurant

If you are living with diabetes, eating well is one of the best tools you have for managing your health and disease. Meals rich in vegetables, fruits and lean proteins will help to control your blood sugar and reduce the risk of diabetes-related complications.

Although following your management plan can feel overwhelming at a restaurant full of choices, your diabetes shouldn’t stop you from dining out. With some extra planning and thoughtful choices, you can enjoy a delicious and nourishing meal wherever you are. Here are some tips to help you:

  • Plan Ahead: Many restaurants include their menu and nutritional information online, so if possible, look at the menu before you go. Selecting what to order beforehand will mean you’re less rushed and not as likely to make hunger-driven decisions. Restaurants are required to provide the nutritional details of their menu items, so if they are not online or listed on the menu—ask. Knowing the calories, sodium, fat, sugar and other totals will help you make confident and informed choices.
  • Make Adjustments: Don’t feel like you have to settle for what comes standard with your meal. Ask your server about the ingredients and cooking methods so you can make specific changes to meet your needs. Restaurants usually want to support their customers’ dietary restrictions and should be willing to make modifications whenever possible. Requests may include: grilled or baked instead of fried, sauce or dressing on the side, removing high-fat extras like cheese or bacon, no added salt, olive oil instead of butter or switching to whole grain pasta or pizza dough. If bread or tortilla chips come to the table before your meal, you may consider asking your server not to bring them, or choose to refrain, so you don’t have to account for these totals in your planning.
  • Think About Portions: Depending on the type of restaurant, many chain options are known for larger portions. To help you maintain the same portion size as you do at home, chose a lunch-size entrée, share your meal with someone at the table, or request a takeaway container to set aside a portion before you even start your meal. If you’re eating at a buffet-style restaurant it can be helpful to break your plate into three sections according to Canada’s Food Guide Plate. At least half of your plate should be vegetables, a quarter lean protein and the last quarter whole grains.
  • Beware of Beverages: Juice, alcohol, pop or sweetened hot beverages can add a lot of extra calories and sugar to your meal. This total can be particularly high in a restaurant offering free refills. Better restaurant drink options include: still, sparkling or citrus-infused water, unsweetened iced tea, tea or coffee, or an occasional diet pop. If your doctor has given you the go-ahead to drink alcohol in moderation, stick to a light beer, dry wine and or a clear spirit with a sugar-free mixer.
  • Stay on Schedule: Eating at the same time every day is an important part of managing blood glucose levels, especially if you take diabetes medication or insulin. Try to schedule your meal at your usual time, ideally making a reservation to avoid waiting for your table when you arrive. If timing is out of your control and your meal will be later than usual, have a small snack high in protein and fibre before you go.

Eating out is a great way to try new food, connect with family or friends or just have a break from preparing and cleaning up meals. With some planning, the right information and efforts to make more nourishing choices, you can dine out and stay on track. If you are travelling and plan on enjoying many of your meals at restaurants, you may want to talk to your doctor or dietitian about adjusting your diabetes management plan while you’re away.

A dietitian at VHA Home HealthCare may be able to help you create a meal plan based on your specific needs. Contact VHA’s Enterprise Health Solutions team at 416-489-2500 ext. 4649 or by email at for more information. For further support, please see the information and resources VHA Home HealthCare has put together for those managing chronic diseases at

Reviewed By: Registered Dietitians Kymberli Shaw-Andros and Heather-Ann Burrell

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