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Mmm . . . Italian food . . . Chinese . . . seafood . . . no, wait — Mexican! Definitely Mexican food tonight! Sound familiar? Everybody loves to eat out. Can kids with diabetes go out to restaurants? Sure they can.

Which Restaurant Should I Choose?

What Happens in Diabetes?

Kids who have diabetes don't need to eat a special diet. But like all kids, they should eat a mix of healthy foods. No restaurant is off-limits, but if you're helping to choose a restaurant, look for ones that offer some nutritious items. You can check out menus online.

You don't have to find a place that serves soy burgers and carrot sticks — although that might be yummy! If you can choose some protein, fats, and carbohydrates, then you'll be able to stick to your meal plan.

Sometimes you'll go to restaurants that have just what you want and need. Other times, you may have trouble finding something that fits into your meal plan. If that happens, remember that you're in the driver's seat. You don't just have to order blindly or take whatever is on the menu. Many restaurants will answer your questions and make substitutions, if you request them.

Some Quick Tips

Try these tips when you're dining out:

  • Get answers. Sometimes, the menu doesn't really tell you what's in a dish or how it's prepared (for example, whether it's baked or fried). Go ahead and ask. The person taking your order should know the answers or be able to find them out for you.
  • Make changes. To get a well-balanced meal, ask if you can substitute certain ingredients or side orders (for example, you could ask for salad instead of fries). Don't feel weird about it — people ask for changes all the time. In some restaurants, you can ask the cook to prepare something in a different way. You might ask to have your chicken broiled instead of fried, for example.
  • Watch the sides. Avoid foods with sauces or gravy, and ask for low-fat salad dressings on the side.
  • Pick your own portion. Portions can be very big at restaurants. Feel free to eat only part of your order and take the rest home. You can also split your order with a parent or friend.
  • Stay on your plan. You'll feel your best and be your healthiest if you stick with your meal plan wherever you are — home, restaurant, or even the school cafeteria. If you're having trouble with this, ask a parent for help.

What Should I Bring With Me?

When you go out to eat, you should bring the things you take with you everywhere, like testing supplies, snacks, and medications. Another helpful tool is a little book that lists the calories, fats, and carbs in certain foods (you can get this from your doctor or dietitian). You can slip this book in your bag or pocket and test how well you can choose from the menu yourself. If you use things like artificial sweeteners or fat-free spreads, feel free to bring them along, too.

If you take insulin (say: IN-suh-lin), there's no need to stay home if you have to eat later than usual — in most cases, you can just make a few adjustments to your medicine schedule.

Once you know how to eat healthy, you can do it almost anywhere. Now, the only question is, do you want the chicken taco salad, the lobster tail, or . . . mmm . . . pizza!

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: August 2013

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Related Resources:
American Diabetes Association (ADA)
The ADA website includes news, information, tips, and recipes for people with diabetes.
Joslin Diabetes Center
The website of this Boston-based center has information about how to monitor blood sugar and manage diabetes.
Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International (JDRF)
JDRF's mission is to find a cure for diabetes and its complications through the support of research.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
This group conducts and supports research on many serious diseases affecting public health.