Dine Out Without Breaking Your Diet by Making Healthy Dining Choices
You don't have to be a "Hermit" just because you're dieting! The tips on this page will give you the freedom to dine out without destroying your diet, your health, or your friendships.
If you (or any of your friends with whom you're planning to dine out) have any special dietary needs or restrictions, you have to be careful not to set yourself up for failure. If possible, you want to choose a place that you already know offers at least some menu choices that will be sure to meet your dietary needs.
Protect Yourself by Ordering Carefully
If your friends absolutely insist on meeting at some local "greasy spoon" joint, be sure you fill up on a healthy meal at home first, and then just order a salad or something that seems safe.
If you're on the road or in unfamiliar territory, don't be afraid to phone first, if possible; or at the very least, ask to see a menu before ordering anything from any unfamiliar restaurant. And ask questions about ingredients and preparation methods. Explain that you're on a special diet.
If you have been a regular customer for awhile, some establishments might be willing to prepare a dish in an alternate way not listed on the regular menu (e.g., broiled instead of fried) just to keep your patronage ... but don't count on it.
Once Inside the Restaurant, Use Common Sense
If you're super-hungry when you first sit down, or have a tendency toward mindless munching, try to stay away from the bread basket, hush puppies, chips and salsa, or other such "empty-calorie" appetizers. Instead, you might want to look for more nutritious high-protein low-carb appetizers, i.e., an antipasto platter, a stuffed tomato with chicken or tuna salad, shrimp rémoulade, sushi, sashimi or perhaps smoked salmon. Another good munching option is cut green veggies with a low-carb dip.
If the meal you order comes with sauces or condiments, request that all condiments be served on the side so your food isn't swimming in sauce. Also, be prepared to request "reasonable substitutions" if your dietary needs warrant doing so. If you want a steak dinner but that stuffed baked potato will give you carb overload, ask your server to swap the potato for a double serving of the salad or an order of veggies instead. Most servers are willing to do that.
Two Cautions for Diabetics (or Anyone Else Who Needs to Watch Sugar Intake)
This first caution applies for both Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetics: If you take a pre-meal insulin injection or any sort of pre-meal oral medication for glucose control, it's a good idea to wait until your food actually arrives at the table before you administer that shot or take that pill, to avoid a serious blood sugar low. Even if you think you have the timing of your meds down to a science, just a simple server mistake or a busy night in the kitchen could delay service of your meal. And that service delay could literally put you into a coma!
Additionally, since sugary soft drinks are often dispensed from a fountain at restaurants and bars, it's not unusual for servers to accidentally dispense regular (i.e., sugar-containing) soda for the diet or sugar-free version ordered by customers. So whenever you order a diet drink, be sure to emphasize the word "DIET". And if you're comfortable doing so, tell your server clearly that you are a diabetic. Usually, servers will be more careful about getting your order right if they know that your health is at stake. And if you're ever dining out with a large group and are concerned that "look alike" drink orders might get confused with yours, ask for a slice of lemon or lime as a garnish to set your diet drink apart from other sugary sodas.
Avoid Inadvertently "Pigging Out" by Considering the Children's Menu:
In recent years, many restaurants have gradually increased their serving sizes, and some have become notorious for dishing up super-sized servings far beyond what a normal human could eat. So, to compensate and keep your intake under control, try splitting an entrée, or ordering something from the appetizer menu, or simply by eating half a meal and taking the other half home in a "doggie bag" ... an approach which gets you two meals for the price of one.
Additionally, in some restaurants, you may actually be able to order a "child-sized" portion. However, be advised that some children's menu items may still be larger than a single serving. And you really have to be on guard against some children's menu items which may tend to be significantly higher in fat and sodium than you or your children might need. However, help may be on the way ...
In July 2011, the National Restaurant Association launched a program to encourage better nutritional choices for children when dining out. As of February 2012, 68 restaurant brands representing more than 20,000 locations have committed to "Kids LiveWell," a first-of-its-kind voluntary program that provides parents with a growing selection of healthful children's menu choices when dining out. The initiative focuses on increasing consumption of fruit and veggies, lean protein, whole grains and low-fat dairy; and limiting unhealthy fats, sugars and sodium. Although such a program doesn't seem to us like it will help adults very much, it's at least a step in the right direction for the kids. So if you find yourself dining at a restaurant that participates in this program, you might want to think seriously about ordering from the children's menu.
BFC Makes it Much Easier for You to Make Healthy Dining Choices:
BarrierFreeChoices can offer you some very practical help in this area. The BFC Staff has been doing a very thorough restaurant pre-screening for our users, throughout most of the USA!
Over the past two decades, we have contacted every restaurant currently listed with us (and quite a few that are not). Along the way, we have determined not only which restaurants are physically accessible for people with disabilities but ALSO which ones serve healthy food choices that meet a variety of dietary needs.
Filters on our Dining Search Form enable you to choose the food options you want by simply selecting those special dietary needs that you or anyone in your party may have. This helps you to quickly locate and choose accessible nearby restaurants that really do accommodate most people's special dietary requirements. You can choose places with menu choices that are:
• Low Sodium;
• Low Sugar;
• Low Carbohydrate;
• Low Calorie (or "low fat");
• Vegetarian; or
Altogether, our Dining Search features more than 50 search options, and our search results are sorted in order of their nearness to your Zip Code. And if you can't find anything nearby that is suitable, please use our Request Form and we will try to find you a resource that meets your needs. Also, if you want to recommend a great place you've found that is barrier-free and also serves great food, please use our Recommend Form so we can let others know about it.
Note: The Forms mentioned above will open in "new" windows so you won't lose your place.