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Eating out when your child has diabetes

Photo by Alex E. Proimos / Flickr

Photo by Alex E. Proimos / Flickr

Whether it’s the local pizza joint after a game, the food court at the mall, or a barbeque at a friend’s house, eating out is part of nearly every social scene.

Your child doesn’t have to miss out because she has type 1 or type 2 diabetes. She just has to take extra precautions and choose nutritious foods in reasonable portions.

Which restaurants to visit

Kids with diabetes can eat just about anywhere. Most restaurants offer at least some nutritious foods — even fast-food places. Many national chains even have standardized food content and portion sizes.

Whenever possible, look for the nutrition facts on the menu or ask your server for them so you know what’s in the food.

Restaurants that serve a greater variety of healthier foods, like salads and vegetarian entrees, generally have more foods that fit the meal plan for people with diabetes.

Photo by avlxyz / Flickr

Photo by avlxyz / Flickr

Certain types of restaurants like buffets may offer a lot of choices, but they tend to make it difficult to gauge the content of foods. It may also be more difficult to eat reasonable portion sizes at these restaurants.

When choosing a restaurant, consider what your child wants to eat and which places offer the most suitable options. You don’t have to find a place that serves “health food” — just the mix of proteins, fats and carbohydrates that work with your child’s meal plan.

You can even check out menus online when you’re looking for healthy dining ideas.

What to order

When it’s time to order, your child should follow the same rules for food content and portion sizes that he follows at home. Your child’s meal plan probably calls for a good balance of proteins, fats and carbohydrates.

Usually, kids can get all the types of food they need at a restaurant. These tips can help:

Photo by Sean Dreilinger / CC Flickr

Photo by Sean Dreilinger / CC Flickr

  • Get answers. Some menus don’t clearly state what’s in a dish or how it’s prepared. If your server doesn’t know the answer, ask him to find out.
  • Make changes. Ask the restaurant to substitute certain ingredients or side orders (for example, substitute salad for fries).
  • Ponder the prep method. Encourage your child to choose foods that are baked, grilled, broiled, steamed, or poached (instead of fried or breaded). Don’t hesitate to ask for a different preparation.
  • Watch the sides. Avoid foods with sauces or gravy, and ask for low-fat salad dressings on the side.
  • Control the portion. If the portion is large, encourage your child to eat only part of the order and take the rest home. If you know in advance that the portions are large, you might split an entrée with your child.
  • Share the menu. As you help your child choose from the menu, say what you’re looking for and why. Your child will use these skills when dining out with others. Keep a watchful eye while older kids choose foods and portions on their own.

Remind your child that the same tips apply to eating in the school cafeteria or a friend’s house.

If your child becomes upset or sad because she can’t eat something unhealthy on the menu, explain that all healthy people have to watch what they eat — including you — so kids with diabetes certainly aren’t alone.

What to bring

When you go out to eat, bring your child’s testing supplies, snacks and medications. You might also bring a quick-reference guide to food content and portions in your wallet or purse.

If your child uses things like artificial sweeteners or fat-free spreads, bring them along, too.

Eating later than usual poses no problem to a child who takes a rapid-acting insulin with meals. In most cases, you can make a few simple adjustments to your child’s medicine schedule.

Kids on NPH insulin who delay mealtime may have to eat a small snack at the normal mealtime, and then take insulin while out.

By helping your child through the process and setting an example of healthy eating in moderation, you’ll teach skills that will last.

© 2013.  Article adapted from The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth®. Used under license.