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Dining Out When Your Child Has Diabetes

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD

Dining out can be a treat for families. Kids with type 1 or type 2 diabetes don't have to give up that treat. Here are tips for before and during dining to help ensure an enjoyable outing.

Before Dining Out

  • Kids with diabetes can eat almost anywhere. Most restaurants offer at least some nutritious foods — even fast-food places. You don't have to find a place that serves "health food." Instead, focus on getting the mix of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates that work with your child's meal plan.
  • Whenever possible, look for the nutrition facts on the menu or ask for them from your server so that you know what's in the food.
  • Check the restaurant's website to see if the menu and nutritional information are available. If they don't have a website, you can the restaurant and ask for the same information.
  • If you have the menu and nutritional information, choose potential appetizers and/or meals and make note of carbohydrate counts.
  • Making a reservation can help with sticking to a meal schedule.
  • If a restaurant's menu doesn't have a lot of good options, the chef may be willing to make a special meal to meet your child's needs. Many restaurants do this for other customers with dietary restrictions, like vegetarians or people with food allergies.

At the Restaurant

When it's time to order, kids should follow the same rules for food content and portion sizes that they follow 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:

  • 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 them to find out.
  • Make changes. To help get all the types of food your child needs, ask the restaurant to changee some ingredients or side orders (for example, a salad instead of fries).
  • Consider 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.
  • Beware buffets. Buffet-style restaurants offer lots of choices, but it can be hard to tell the content of the foods or to stick to reasonable portion sizes. To help manage, your child should:
    • Plan to have only one plate.
    • Look at all food options before building the plate.
    • Count carbohydrates for the new food if opting for a second serving. Your child might need more insulin depending on the type of food it is.
  • Control the portion. If the portion is large, encourage your child to eat only part of the order and take the rest home. This is a good time to set an example by eating a smaller portion yourself. If you know ahead of time that the portions are large, you might split an entrée with your child.
  • Include protein. Make sure there is at least one source of protein in the meal. Encourage your child to eat that first to better control the later blood sugar spike.
  • Drinks count. Choose water, milk, or other zero-carbohydrate drinks with meals. Sugary drinks, like juice, cause significant blood sugar spikes and provide little to no nutrition. It is best to save them for low blood sugar treatments.

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

What to Bring

When you go out to eat, bring your child's insulin kit. It should include:

  • everything needed to give insulin
  • medicines
  • at least three hypoglycemia treatments
  • carbohydrate/protein snacks, such as a granola bar, nut trail mix, or peanut butter or cheese crackers

Most kids who take rapid-acting insulin with meals can eat later than usual if they make a few changes to their 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.

Kids with diabetes can learn how to eat healthy — and they can do it anywhere. By helping your child and setting a good example with your own eating habits, you'll teach skills that will last.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: September 2019