You have diabetes, and you are like going out to eat at restaurants. If you are like many Americans, you may even dine out a few times per month. Eating out is one of life’s pleasures, and at the same time, can put a real wrench in your eating plan. Meals eaten at restaurants tend to be higher in sugar, sodium, fat and calories than meals prepared and eaten at home.

It is possible to turn dining out upside down and make it a healthier affair, however. We can all benefit from being informed and thoughtful about the choices we make while dining out, and if you live with diabetes, you already know this is especially important. There are many ways to do this, and here are ten tips for your consideration.

1. Plan ahead! Consider the restaurant where you will dine, the timing, and the options available to you. A bar that serves mostly fried foods is not generally going to be a good option. Try to stick with your usual mealtime, particularly if you take medication for your diabetes, or insulin. Consider whether you will need to adjust your insulin dose if you are eating at a different time than what is typical.

2. Call ahead. If you don’t know the menu options and this information is not accessible on-line, call ahead and inform yourself. Ask questions about the ability to make substitutions and/or special orders. Most restaurants are amenable to special requests. All fast food restaurants list their nutrition information on-line. Check this out before you go.

3. Drink wisely. You may enjoy having a cocktail before or with your dinner. If you do, be smart about it. Choose a drink that can be mixed with seltzer water, club soda or diet soda.

4. Order wisely. You know how to control your diabetes better than anyone else. Take advantage of your diabetes management knowledge and skills. Avoid the foods that are breaded or fried, and go for broiled instead. Include a colorful vegetable accompaniment in lieu of fries.

5. Get accustomed to asking for things “on the side”. Ask your server to include dressings/sauces/spreads on the side so that you may control the amount you use. If your food can be prepared without added salt – even better!

6. Make some tweaks. For example, if you order a sandwich for your meal, make it open-faced and save yourself the extra carbs. Request an extra serving of vegetables in place of a starch. Ask for a side of fruit.

7. Start with a salad. If bread from the basket doesn’t fit into your meal plan, ask your server to leave it in the kitchen and start your meal, instead, with a salad of fresh greens and vinegar and oil-based dressing. Your stomach will thank you for not stuffing it before dinner.

8. Monitor portion sizes. Restaurants love to serve large portions. Try to eat the portions that you would eat at home. Many folks have success ordering an appetizer and a side salad for their meals, instead of full-size meals. If you started your meal with a salad, you are already one step ahead!

9. Pay attention to your body. This is the hard part because dining out, especially with friends, is so much fun that we often don’t pay attention to our body’s cues of satiety. Here’s a tip – halfway through your meal, take a five-minute break to relax and enjoy some conversation. Then, decide if you have had enough, or if you are hungry for more. My bet is you are satisfied.

10. If you love dessert, plan for it. Some folks can’t imagine dining out without wrapping up the meal with dessert. If you plan for dessert, be sure to work the extra carbohydrate into your meal plan. Of course, fresh fruit is your best option for dessert.

Enjoy! It is completely possible to manage your diabetes while also enjoying the experience of going out to eat. Plan ahead, inform yourself, be thoughtful about your choices, and be your own advocate.

Reference: American Diabetes Association