Tips for Smart Eating at Outdoor Events
Summer's end means autumn is awakening, bringing an abundance of outdoor activities—from ball games to street fairs—and that means food.
Eating away from home during the festivities doesn't have to wreak havoc on your diabetes control. With a few smart strategies, you can have your funnel cake and eat it, too.
Splurge a Little
If you're taking a once-a-season trip to a football stadium or visiting a few neighborhood festivals, it's OK to indulge a bit. But make sure you're not doing all of that and more within the same week. If you eat out rarely, then one meal out isn't going to wreck your health, says Keri Gans, MS, RD, CDN, a registered dietitian and author of The Small Change Diet: 10 Steps to a Thinner, Healthier You. But if you constantly buy food on the go, treat each meal as an opportunity to find the nutritious picks that will do you good.
|Instead of||Eat this|
|Chocolate cake||Angel food cake|
|Chicken fingers||Grilled chicken|
|French fries||Baked potato|
|Pasta salad||Green salad with oil and vinegar|
|Soft pretzel and cheese dip||Veggie sticks and hummus|
|Ambrosia salad||Fruit salad|
|Fish and chips||Grilled fish|
|Baked beans||Green beans|
|Crab cakes||Crab legs|
Coming up with a game plan before embarking on an outdoor activity can make the critical difference between in-range blood glucose levels and skyrocketing ones, says Janice Wen, MS, RD, a registered dietitian in New York City. "Think ahead of time and plan what your strategy is to make sure you're eating a balanced meal."
Do some sleuthing: If you're going to an event, learn beforehand what type of food the venue offers. Are soft pretzels and oversalted popcorn your only options? Have a snack or meal before you leave, and avoid the concessions stand altogether.
Mind Your Portions
Part of the reason the food sold at fairs, ball games, and festivals is often so unhealthy is the sheer quantity of it. Instead of a small bite of cotton candy, you're given a cone bigger than your head. Nachos are always jumbo and french fries plentiful enough to feed an entire Little League team. Because of this, portion size is the key to indulging without overindulging.
"One hot dog at a ball game isn't the end of the world," says Gans. "But it's one. You don't go for four and nachos."
A simple solution for too-big portions of unhealthy foods? Share. Give half of your food away before you start eating. "I mainly take small bites of my friends' stuff," says Tyson Bond, 16, who has type 1 diabetes.
Estimate as Best You Can
Knowing the exact number of carbs in a given dish is ideal, but when it comes to eating out, you'll have to estimate. Hosts at a cookout and vendors at fairs probably won't know the number of calories or amount of fat in their food—never mind the grams of carbs. There are some tricks you can use: First, base your estimate on similar meals you've counted at home. "You know the hot dog is going to have minimal carbs," says Nicki Covey, 26, who has type 1 diabetes. "You know that the bun is going to have carbs, and it's like two slices of bread." Bring a calorie-counting book or app for your phone with you to get general nutrition facts.
Watch for Hidden Sugar and Fat
Most people know that cotton candy, ice cream, and candy apples are all high in added sugar, but it's important to be aware of other, less obvious sources. Common cookout foods—coleslaw and pasta salad among them—that are sometimes perceived as healthful can be pretty high in added sugar. And condiments, including salad dressing and barbecue sauces, can be high in fat, sodium, and carbs, especially if you eat more than a tablespoon.
Another thing to look out for: saturated fat, which is a culprit in insulin resistance and heart disease risk. You'll find the sneaky fat in fried foods, meat, and dairy. (Not to mention the hefty dose of sodium in processed meats, such as deli meats and hot dogs.) Look for lean meats prepared without much added fat, such as grilled chicken breast and top sirloin.
Be Choosy About Carbs
You most likely know that for sources of carbohydrate, fruits and whole grains beat simple sugars and refined grains; the problem is finding them at events. If the place you're going is devoid of healthy carbs, consider bringing your own.
If that's not an option, it's OK to indulge by being choosy. "I won't have potato salad and a slice of cake," says Suzanne Collier, 56, who has type 2 diabetes. Instead, she opts for one or the other.
Bring Your Own
It's easy enough to pack your own food for a picnic, even if you're tagging along on someone else's great idea. At parties, talk with your host about diabetes-friendly dishes you can bring. "If I start feeling like I'm mistreated, then I realize I haven't done my job," says Collier. "I should have brought some baby carrots."
Stash veggie slices (cherry tomatoes and celery, carrot, cucumber, and bell pepper sticks travel well), fruit, and nuts (for easy snacking) in a bag when you head to an event. Bonus: You'll save money eating this way, too.
Focus on the Experience
It might appear otherwise, but outdoor events exist for reasons other than overeating. We head to the ballpark to see a game. We go to an amusement park for the rides and a music festival to see great bands. "It's time to get together with friends and family and enjoy conversation," says Wen. "Food definitely is an attraction, but it's not the main focus."
Not sure if the soda you just ordered is really diet? For liquids that may not have labels with nutrition facts, check with a urine glucose test strip (Diastix Urine Reagent Strips is one brand). Drip a few drops of liquid on the strip. Set the strip on a flat surface and wait as instructed on the package for the strip to change color. If it does, there may be glucose in the liquid.