When I was a child, the Old Spaghetti Factory in Portland was my favorite birthday party location. Only now do I realize what a pain this must have been for my family. Located on the banks of the Willamette River, the highly popular restaurant features a ideal view of the Portland Christmas Ships Parade and does not take reservations. Sure, I remember the long waits as a kid, but now that I have a child myself, I understand that the waits had to have been a struggle with my sister and I, and often our cousins as well.
But, that’s where I always wanted to go for my week-before-Christmas birthday, so that’s where we went.
When my husband, son and I returned to Oregon a couple years ago, we reinstated the tradition. We time it to make sure we see the ships (which wasn’t a part of the childhood practice), and it becomes a double-celebration: pre-Christmas and birthday.
So I wasn’t about to let gestational diabetes get in the way this year — even if restaurants tend to be a struggle for the strict diet and the words “spaghetti factory” don’t exactly go hand-in-hand with low-carb fare.
I took the same approach I now do for any evening out, and it worked, for the most part (I was just a little high on my glucose reading two hours after the meal, and I learned that my body has become a bit unaccustomed to the richness of restaurant Italian food, but we had a great time).
Here are a few tips that I have found successful for eating out with gestational diabetes:
As wonderful as local, independent restaurants can be, chain restaurants tend to be required to provide nutritional information about their food. Many even post the nutrition guide online for easy review prior to dinner or right at the table.
My favorite so far is Red Robin, whose nutrition guide isn’t a PDF document but a complete mobile app. In addition to finding the details on standard menu offerings, you can customize each item to your own specifications and review how your changes affect the nutrition. There’s a “bunless” option right on the menu, so the staff doesn’t look at you like you’re crazy for asking for a messy burger sans bread.
That said, I have the pleasure of living in the Portland area, known for its foodies, so many local restaurants also are highly accommodating of dietary needs. One pub in my hometown not only immediately accommodated the “bunless” option, but the waitress immediately knew to ask if I’d like to omit croutons on my salad and other sources of carbs in the meal.
I don’t particularly enjoy ordering like Meg Ryan’s character from When Harry Met Sally, so I try to look at menus well before we go out to decide just what I want to eat. This has a couple of benefits: One, I don’t take hours studying the menu at the table while everyone else is uber-hungry, and two, I don’t get tempted by treats at the last minute. If I plan what I’m going to eat a couple days ahead of time, I can enjoy the anticipation of a meal I don’t have to cook instead of getting caught up in wishing for what I can’t have.
Ask for a Box
At the Old Spaghetti Factory, there were no entrees on the menu that fell within my carb guidelines, but I chose a lower-carb option and planned to eat only half. I asked for my go-box right at the beginning of the meal and split the portion in half before I ever took a bite. That way, I couldn’t get carried away.
Plus, after several months of eating on a gestational diabetes meal plan, I’ve discovered my stomach just can’t handle as much food in a single sitting. A restaurant portion (which we all know is absurdly large) is way too much food. In fact, I wasn’t feeling so hot after eating half.
Watch the Little Bits
I eat salad at almost every meal these days, but restaurant salads can come with extra junk. Salad dressings aren’t usually too bad, in terms of carbs (and at this point, I’ve given up worrying too much about fat or calories, as I’m actually still losing weight inadvertently), but they can come with surprises. I always order my dressing on the side and dip my bites in it instead of spreading it over the top of the salad. I also order without the croutons, or at least pick them out. It may not seem like much bread, but at the OSF, salad with croutons was 13 grams of carbs and 5 carbs without. Sides and freebies are also problematic. The bread — oh the bread — is just a no-no. That highly processed white dinner roll at the restaurant is far more carbs than you might imagine … closer to an entire meal than a side dish.
I’m lucky to have a husband who isn’t above letting me pick a bit off his plate. At Red Robin, I never get my own fries (don’t even look at the carbs … it will hurt to realize what you’ve been eating all these years), but I’m not above a bite or two from Hubby’s plate. Likewise, when dessert arrives, a single bite does usually hurt. And, if you’re anything like me, you’ll find that you’ve had plenty to eat without stuffing yourself sick.