Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old Time is still a-flying… –Robert Herrick
Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock…that’s the sound of time flying while you juggle job, family, and other commitments, while also trying to squeeze in time for rest, relaxation, and fun. As you rush from one activity to the next, it’s often more convenient to grab the nearest quick food to keep your energy level and blood glucose up, without considering the effect on your health. It may be faster to grab something from the vending machine as you run to your next appointment, but are you really making the best food choice within your time limitations? Consider this telling trend: Consumption of oranges has fallen recently because consumers consider oranges too time-consuming to peel and eat!
The ever-present time crunch becomes even more significant when you have diabetes. According to research published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Practice, an experienced person with Type 2 diabetes who takes only oral medicines needs more than two hours a day to follow all of the diabetes self-care recommendations, including meal planning and preparation and exercise. Of this time, nearly an hour is focused on food, including meal planning, grocery shopping, and meal preparation. It’s certainly time-consuming to follow your meal plan during a routine day around the house, but how can you maximize your health and nutrition when you’re on the go?
Keep the Boy Scout motto in mind when you face the challenges of a hectic day. If your basic diabetes management skills are already in place, you’ll adapt more easily when your schedule throws you a curveball.
Start your day right by eating before you leave the house. Fruit, whole-grain cereal with skim milk, and low-fat yogurt are healthful options that will jumpstart your day and help you feel full, making it less likely that you’ll give in to temptation while you’re out and about.
Brush up on carbohydrate counting so you can be more flexible with your food choices. Knowing the difference between the carbohydrate count of a small order of fries (about 45 grams) and a small serving of chili (about 23 grams) can help you make a better decision at the drive-thru. Here are two resources to keep in your car to help with fast-food and other menu decisions:
• CalorieKing Calorie, Fat & Carbohydrate Counter, by Allan Borushek (Family Health Publications, 2008)
• The Ultimate Calorie, Carb & Fat Gram Counter, by Lea Ann Holzmeister (American Diabetes Association, 2006)
(Click here for more helpful resources for eating on the go.)
Carbohydrate listing and tracking software is also available for download, and some insulin pumps have a similar feature.
Have your blood glucose meter handy, and use it often during the day. The results will tell you if you need to adjust your medication, activity, or food choices. Keeping your blood glucose level within your target range when you’re on the go makes it more likely that you’ll feel better and have the energy you need to power through your busy day.
Don’t forget to have an emergency carbohydrate source with you at all times to treat low blood glucose. A hectic travel day or increased physical activity can affect your blood glucose level, so be prepared to treat low glucose with a food or drink portion that contains 15 grams of carbohydrate. Examples include 3–5 glucose tablets, pieces of hard candy, or sugar cubes or 4 ounces (half a cup) of fruit juice or regular (non-diet) soda.
On the road
Are you one of the 30% of Americans who “dashboard dine” — that is, eat in their cars at least once or twice a week? Fast-food restaurants recognized this trend and began testing various menu items for ease of in-car dining, leading to the development of the popular “wraps” found in almost every restaurant on the road.
Traffic congestion and time crunch can take its toll on food choices. But the good news is that if you are driving, you are more likely to be able to stop and eat when you see good food choices or to keep going until better food is available.
If you plan to be on the road for a short trip or day of nonstop errands, pack a small cooler. For quick trips, cold water, fruit, nuts, trail mix, or a 100-calorie–portion snack are nice to have on hand.
For longer trips, make a chicken or turkey sandwich on whole-grain bread and prepare a bag of bite-size fresh vegetable pieces. Freeze a bottle of water the night before and add it to your cooler, along with a bottle of cold, unfrozen water to drink right away. The frozen bottle acts as an additional freezer pack and will be ready to drink later in the day. Don’t forget napkins or paper towels, utensils, condiment packets, premoistened towelettes, your favorite sweetener, and trash bags. It’s healthier and more relaxing to enjoy an impromptu picnic at a roadside park than to gulp a drippy burger and ketchup-soaked fries in a fast-food restaurant parking lot!
If you do pull in for a fast-food meal, keep these tips in mind:
• Avoid “super-size” items and “mega meals.” Although you may be getting more food for the extra sixty-seven cents, you are also buying about 400 extra calories on average, which can carry a price tag of its own in terms of weight gain and associated health-care costs. If you do super-size, share the meal with your car companions.
• A chicken or fish sandwich isn’t automatically a healthier choice. Look for grilled sandwiches rather than breaded and fried sandwiches. A fried chicken sandwich can be loaded with up to 50% more calories (mostly from fat) than a plain hamburger.
• Most fast-food restaurants now offer salad-based entrées. Choose a grilled chicken salad and low-fat dressing, and then round out your meal with a piece of fruit from your cooler.
• Be wise with your sides. Many fast-food restaurants now offer side dishes other than French fries and potato chips, such as side salads, apple slices, and baby carrots.
• Look at your liquids. Plain water, unsweetened tea, or diet soft drinks are good, low-calorie choices. Even a healthy-sounding smoothie can contain up to 500 calories and 99 grams of carbohydrate!
If you take a break for a sit-down meal, remember these tips:
• Be creative in your meal choices. Split an entrée with someone else, or order a side salad for a starter and make an appetizer your main course. Feel free to make a special request, if needed. Salad dressing or condiments served on the side let you control the amount you use.
• If you’re faced with an all-you-can-eat buffet, take the time to look over your choices before you start taking food. Start your meal with a salad or cup of broth-based soup. Then use the “plate method” to build your meal: Fill half of the plate with nonstarchy vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, or green beans; fill a quarter of the plate with lean meat, chicken, or fish; and fill a quarter of the plate with a starchy food such as noodles, rice, bread, tortillas, or potatoes. Add a fruit choice and some low-fat milk, and you’ve put together a quick, well-rounded meal.
No matter where you eat, don’t be a victim of restaurant “portion distortion” and oversized servings. Visualize your portion sizes as follows:
• 3 ounces of cooked meat, poultry, or fish is the size of a deck of cards.
• Your thumb is about the same size and volume as 1 tablespoon of salad dressing, mayonnaise, margarine, or oil.
• Your clenched fist is about the size of one cup.
When you’re pressed for time, you may need to think outside the box about where to find food. Fast-food and sit-down restaurants are not your only choices. Supermarkets are another option. With their salad bars, delis, and ready-to-go meals, supermarkets may offer a wealth of healthy choices. The mall food court, an ethnic market, or even a hospital cafeteria are also dining possibilities when you’re out and about.
One final tip: Don’t fall victim to the “health halo effect.” Researchers have shown that people who eat lunch at a “healthy” submarine sandwich shop tend to eat 111 calories more than those who eat at a fast-food burger restaurant. The reason? The people who think they “sacrificed” by eating the healthier meal reward themselves with a special treat such as cookies, chips, or a regular soft drink!
In the air
Eating right when traveling by air can be a challenge, but it’s one you can overcome with a little preplanning.
Flight time, distance traveled, and your class of seat are what airlines use to determine which foods and beverages you receive during your flight. Most airlines no longer provide free meals on domestic flights. On a short flight, you may be offered a beverage and possibly a snack such as dry-roasted peanuts, pretzels, cookies, or peanut butter crackers. On longer flights, entrées such as sandwiches or salads may be served to all passengers. However, some airlines only offer food for purchase, with a common offering being a “snack box” containing such items as cheese, granola, potato chips, cookies, or candy. If you are in doubt about what will be available when you are in the air, call your airline ahead of time for the lowdown.
If meals will be served on your flight, you may be able to order a special meal: Most airlines offer vegetarian or low-calorie, “diabetic” meals in place of standard meals on longer flights. Be sure to contact the airline at least 24 hours in advance, and remind the gate agent of your order when you check in.
To be prepared for airline food choices — or lack thereof — the best advice is to bring your own. Include a piece of fruit, baby carrots, a small bag of nuts, or a 100-calorie snack pack in your carry-on bag.
Food choices in airports can be challenging as well. Always have healthy snacks with you in case you don’t have time to stop and buy something en route. If you do have time, most airports have fast-food and other chain restaurants, where your eating-out strategies will come in handy. But don’t eat at the airport just because you are bored between flights. Take a walk instead if you need to kill some time.
In the office
According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employed persons worked an average of 7.6 hours on the days they worked in 2013. However, you may find yourself working much longer hours on some days or working through your lunch hour and breaks. What strategies should you use for healthy meals at work when you barely have a moment to yourself?
Stock your office with healthy food choices for especially busy days. If you have access to a refrigerator, freezer, and/or microwave in the office, keep frozen meals, soups, or oatmeal packets available. Bring fresh fruit or a container of salad from home to round out your meal.
A desk drawer survival kit containing whole-grain crackers, a jar of peanut butter, dried fruit, and trail mix can make it much easier to resist the call of the vending machines. If a vending machine meal is your only option, check out “Best Bites From the Vending Machine.”
For both cost and convenience, consider packing a lunch from home on most days. A well-balanced lunch should be rich in fiber and contain carbohydrate as well as a lean protein source. Build your lunch box by starting with a whole-grain pita pocket, wrap, or bread; add a lean protein source such as water-packed tuna, low-fat cheese, or lean meat; and include veggie toppings such as salad greens, thin green pepper strips, sliced cucumbers, and tomatoes. Keep food safety in mind: Moist protein foods such as meats and eggs are prone to spoilage, so keep your lunch in the refrigerator or in an insulated lunch bag, cooled with an ice pack.
(For more about nutrition bars, click here.)
Meals on the move
Healthy eating on the run is a challenge for people with diabetes, and it’s a challenge faced by others, as well. In fact, members of the U.S. Olympic Team are given a “traveling kit” so they can continue to maintain their high level of nutrition for athletic accomplishments away from home. The kit consists of a duffel bag full of foods such as hot cereal packets, pouches of lean meat, dried noodles, and soup mixes, as well as a 32-ounce, nonstick “hot pot” that boils water up to 60% faster than a microwave. Along with a power adapter, measuring cups and spoons, and a few simple recipes, this pre-planned survival kit enables athletes to enjoy quick, hot, and nutritious meals while overseas.
If you find yourself with no time for healthy eating, take a tip from those who rely on their food as fuel for performance: Be prepared so your healthy eating doesn’t hit the skids when you hit the road!