Traveling with Diabetes: What a Pain!


Ward Alper is a type 2 diabetic and chef who lives and eats decadently in Portland, Maine. Since his diagnosis more than four years ago, he has refocused his recipes and eating to support his diabetic health. In this article, Ward discusses the challenges he faces when traveling and shares which restaurant chains have accommodated his low-carb diet.

I am planning a business trip at the end of the month. Like everybody else, I need to arrange travel and lodging. As a person with diabetes, this brings up a whole new set of plans and complications. I now need to make certain that the room has a refrigerator and the hotel serves some kind of breakfast.

We need to think about what we are going to eat for all those days away from the comfort and control of our kitchens. Now we scope out restaurants not for how wonderful they are but to see if there is anything that is diabetic-compatible for us to eat.

Breakfast is always the hardest for me. The hotels have these spreads of fake eggs and fatty meats combined with white bread disguised as bagels and high-carbohydrate cereals and gooey “pastries.” I found that if I hit the local “stupidmarkets” when I land and pick up some Trop 50, Dannon Light & Fit Greek Yogurt, Sara Lee “Delightful” bread or some Arnold Sandwich Thins, I can do pretty well using the cream cheese and butter supplied by the hotels.

Travel Day

At 3:30 a.m., your alarm goes off. Time to get up and get ready to travel. Really? You shower, go into your kitchen and make your usual and perhaps last easy breakfast. It is also time to plan ahead. Because the airlines no longer feed you on the plane, you make yourself a cheese sandwich on a whole-wheat Joseph’s Lavash slice. The airlines have all but eliminated peanuts from their flights and offer you cookies or pretzels with your sugar-free soda. Oops!

You arrive at the airport an hour and a half before your flight. Besides showing the TSA your liquids and gels, you show them your lunch. They look at you as if they think your original plan was to bring a live chicken with you.

In the terminal you find that Starbucks is charging you an additional 50 percent over the already high price for a cup of coffee. The only alternative is the burger place, and that coffee was made before the time of jet travel.

You arrive at your hotel and make plans for dinner. For the most part, if you have all intentions of keeping to your dietary needs, your choices become protein and salad. I find myself praying for some sliced radish or blanched broccoli for my salads. The vegetable medley that the restaurants offer has long since lost its tune.

Restaurant Chains with Good Options

A year ago I found a very pleasant surprise at a chain called Ruby Tuesday. Along with protein and a fairly decent salad bar, the chain offered us some interesting vegetable choices: “grilled” zucchini, roasted spaghetti squash, snap peas, and mashed cauliflower. Other than in a vegetarian restaurant, I had never seen such an extensive selection. (Note: They have now eliminated the mashed cauliflower and the snap peas. I asked the server AND the manager about the cauliflower. Both said that it was very popular but the powers that be took it off the menu. They said they had a lot of people asking for it to be brought back. The corporate office seems to have abandoned some “lower carb” selections.)

While it is by no stretch of the imagination fine dining, Boston Market does offer a few sides to go with your meal (chicken or turkey) that are very tasty. Both are spinach. I love spinach, so this works for me.

Another place that has made an accommodation to the low-carb diabetic is Red Robin. Aside from some interesting salad choices, they will serve any of their hamburgers wrapped in lettuce rather than in a bun (”Lettuce wrap your burger”). A little sloppy to eat, but an interesting challenge. They have also been very kind about my bringing my own bun.

Sad but true, the major burger chains often are your best bet for a quick lunch salad. Most have a salad with some “grilled” chicken.

Sweet Tomatoes is a chain in the West, Southwest, and Florida. It has one of the most extensive salad bars I have ever seen. It does have some quirky aspects. If you want lemon for your tea, you have to go to the dessert bar. And if you want bacon for your salad, you need to look in the potato area. But there are dozens of choices.

My pet peeve about restaurants is that there is seldom a fresh fruit choice for dessert. Others at the table often feel uncomfortable having a dessert if I have to just sit there and spoon my coffee. Restaurants have berries and pineapple as a garnish for beverages and cheesecake. How difficult is it to take a few fresh strawberries and put them on a plate with a sprig of mint and some fresh cream? Are melon slices so hard to prepare?

After a week of travel, and always having to turn away offerings, I really miss being in my own kitchen.

Homemade soup, strawberries, and sweetened sour cream with almonds abound! JOY!

Enjoy, be happy, be Healthy, BE DECADENT!

Click here for Ward's Greek-Style Spinach Soup recipe!

Get more nutrition tips and recipe ideas from Ward Alper, the Decadent Diabetic, on his website.