Learn the tricks for counting carbs in hard-to-guesstimate dishes, such as casseroles, salads and pizza. Plus, find more carb-counting tips to help you stick to your diabetes meal plan.

Counting carbohydrates is one of the ways to manage blood sugar levels when living with diabetes. But, counting carbs in mixed dishes, such as casseroles, salads and pizza can be challenging. Looking for carb-counting tips that make sense, are simple and really work? At EatingWell, we want to make eating out a pleasant experience for you. Follow these 10 tips to count carbs and quickly calculate what you want to eat.

1. Count Hot Dishes by the Cup

Count Hot Dishes by the Cup

A mix of meat and vegetables in a savory sauce, including stews and many Asian-style entrees, has around 15 grams of carbs per cup. For dishes made with pasta or grains, such as lasagna or chicken-rice casserole, estimate 30 grams of carbs per cup.

Tip: A 1-cup serving is about the size of a fist.

2. Think: Spoonable or Forkable?

Think: Spoonable or Forkable?

If soup is so thick and hearty that you could nearly eat it with a fork, such as chunky noodles, or if it's loaded with beans, such as chili or split-pea soup, estimate 30 grams of carbs per cup. Broth-based soups and cream soups made with water with little to no fillings average 15 grams of carbs per cup.

3. Tally Tablespoons

Tally Tablespoons

When a dish is served family-style, such as at an Italian restaurant or a steak house, use a tablespoon to size up servings as you put food on your plate. For example, 4 level tablespoons (1/4 cup) of baked beans add up to 15 grams of carbs, and 8 tablespoons (1/2 cup) of corn also contain 15 grams of carbs.

4. Identify the Main Ingredients in Salads

Identify Main Ingredients in Salads

If your favorite salads are higher in carbs (and creamy with lots of fat), opt for a smaller serving. Here's how common salads stack up in carbs:

5. Calculate Pizza by the Crust

Calculate Pizza by the Crust

Crust accounts for most of the carbs in pizza. A medium (12-inch) thin-crust pizza without any cheese and toppings has 17 grams of carbs per slice. A regular-crust pizza averages 30 grams of carbs per slice.

Tip: Thin-crust pizza has 5-10 fewer grams of carbs per slice than regular-crust or pan pizza.

6. Limit Appetizers to One Piece

Limit Appetizers to One Piece

A 100-gram serving of Asian-style lettuce wrap with chicken has 5 grams of carbs, while a single Thai spring roll or Italian breadstick provides about 15 grams of carbs—not counting dipping sauces. Want an appetizer meal? The total calories and carbohydrates in an appetizer often equal (and sometimes surpass) an entree, so if you order multiple dishes, split them with friends.

7. Scan with Your Hand

Scan with Your Hand

An adult's hand when spread typically spans 7-8 inches from thumb to pinky finger. That's the width of a medium flour tortilla, which has 20-25 grams of carbs. Large tortillas at taco and sandwich shops, with some as much as 13 inches across, are packed with over 30 grams of carbs (and that doesn't count the filling).

8. Count Smoothies Similarly to Soda

Count Smoothies Similarly to Soda

Although chewing food is generally more satisfying (and easier on your blood sugar) than drinking it, sometimes it's hard to resist a smoothie. Typically, smoothies are made with dairy and fruit, which naturally contain carbs. If sugar is added to the smoothie, then the carb content will increase. Surprisingly or not, a 12-ounce fruit smoothie averages 38 grams of carbs, which is comparable to a 12-ounce can of regular soda, which averages 40 grams of carbs.

Tip: Split the smoothie with your friends or order the smallest size available.

9. Count a 'Bread' for Breaded Meats

Count a 'Bread' for Breaded Meats

"Naked" meat that's grilled or broiled is carb-free (and generally lower in fat). But if your meal includes a three-ounce breaded chicken, count 10 grams of carbs to account for it. If there is a serving of six chicken nuggets, include 15 grams of carbs. For larger breaded meats, such as country fried steak, count 30 grams of carbs.

Tip: The breading that coats the meat provides carbs.

10. Study Sandwich Standards

Study Sandwich Standards

Although there are countless ways to build a sandwich, the bread used as the base contributes most of the carbohydrates. Follow this guide for estimating the carb counts in sandwiches made with typical savory toppings.

  • Breakfast meat on English muffin: 25 to 30 grams carbs
  • Burger on standard-size bun: 30 grams carbs
  • Sandwich with 2 slices of bread: 30 to 45 grams carbs
  • 6-inch submarine sandwich: 45 to 60 grams carbs
  • Sandwich on a bagel: 60 to 75 grams carbs

Bottom Line

Eating mixed dishes with carbs becomes easier with these 10 tips. Visit our Diabetes Diet Center for information on meal planning, recipe ideas and more.