How do I make healthy choices when going out to dinner?

April 7, 2012

Q: My husband and I have worked hard to stay in shape this year but love to go out to dinner on weekends. Do you have any suggestions on how to go out and have a good time without blowing our diets, gaining summer weight and throwing away all the hard work we did to get in good shape?

A: I too am a big fan of going out to dinner and eating good food. After all, it’s a great reward for those of us who choose to be selective about what we eat during the week, but it doesn’t have to be a free-for-all. You can still have fun and stay in shape by following a few simple rules.

Don’t go out to dinner starving
If you wait until you’re starving to go out to eat, you’ll be much more likely to make bad choices, because your blood sugar plummets and the body instantly craves fast-acting carbs in the form of sugar and other junk foods. Instead, eat a small snack 2-3 hours before it’s time to go, and by the time your menu is in hand, you’ll be ready for a good meal but rational enough to choose wisely.

Replace sodas and sugary drinks with fruit-flavored water
Sodas, sugary teas and other beverages can add a tremendous amount of calories to your dinner before the food even touches your plate, so be sure to find a healthy alternative. A good way to remedy this situation is to ask your server to spice up your water by adding a couple slices of fresh fruit for flavor. Citrus fruits such as lemons, limes and oranges are great choices and can turn a boring glass of water into a refreshing, healthy drink.

Skip the bread basket and order a healthy appetizer
One of the worst mistakes you can make while dining out is filling up on bread before you eat your dinner. I know, bread taste great, but it’s not a good choice if you’re trying to stay in shape, because it’s loaded with empty calories that will surely stick to your bones. Instead, ask the waitress to take back the bread and order a healthy salad or appetizer in its place. A good replacement would be seared tuna, edamame, steamed shrimp or a spinach salad.

Avoid loaded salads
The nutritional value of a salad all depends on what you put on it. If you load it with croutons, cheese, candied nuts and calorie-rich dressing, you will change an innocent bowl of vegetables into an unhealthy fast food. Instead, be sure to order a low-calorie vinaigrette dressing on the side, hold the croutons and cheese, and add extra vegetables such as broccoli, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, etc.

Choose a lean protein for your main entrée
Chicken, fish, turkey, venison, lamb and lean steak can be excellent healthy choices as long as they’re grilled, steamed or broiled and not loaded with creamy sauces. These foods are high in protein and low in saturated fat, making them great for building and repairing lean muscles without the fat and extra calories.

Say no to starchy carbs and order double vegetables

When ordering your main entrée, skip starchy carbs such as potatoes, macaroni and cheese, pasta and rice, and replace them with a second helping of healthy vegetables. This will help satisfy your hunger so you won’t overeat and will help you avoid the foods that cause the most weight gain.

Don’t be afraid to go out to dinner and enjoy life’s guilty pleasures, but follow these simple rules and you’ll be sure to stay in great shape.

  • Chris Antonio is a personal trainer and former world-class weightlifter. He has been lifting for more than 20 years and has trained a wide variety of clients ranging from All-American athletes to the average person trying to get into shape. To send a question to the Ask the Trainer column, email Chris at or check out