When I think about Italian food, I think of cheese, cheese and more cheese. In addition, many Italian dishes include pasta; the white refined kind that tastes delicious with meatballs, marinara and Alfredo sauce. Is it possible to eat healthy when dining at an Italian restaurant? Here are the most wholesome foods inspired by the “boot” country.
Soups and appetizers
Start your meal well with the mussels di napoli from Olive Garden. With just 180 calories and 8 grams of fat, they will leave you satisfied. Or order the small bruchetta at Pasta Pomodoro. It has just 346 calories, two grams of saturated fat and 541 mg of sodium.
At Olive Garden, there are several hearty soups that are low in calorie. For instance, try the chicken and gnocchi soup with 250 calories and eight grams of fat. The pasta e fagoli soup is even better with 130 calories per serving and 2.5 grams of fat. And, the best option is the minestrone soup with 100 calories per serving and one gram of fat. In particular, the minestrone is chock full of vegetables. The only downside to these soups is they all have about 1000 mg of sodium.
Lunch portions are often smaller so ask your server if you can have a lunch portion. At Pasta Pomodoro, there is a lunch version of the Margarita pizza. It only has 327 calories and 6 grams of saturated fat. Or order the “healthy fish.” With penne, salmon and asparagus, it has just 437 calories and one gram of saturated fat.
If you were counting on eating chicken parmagiana at a restaurant, you’re probably better off trying to make a healthy version at home. However, there are numerous low calorie options. Try the venetian apricot chicken at Olive Garden. It has 380 calories, four grams of fat and eight grams of fiber. It’s served with broccoli, asparagus and tomatoes. The linguine marinara has 430 calories, six grams of fat and nine grams of fiber.
Macaroni Grill has some surprisingly low calorie, low sodium desserts. The Simple Lemon Pound cake has 250 calories, six grams of saturated fat and 170 mg of sodium. The Italian sorbetto has 220 calories, one gram of saturated fat and 20 milligrams of sodium. Or simply have a Cappuccino with biscotti for 110 calories and three grams of saturated fat. Pasta Pomodoro has a mini tiramisu for 95 calories and three grams of saturated fat. After all, sometimes all we need are a few bites of bliss.
In general, stay away from cheese, Alfredo sauce, and heavy salad dressings. Try to fill your plate with as many lean proteins and vegetables. For dessert, run away from creations with crusts or ice cream. Remember to ask for the lunch portion or share with a friend. Of course, moderation is the key.