Top 6 Nutrition Tips for Italian Restaurants

Preparing meals at home allows us to control our ingredients, portions and costs, but going out for a restaurant meal is part of our lifestyle. We meet up with friends, pick up dinner on a busy night, attend work functions, or maybe just satisfy a craving by patronizing restaurants.
For some people, eating healthy and restaurant eating are mutually exclusive; they feel they cannot have both. Avoiding restaurants is not the solution. The solution is learning how to eat ‘healthy’ outside of your home.

Italian restaurants can be calorie bombs. But, there are plenty of healthy options available – you just need to know what to look for on the menu. Here’s an example of how two different meals compare at an Italian restaurant.

Below are tips for enjoying a filling and nutrition meal at an Italian restaurant:

PLAN. Do not starve yourself in preparation for your meal. Going to dinner hangry will lead to disaster (and may make you a cranky date). Plan your day around the meal you anticipate eating out at that day. For example, if you are craving the spaghetti and meatballs then look compensate your proteins appropriately based on your goals throughout the day. Use this planning to eat filling and balanced meals throughout the day leading up to your restaurant meal.

ASK questions. If you can’t quite find the dish to satisfy your cravings and nutritional goals – just ask. If they have five types of chicken, but all are covered in a cream sauce – ask the waiter if you can have grilled chicken instead and customize it to your heart’s desire.
I’m notorious for two things at Italian restaurants… 1- drinking enough water to hydrate the Mojave Desert and 2 – detailing my order so meticulously that waiters and waitresses have been known to run out of ink and paper. I haven’t been kicked out of any restaurants yet though. Recently on a trip to my husband’s favorite Italian restaurant, I ordered a grilled chicken breasts, a side of broccoli, and a small bowl of meat sauce. Using the broccoli as the base, I topped with meat sauce and chicken (my mouth is watering just thinking about this).

Start with a soup or salad. Italian soups such as pasta fagioli or minestrone are great options to start your meal. Both soups have an average of about 200 calories, and are full of filling ingredients. Salads with light dressing and cheese can be a great starter as well. Having soup or salad will help keep your hands out of the bread basket.

Thanks but no thanks. When there is a steamy basket of bread right in front of you, sometimes it’s hard to resist. If you do not want bread, but cannot handle the temptation, just ask the server to take it away. Or, if it’s the best bread ever – limit yourself to one piece.

AVOID. Read the dish’s description and take notice key words. Avoid dished that contain the words fried, battered, breaded, or cream. Try to order foods that include key words like grilled, fresh, marinara, vegetables, etc.

SIDE DISH . Order a side dish of pasta. Traditional restaurant servings of pasta include 3-4 ‘servings’ of pasta which equates to 400-500 calories and 100+ carbs for just the noodle. Add another 300-400 calories for a sauce and you’ve got a caloric disaster. A smaller side dish will satisfy your pasta craving and control the portion.

Eating healthy should not require you to be limited to eating like a rabbit at restaurants. That is neither fun or sustainable. Remember we are in this for the long haul! Enjoy your night out with family and friends, and enjoy the confidence gained by learning to make healthier decisions. You’ll feel victorious on the ride home when you don’t have to unbutton the top button of your jeans just to sit comfortable in the car – not that I have even done that 🙂

Related links:
Menu Navigator: Best (and Worst) Choices on an Italian Pasta Menu by Cooking Light

Healthy Italian Food Options: Quick Guide from Built Lean

The 7 Worst Pasta Dishes in America