What comes to mind when you think of Italian food? Creamy foods, extra cheese, thick pizza, lasagna? In America, Italian cooking is known for its large portions with lots of cheese and sauce. Many dishes are not likely to be good for your health or your waistline. Here are some lower calorie dishes and helpful hints to consider when eating at an Italian restaurant. Bon Appetit!
Healthy Italian Dining:
Before heading to the restaurant:
- Whenever possible review the menu from your restaurant of choice BEFORE you head out. You can often find this information online. Sometimes the calorie information will be available online. PLAN, PLAN, PLAN!
- Start with a salad dressed with balsamic vinegar or fat-free salad dressing. You can also consider using a light olive oil and vinegar dressing, although the oil does add extra calories (and colors!). Avoid creamy dressings which add a lot of fat and calories! Hold the croutons and cheese and go light on the olives.
- Substitute a bowl of minestrone soup for the fat laden appetizers. Minestrone soup will fill will you up which means you’ll eat less of the main course.
- Order antipasto with extra chickpeas, kidney beans, lettuce, tomatoes, and other vegetables. Ask them to hold the cheese and fatty meats, such as salami. Enjoy the turkey and ham that may come with the order.
- Shrimp cocktail is a very healthy and delicious way to start your meal.
Entrees- General Advice:
- Split and share entrees: Usually one order is enough for two people. Try ordering one entrée and two sides of pasta and share with a friend.
- You don’t have to eat your entire entree. Most Italian restaurants are known for their huge portion sizes. Ask for a doggy bag early in the meal and prepare part of your meal to go, this will save yourself 500 calories or more!
- Avoid eating fried mozzarella sticks, deep-dish pizza, or lasagna.
- Request a half portion, side portion, or appetizer-sized portion and you’ll save hundreds of calories.
- If it’s available, choose healthy whole-wheat pasta for a more fiber-rich dish and pair it with a lean protein, like grilled chicken.
- Avoid dishes like manicotti and lasagna, where the calorie-dense cheeses will do you in.
- Order marinara sauce versus high-fat choices like alfredo, vodka, carbonara and bolognese.
- Consider pasta with tomato sauce and veggies .
- Avoid lasagna, manicotti, and stuffed shells.
- Consider ordering a grilled chicken dish with a tomato based, non-cream sauce.
- Leave the cheese off of your Italian dishes altogether and you’ll cut a significant amount of fat and calories.
- Add a vegetable to your meal instead of pasta to add heart healthy fiber which will keep you full.
- Order a side of lightly sautéed or steamed vegetables – try mixing with your pasta, this will add more fiber with less fat to keep you fuller longer.
- Pick a tomato-based sauce such as marinara, red clam or puttanesca.
- Avoid the following: Alfredo, carbonara, saltimbocca, primavera, parmigiana, lasagna, stuffed anything, and manicotti. All signify heavy amounts of cream sauce.
- Skip the garlic bread and bread basket or ask for the bread to be removed from the table.
Pizza can be surprisingly healthy if not loaded with fatty toppings, like pepperoni, sausage, and extra cheese. Ask for whole wheat crust, or thin-crust and pile on the veggies.
- If you want a meat topping, grilled chicken is a good option.
- Ask that your pizza be prepared with only half the typical amount of cheese.
- Limit yourself to one slice and order a green salad on the side.
- Add extra vegetables to your pizza including mushrooms, spinach, broccoli, and red peppers.
- When it comes to dessert, try a small portion of biscotti, fruit ice, or fresh fruit.
- If one person truly wants a dessert, suggest sharing one dessert for the whole table.
- Even better, pass on the tempting dessert offerings.
|Garlic Bread||Bread Sticks|
|Cannoli or Gelato (ice cream)||Italian Ice or Biscotti|
|Creamy Italian Dressing||Fat Free Italian Dressing|
|Sausage or Salami||Ham|
|Carbonara (made with butter, egg, and bacon)||Linguini Puttanesca (Olives, mushrooms, tomato sauce, and fresh basil)|
|Pasta with fillings (ravioli, tortellini)||Arrabbiata (spicy tomato sauce)|
|Anything with lots of cheese||Fagioli (beans)|
|Anything fried such as fried eggplant or zucchini||Griglia (grilled)|
|Alla Crema (with cream)||Affogato (steamed or poached)|
|Alfredo (cream sauce)||Marinara|
|Parmigiana (breaded & fried)||Pomodoro (tomato-based sauce)|
|Scampi (drenched in garlic olive oil or butter)||Primavera (spring style, fresh veggies without cream sauce)|
|Crispy||Vongole (clams with marinara sauce)|
|Alla Vodka sauce, Pesto sauce||Neapolitan Sauce (tomato bases sauce)|
|Clam Chowder||Minestrone Soup|
|Fried Calamari||Marinated Vegetable Antipasto|
|Piccata (lemon-based sauce for either chicken or veal dishes)|
|Butter sauce||White Wine Sauces|
The Big Tip!!!
Remember to eat as the Italians do – slowly. They like to take their time with their food over several courses. Not only does this make the dining experience more soothing and enjoyable, it helps you eat less and feel fuller!