Are There Healthy Choices at Italian Restaurants?

Although there can be some diet disasters on the menu at Italian restaurants, there are plenty of healthy options to enjoy.  

Healthy Food

Join the Healthy Dining Club!
Get the Latest News, Coupons, Recipes & Special Offers
Join Now!Q:  Italian food is my diet downfall.  Are there any healthy choices at Italian restaurants?

A: Although there can be some diet disasters on an Italian restaurant menu, when you know what to look for, there can also be a whole lot of healthy choices.  Don’t be afraid to savor some Italian food fi that’s what your tastebuds are craving. Follow these tips from our team of dietitians to enjoy your Italian restaurant meal to the fullest, without doing in your diet:

  • Choose appetizers that feature lean protein or vegetables. Grilled octopus instead of fried calamari, roasted vegetables instead of fried mozzarella sticks, or fresh and flavorful bruschetta rather than a cheese plate.
  • Save your appetite for the main course instead of the bread. Why waste calories on bread when there is so much more good food on the way?  If you do opt to indulge, sample one slice and dip sparingly into olive oil instead of topping with butter for some healthier unsaturated fats. Some Italian restaurants offer a blend of herbs and olive oil to do just that.
  • Pair a soup or salad with an appetizer for a smaller meal with full flavor. Choose a broth-based and veggie-packed soup, like Minestrone, Italian Wedding, or Escarole soups. Cioppino—a broth-based stew featuring a combination of fish and shellfish—is also a great option. Order a salad with plenty of vegetables and few high calorie, fat and sodium extras like cheese and Italian meats (pepperoni, salami, prosciutto, etc.). Balsamic vinegar is often a good choice to add extra flavor.
  • For the main course, keep lean protein and vegetables front and center rather than extra-large pasta dishes.  Grilled or roasted options, like fish, shellfish, or skinless chicken, and lean cuts of beef can make delicious and protein-rich healthy choices at Italian restaurants.   Be sure to read the menu and ask your server how items are prepared to help you make the best choices. 
  • If pasta is what you’re craving, keep an eye on portion size and opt for whole grain options whenever possible.  Ask for a side of pasta, share an entrée-sized dish with a friend, or pack up half the meal for leftovers to enjoy tomorrow.  Top your perfect portion of pasta with lower fat and calorie sauces like marinara instead of cream and butter based sauces. 
  • If dessert is a must to complete your meal, savor a nonfat cappuccino or a small biscotti, passing on the more decadent cakes and pastries that can put a dent in your health goals.  Or if dessert is an absolute must, share one with your dining companion(s).