What to Eat at Italian Restaurants

Think Italian restaurants, known for pastas, cheese and sauces, are a guilty pleasure?  Think again!  You can easily navigate the lunch and dinner menus of your favorite Italian restaurants with these tips from Healthy Dining’s registered dietitians:

  • Choose broth-based soups and salads with dressing on the side to help fill you up before the main course.  At Italian restaurants, steer clear of the antipasto salad, which is loaded with high calorie meats and cheeses.
  • Skip the bread basket.  Whether breadsticks or rolls, these staples on lunch and dinner menus can be tempting but also high in calories.
  • When available, choose whole wheat over white for pastas and pizza crusts.  The whole grain versions are higher in fiber and protein, key to helping you feel satisfied sooner.
  • Instead of creamy Alfredo sauce, opt for traditional red sauce to dress up pastas and pizzas.  This tasty tomato and basil topping is lower in fat and calories and high in cancer-fighting nutrients, such as lycopene.
  • Think outside the pizza box.  Choose dishes from dinner menus that are based on lean proteins and fruits and vegetables instead.  Traditional Italian cuisine is more than just pasta and pizza; it’s often hearty and healthy seafood, bean and vegetable-based dishes that are low in fat and calories and overflowing with the flavors of Tuscan sunsets.
  • Savor your meal.  A meal at an Italian restaurant should be about the overall experience of spending time with family and friends and enjoying the flavors and smells of the food, not about how much you can eat during the meal.

What to order:

  • Grilled chicken or seafood with grilled veggies
  • Whole wheat pasta with red/marinara sauce
  • Minestrone soup
  • Veggie pizza on whole wheat and/or thin crust – perhaps with less cheese – or add shrimp or turkey

What to skip:

  • Meat lovers’ pizza (high in saturated fat and calories)
  • Large portions of lasagna covered in meat sauce (high in saturated fat and calories)
  • Anything with Alfredo sauce