Healthier Dining Out: Italian

by in Dining Out, March 5, 2009

Pasta

Pasta and bread, melted cheese, and cream-filled pastries… Though delicious sounding, these typical components in an Italian meal can mean a calorie overload. Here are some sure-fire tips to keep on track when eating out Italian-style.

Lengthy Menus
Pages of options can lead to impulse choices that might not always be best for your waistline. Whenever possible, check out the menu online ahead of time so you can scour it for healthier options. Can’t find your restaurant’s menu? Try allmenus.com or call ahead and see if they can fax or email you one.

Start Smart
Choose one slice of bread or, better still, a small breadstick. Pass on the butter and oil — olive oil has heart-healthy fat but has 120 calories per tablespoon. Save those calories for later in the meal. Alcohol has calories too, so skip the pre-meal cocktail and enjoy one glass of wine with the main course. Instead of fried appetizers or platters with salty meats and cheese, opt for a salad (dressing on the side) or a small cup of soup such as the classic minestrone.

Pasta Dishes and Cheese Overload
Pasta can be “healthy eats” but portions are key. One cup of cooked pasta has about 200 calories and many American Italian restaurants will give you quadruple that amount on your plate — and then load it up with oil and sauces. Baked and fried dishes (think Chicken Parmesan) tally up to 1500 calories and two days worth of saturated fat! If you opt for pasta, section off a small portion to eat and take the rest home as leftovers — that’s both budget- and calorie-friendly.

Choosing the Main Course
All is not lost for you Italian food lovers. Enjoy main dishes that feature fish, beans or vegetables and that offer a small portion of pasta on the side (a traditional way to serve pasta — we Americans like to make it the star of the meal). Grilled poultry and fish are lower fat choices than red meat or sausage, and tomato or Marsala sauces are better than Alfredo and other creamy sauces.

What About Dessert?
Your best bet is a small cookie, biscotti or some fruit sorbet (sorbet is dairy-free and often contains only fruit and sugar). Go for small-portioned desserts to allow yourself something to satisfy your sweet tooth while keeping the calories in check.

Find out more about how the Italians keep slim.

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Comments (10)

  1. Mike Mick says:

    The photo of the fish and pasta looks great. Recipe?

  2. Elly says:

    Mike – I think it’s this. I was looking for salmon recipes yesterday, and I thought this picture above looked very familiar…here’s the recipe.

  3. rebecca ledesma says:

    Love to watch foodnetwork on tv but do not like your new format online…used to be able to just click on the day of the month I wanted a recipe from for program i watch. and cannot do that anymore.

  4. i totally agree with rebecca's statement. change is good sometimes. not this time. things are harder to research now with your new format!

  5. Barbi Langdon says:

    ditto for me on rebecca’s and samatha’s comments!!!

  6. Dana Van Buren says:

    I agree on the format and it’s been bugging me for a while now. When I do find a recipe & click on it- the internet stops working all together and I have to log in again. Does any one know where on this new site/ format we can lodge formal complaints?

  7. Kristine Brabson says:

    Dana, Healthy Eats isn’t directly involved with Foodnetwork.com — we just like to point you to some of their healthier recipes, videos and ideas. You can share your feedback with the Food Network team here: http://www.foodnetwork.com/contact-us/package/index.html

  8. I’m disappointed with the Food Network online format. I found it much easier finding recipes on the old one.

  9. Robyn says:

    Um, so you are saying you should eat some of the dish and have the waitress takes the leftovers home for herself? Because that's what it looks like.

  10. danawhite says:

    Hi Robyn -
    Ha! It does look like that, doesn't it? While that would be a generous offer, ask your server to wrap up the leftovers for YOU to take home.

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