When you're trying to eat healthy and track your caloric or macronutrient intake, Italian food can be a great option for dining out. Here are some tips and tricks to ordering off the menu at your local Italian restaurant.
First check to see if you can find a nutritional menu online. If not, keep your order as simple as possible. Less ingredients = easier to track. Use this infographic to help you estimate portion sizes and make healthier choices that match your plan.
Pizza / Flatbread
- Thin crust is the way to go.
- Stick with red pizza sauce over white.
- Request less, half or no cheese! Cheeses like ricotta and parmesan have less fat than other cheeses.
- Choose relatively lean meats such as chicken, shrimp, Canadian bacon or ham.
- Load up on the veggies like peppers, spinach, mushrooms to pack in flavor without packing in too many calories.
- Stay away from traditional Italian meats like pepporoni, salami, and sausage, which are processed and high in sodium.
- Order pasta with the sauce and meat on the side. This will help you guage how much pasta you're having, and you can control the amount of sauce and protein.
- Opt for marinara sauce over alfredo or cream/butter sauce.
- Swap the pasta for veggies for more volume.
- Stay away from stuffed pastas.
- Tracking macros and/or calories is easy if you keep it simple.
- Take apart the sandwich to weigh or estimate ingredients. For example, slices of cheese are easy to count.
- Ask for sauces/condiments on the side.
- Ask the waiter how many ounces of meat come on the sandwich — they can usually tell you. Or just open it up and take a look!
- Skip the grilled paninis or hot sandwiches — they usually have lots of butter and cheese.
- If you track your food intake, ask for everything on the side so you can better estimate portion size.
- Ask for dressing on the side or request simple balsamic vinegar instead.
- Don't try to find an option in your food tracking app unless it is explicitly from the restaurant; otherwise they are too general to use.
- If your main dish has a lot of carbs, then go for grilled veggies as your side, but be sure to ask how it’s prepared and what it’s cooked in to avoid too much butter.
- If you are having a salad and need some carbs, order some plain pasta or bread.
- Bruschetta is a good carb option but ask about any added oil or cheese when ordering
- Soups — check out the soup options. Italian soups can be macro-friendly.
- Create your own dish of grilled chicken and vegetables.
- Create your own off-menu combinations using lean meats and low-fat sauces.
- Stay away from:
- Lasagna — it is difficult to estimate the amount of meat and cheese in this dish. Stick to making this at home for yourself!
- Anything breaded or fried. This one is pretty obvious — you don’t know how much breading or oil is used. If you are in a rush, then just pull the breading or fried crust right off!
- Some classic Italian dishes like chicken parmesan and carbonara are best avoided altogether.
For more tips on ordering at a restaurant, check out this article.