Can you make healthy choices at Italian restaurants?

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That's Italian!

That’s Italian! But is it healthy?

Ahhh, Italian food- I love it!

It’s my favorite kind of food to eat when I go out to a restaurant. Do you have visions of lasagna and fettuccine alfredo when I say Italian restaurant food? When talking about this type of cuisine, those are the types of dishes that many people order. Here’s the problem with cheesy dishes like that, you can eat all of your calories for the day and more in one meal. For example, according to My Fitness Pal iphone app, one serving of the lasagna classico from Olive Garden weights in at 950 calories! My total caloric intake for each day is only 1600 calories so one serving of lasagna is about 2/3 of my calories for the day!

Lots and lots of calories in this plate of lasagna!

Lots and lots of calories in this plate of lasagna!

The fettuccine alfredo dinner portion from Olive Garden comes in at a whopping 1220 calories which is more than 2/3 of my total caloric intake for the day! And usually breadsticks or garlic bread are eaten at Italian restaurants so you can add on hundreds of calories with those sides as well. Order a cocktail and some dessert and you can blow in excess of an entire days worth of calories in one meal. Another problem with these meals besides being highly caloric is that they are usually low in protein. When you eat meals like this they don’t sustain your energy for very long so you may find yourself very drowsy and lethargic.

After all of this you may wonder if you can indeed eat in a healthy way at an Italian restaurant, and I’m here to tell you that you can! My niece, Alison, is the inspiration for this post. She texted me because she was going to an Italian restaurant with her dad in Chicago the other night and wanted help making a healthy choice at dinner.

La Scarola Italian restaurant in Chicago.

La Scarola Italian restaurant in Chicago.

The menu Alison sent me from her Italian meal.

The menu Alison sent me from her Italian meal.

I gave Alison my first healthy tip for eating at an Italian, or any restaurant, which is to go to the restaurant’s website and pull up the menu before arriving. The advantage to that is you can take some time to review your choices before the waiter is standing over you waiting to take your order. The next tip is that I look for key words that describe the entrees like “cream sauce”, “four cheeses”, “vodka sauce”, all of which contain hundreds of calories, and avoid them. Good words are “white wine sauce”, ‘tossed in olive oil”, and “light tomato sauce”. These tend to be healthy choices. I also go with entrees in which the protein is the star of the dish, instead of the carb. I love pasta but I will usually choose an entrée like chicken primavera with a side of angel hair pasta so I can get my taste of pasta without it being the majority of my meal. Another healthy tip is that I always order a salad with vinaigrette dressing or non-cream based soup before my meal. That way I can fill up on veggies before my entrée arrives and I get a few servings of vegetables into my day too. Filling up on veggies leads to my next healthy tip which is to only eat half of your entrée and take the rest home for lunch or dinner the next day. After I eat my salad or have my soup it is easy to only eat half my entrée because I’m almost full by the time it comes. Filling up on soup or salad also prevents me from gorging on the bread or breadsticks almost always present at the table. I usually move the bread basket to the other side of the table so I won’t absent mindedly grab bread without thinking about it. If it’s really good bread and I have to eat a piece, I will break off half a piece of bread, dunk it in the heart healthy olive oil, and savor every bite!

Chicken vesuvio at La Scarola Italian restaurant in Chicago.

Chicken vesuvio at La Scarola Italian restaurant in Chicago.

Alison doesn’t care for seafood and she really loves chicken so with those things in mind I advised her of three choices I thought she’d like and that would be healthy for her, pollo ponzio, chicken vesuvio, and peti de pollo. She decided to go with the chicken vesuvio. The description of that dish on the menu is “served with vesuvio potatoes, wine and peas (garlic sauce). Choice of chicken breast or 1/2 chicken”. Sounds good right? Healthy too! Alison enjoyed the dish and was pleased that she wasn’t derailed from her healthy way of eating.

My beautiful niece, Alison Valerie, with her healthy meal choice!

My beautiful niece, Alison Valerie, with her healthy meal choice!

Part of my lifestyle coaching is to help people make healthy choices when eating out so if anyone would like to utilize my services please email me at valdecap@gmail.com. Advising my niece was complementary of course! Follow my healthy eating advice and you’ll have vitality- like Valerie!

My namesake, Alison Valerie and me!

My namesake, Alison Valerie, and me!

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