The heady scent of garlic and the never-ending bread basket make ordering at an Italian restaurant quite a challenge for the health conscious. But you can still enjoy your meal and make clean choices, say these Atlanta dietitians. Read on for ways to handle ordering at an Italian restaurant from two nutrition experts:
Registered dietitian Juliana Nagy practices in Sandy Springs and is an admitted foodie who spent nine months studying at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. "The greatest challenge when you eat out is portion size," she said. "I recommend ordering a half-size, or lunch-size, pasta entrée and a house salad at an Italian restaurant."
If a restaurant won't accommodate the smaller portion request at dinner, Nagy suggests ordering a to-go box to arrive as your dinner is served. "Split your food in half and box the other half," she said.
"Always eat a simple salad before your main course," she added. "It will help to curb your hunger. And if you possibly can, refuse the bread."
Sonali Sadequee is an Atlanta-based holistic health coach who addresses weight management and digestive wellness. At an Italian restaurant, she says the first things to look for on the menus are soups and salads.
"A minestrone with lots of vegetables and beans is one great choice," she said. "It still has the tomato-base broth, garlic, oregano and basil associated with Italian flavor, but lots more nutrients than other choices."
Sadequee, who is a Food for Life instructor, may also choose a Caesar salad at an Italian spot. Because she's typically dairy-free, she asks the restaurant to leave out any Parmesan or other cheeses. She also requests the dressing on the side to control calories.
"When I first speak to the server, I mention that I need all the dairy left out of my meal, so the server understands where I am coming from at the outset," she said.
Sadequee also eats gluten-free as much as possible. "For an entree, I would always ask to see the gluten-free menu and order gluten-free pasta with a red sauce [without cream or dairy] if they offer it. Even Olive Garden now has a gluten-free menu."
When you do order pasta, Sadequee recommends following her example and adding a vegetable side to the mix. "Make it something green, like a sauteed kale or arugula, or cannellini beans. Vegetables on the side will add fiber to your meal, which is supportive to the digestive system."
If you plan to order salad and/or soup and an entree, make sure to save some for another meal, says Sadequee. "Get a to-go box," she said. "If you eat it all in one sitting, you may be overeating."
Sadequee says the most important aspect of eating healthy at an Italian restaurant is being willing to speak up with special requests. "I've found that a lot of people are not comfortable asking for food to be prepared a certain way and that becomes a block to eating healthy when you're eating out," she said. "I've never had any issues going to a really nice Italian restaurants and requesting dairy-free or gluten-free. They are usually happy to meet my needs."