Pasta and bread, melted cheese and cream-filled pastries are delicious, but these typical components of an Italian meal can mean a calorie overload. Here are some surefire tips to keep on track when eating out Italian-style.
Scope out 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 whether they can fax or email you one.
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. 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. Eating fewer calories when you first sit down saves 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.
Avoid pasta 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 1,500 calories and two days' worth of saturated fat! If you opt for pasta, section off a small portion to eat, and have the waitress package up the rest for you to take home as leftovers — that’s both budget- and calorie-friendly.
Strategically choose 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.
Opt for smaller-portioned sweets.
Your best bet is a small cookie, biscotti or some fruit sorbet (sorbet is dairy-free and often contains only fruit and sugar). Pint-sized desserts give you something to satisfy your sweet tooth while keeping the calories in check.
By Dana Angelo White