From breadsticks to tiramisu—with plenty of cheese, meat, and white-flour pasta in between—Italian has never been confused with spa cuisine. But in recent years, restaurants have fattened the pot, deep-frying their lasagna and ravioli, pouring alfredo sauce on anything that doesn’t move, and selling platters with two or three entrées. The food—and the diners—just keeps getting heavier.
Of course, some restaurants offer lower- calorie dishes for patrons who don’t want to roll out the door looking like a meatball. Olive Garden, the largest full-service Italian chain in the country, has a Lighter Italian Fare menu with seven entrées that have less than 575 calories. And menus at Carrabba’s Italian Grill and Romano’s Macaroni Grill highlight dishes with less than 600 calories. (Most are still loaded with salt. Sigh.) At other chains, like Maggiano’s Little Italy, it would be a challenge to find any entrées below 600 calories.
Here are some lower-calorie dishes at popular Italian chain restaurants:
Olive Garden Baked Tilapia with Shrimp
Saturated Fat: 5 grams
Sodium: 1,070 mg
“Oven-baked white fish and shrimp with a white wine sauce,” served with garlic broccoli. You can’t beat the calories. The dish has roughly half the calories and saturated fat of Olive Garden’s Parmesan Crusted Tilapia with roasted asparagus. And you have a shot at leaving the restaurant without blowing an entire day’s sodium. Well done!
Olive Garden Center Cut Filet Mignon
Saturated Fat: 9 grams
Sodium: 1,470 mg
If you want red meat, this 6 oz. filet is a bargain. It’s got half the calories and saturated fat of the chain’s Steak Toscano because it’s half the size and comes with vegetables instead of garlic parmesan mashed potatoes. Too bad neither dish is low in sodium.
Carrabba’s Wood-Grilled Salmon
Saturated Fat: 6 grams
Sodium: 880 mg
It’s only 500 calories if you order the smaller (6 oz.) portion and get steamed spinach as your side. Olive Garden’s Herb-Grilled Salmon comes with seasoned broccoli, yet the entire dish has a mere 500 mg of sodium. Bravo!
Macaroni Grill Grilled Chicken Spiedini
Saturated Fat: 2 grams
Sodium: 990 mg
Grilled chicken and vegetables is a steal (assuming the chef doesn’t overdo the oil). Now that’s Mediterranean fare.
Olive Garden Seafood Brodetto
Saturated Fat: 3 grams
Sodium: 2,250 mg
“Scallops, shrimp and delicate tilapia with spinach and mushrooms simmered in a light white wine and marinara-saffron broth. Served with toasted ciabatta bread.” Skip the bread and leave some of the broth behind to save some white flour and sodium.