Dining Out Guide

Eating Healthy at Olive Garden

From SparkPeople’s Editors

Olive Garden is a popular Italian chain with a wide variety of choices. Unfortunately, they come in large portions, creamy sauces and never-ending servings, which is sure to have you saying, "Mamma mia!" Lighter Italian isn't an oxymoron; portion control and a bit of research are the keys to making healthful choices. As a warning, even the lower calorie choices here tend to be very high in sodium.

  • One way to enjoy your favorite pasta dish save about 300 calories and 15 grams is to eat at lunch time instead of dinner time. The dinner portion of Spaghetti with Meat Sauce, for example, has 710 calories, 22 g of fat and 1,340 mg of sodium. The lunch portion contains 550 calories, 21 g of fat and 1,040 mg of sodium. If you dine at dinnertime, plan to eat only half of your meal, taking the rest home or sharing it with a friend.

  • Most dinner servings of pasta contain at least 600 calories and 15 g of fat. Choose pastas with tomato-based sauces and skip creamy ones to save fat and calories. The best pasta choice is the Linguine alla Marinara (430 calories, 6 g fat, 900 mg sodium).

  • Look for the Garden Fare symbol on the menu, which denotes an item that is "healthier" (according to Olive Garden) or meets certain dietary requirements.

  • Most of the appetizers are not low in fat or calories. If you really want one, your best choice in the Mussels di Napoli (180 calories, 8 g fat, 1,800 mg of sodium).

  • Each breadstick, with its garlic-butter spread, has 150 calories, 2.5 g of fat and 350 mg of sodium. Instead of the free salad with dressing (350 calories, 27 g fat, 1,990 mg sodium) ask for dressing on the side. Plain salad has just 120 calories, 3.5 g of fat and 550 mg of sodium.

  • When combined with salad and a breadstick, soup can be a filling, lower calorie meal. Most soups contain fewer than 200 calories, 5 g of fat and 1,000 mg of sodium per bowl with the exception of the Chicken and Gnocchi, which is slightly higher.

  • Lean proteins like seafood and chicken are good choices, except when covered in rich alfredo or carbonara sauces. Venetian Apricot Chicken (380 calories, 4 g fat, 1,420 mg sodium), Shrimp Primavera (730 calories, 12 g fat, 1,620 mg sodium), Herb Grilled Salmon (590 calories, 26 g fat, 720 mg sodium) and Shrimp & Asparagus Risotto (620 calories, 30 g fat, 2,530 mg sodium) are lower in calories and fat than other entrees, but still high in sodium.

  • For a reasonable portion, the children's menu offers Grilled Chicken with pasta and broccoli, for 310 calories, 5 g of fat and only 680 mg of sodium.

  • Olive Garden provides nutritional info on its website.

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