Mangia! How to Order at an Italian Restaurant

Article posted in: Diet & Nutrition
homemade hot pizza with a salami, tomatoes, olives

Here at Nutrisystem, we believe that the best way for you to reach your weight loss goal is to stick to your plan. But, with that said, we’re realistic.

We know that despite your best intentions, sometimes, life has other plans. There will be times during your weight loss journey that your family wants to go out for a meal or your friends want to catch up over happy hour. And, since it’s certainly not our goal to deprive you of life’s happiest moments, we want to make sure you’re armed with the knowledge you need to make the healthiest choices when you find yourself in these situations.

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So when the gang’s in the mood for Italian, a cuisine with an unhealthy reputation for its carb-heavy pastas, hearty cheese dishes and creamy sauces, do not fret. We’re here to help you seek out the healthier menu selections for your next Italian feast. Buon Appetito!

Order This…

If you really scan the menu you will notice that there are actually a lot of healthy options to choose from. For small plates, go the seafood route with squid or mussels, or try a broth-based soup like Minestrone. If ordering a full meal, select a seafood, chicken or lean meat meal for a protein punch and ask for a side salad with a vinegar-based dressing on the side. If you have pizza on the brain, opt for a thin-crust choice and share it with the table. If you choose the noodle path, limit your intake to a quarter of the plate and choose whole wheat pasta. Nix creamy, cheesy sauces and opt for options that have lots of veggies included.

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Served With…

Now on to what makes Italian food… well, Italian. Go for the dishes served with capers, shallots, onions and garlic. For sauces, enjoy a tomato, marinara or wine-based sauce, white or red clam sauce, lemon sauce or a light mushroom sauce. Opt for Florentine (spinach) or Primavera (sautéed veggies) dishes, just don’t go overboard on starchy vegetables like peas or potatoes.

Ask For It…

The way a dish is prepared can make or break its healthy factor. Opt for items described as baked, broiled, grilled, fresh, roasted, seasoned with herbs and spices, rotisserie, sautéed, steamed, low-fat or fat-free. Check out the Eating Out Guide for more help deciphering culinary jargon.

Ask if They Can…

Portion size can be an issue when eating out, especially at an Italian restaurant where food equals love. Beat the system by asking for an appetizer-sized meal, or have your waiter preemptively box up half of your meal to avoid overeating. Get some tips for mastering portion sizes by reading this quick article before you head out. Other calorie-saving tips include holding the sauce or requesting no skin on your chicken.


Although tasty, some additions have the power to take any meal into the danger zone of unhealthy choices. Lay off the heavy, cream-laden sauces like Alfredo, Carbonara and creamy pestos. Just say no to cured meats like prosciutto, pancetta, sausage and pepperoni as they are extremely high in sodium. Stay away from foods with these words in the description: Au gratin, battered, breaded, crispy, fried, pan-fried, creamy, buttery, scalloped and supersized. And anything “stuffed with cheese” should be avoided— I’m looking at you lasagna, tortellini, cannelloni, manicotti and stuffed shells. Lastly, bypass the deep-dish and white pizzas.
Now that you’re prepared, all that’s left to do is… Mangia!

Check out this handy guide to better understand what you should order and avoid while out to eat:

Italian food eating out guide