When I first meet with a client, it is not unusual for me to hear a number of excuses for why they cannot eat healthily. A very common excuse I often here is, “But I LOVE to eat out.” To this statement, I usually reply: “Well, would you imagine that! I do too!” But because we do not all have access to delicious restaurants like Pure Food and Wine, and Le Pain Quotidien, I devised an easy,”How To” guide, for dining out. It is really quite simple! In this article, we will look at one of my favorite types of restaurants to go to– an Italian one.
I love Italian restaurants. Although, I am the farthest thing from Italian, there is something about the atmosphere of a good Italian restaurant that literally makes me feel all warm and cozy inside. That being said, Italian food is often time considered heavy– most likely because we think of bread, pasta, and raviolis. The good news is, there are definitely healthy, light, and more importantly– delicious options!
-Garden salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, sans croutons. Add any veggie variety, olives, and a tiny sprinkle of parmesan shavings, if you like. You can even ask for a side of bruschetta tomatoes to make it more interesting.
-Grilled Vegetables can be a wonderful appetizer to share, or enjoy, all to yourself. Especially, if you are feeling tempted by that bread. Like bread, they can be very warm, and comforting, yet they will not spike our blood sugar levels, or leaving us feeling bloated like bread does. If it is the butter you are looking for, order steamed broccoli and help yourself to a little bit of butter. It is tremendously better for you than the bread, and you may be surprised, that the combination of butter on broccoli, with a smidgen of salt, may just hit the spot.
- Minestrone soup! Usually vegetable based, if you avoid the little white pasta shells, and white potatoes, you have yourself a delicious, and most likely, homemade meld of wholesome vegetables.
- Shrimp Cocktail, although the cocktail sauce usually contains a good helping of sugar, and strange oils, is a wonderful choice over the other common appetizer items, like Calamari. Ask for a side of fresh marinara, or bruschetta if you are looking for something different to dip the shrimp into.
Entrees for the Vegetarian
- Almost every restaurant will be more than happy to whip you up a platter of lightly* steamed, sauteed, or grilled vegetables. Use butter, or a marinara sauce to jazz them up a bit, if need be (not both). Ask and make sure their marinara is not cream based– some restaurants go a bit over board with the cream and cheese. A light sprinkling of parmesan cheese is fine to dress up the veggies too. Or you can dip them into a touch of olive oil, or balsamic vinegar. *Make sure you inform your waiter that you would like your vegetables LIGHTLY prepared. Some restaurants assume that they must drench everything in oil, or butter. Start off with a hefty salad, and if you are looking for something more, see if the restaurant has quinoa…
- Broiled, or baked fish, or chicken, with a side of vegetables, cooked to your liking. Dress up your poultry, or fish with marinara. Marinara will give any dish depth, and remind you that you are dining in an Italian restaurant.
-Mixed green salad with your choice of chicken, fish, or grilled shrimp. Dress with olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. Avoid the croutons. Ask for extra vegetables.
Menu Items to Avoid
-The bread. Whether it is white, yellow, or brown, is more than likely made with processed flour. This flour will be converted directly to sugar, and then later into fat, in the body. You are better off ordering a glass of wine (if you drink), than you are eating the bread. Butter your veggies, instead. Steamed broccoli is always readily available, and is starchy, and filling like bread. Buttered broccoli is fantastic, as is, broccoli with marinara and a sprinkling of fresh parmesan. If you are craving something garlicy, ask to have your broccoli sauteed in a bit of garlic and olive oil. The garlic adds a lot of oomph!
- The rice. Unless you are enjoying brown rice, with vegetables, I always suggest avoiding the starchy, sticky rice. You will feel better if you fill up on vegetables, and/or fish, (or chicken), than you would if you ate a little rice, a little fish, and a little vegetables. Read My Philosophy on food combining.
- Foods that have been breaded, and/or fried. Of course, fried eggplant is better than fried chicken, but your are ultimately better off avoiding foods that have been breaded, and boiled in oil– it strips them of any redeeming quality (nutritional value) they may have once had, and causes free radical formation in the body– think wrinkles!
-White pasta dishes. For the same reasons that you would avoid the bread. If you are after the marinara sauce, cover your vegetables, and/or other entree in it. You’ll be surprised at the quality of satisfaction you receive, without the “stuffed” feeling after dinner, and the morning after!
- Keep your pasta separate from your protein. A dish like shrimp scampi, where a protein is combined with a cream, and a starch, makes digesting the pasta, even more difficult than it would be if you just had the shrimp, or just had the pasta. See above link to My Philosophy.
- Creamed anything. Milk products are tough on the stomach. It is for this reason that children’s tummy’s puff out, and as we age, we feel bloated, and cramped, after consuming dairy. When we add something that is already difficult to digest to a pasta dish… we are asking for indigestion, weight gain, and discomfort. If you want cream, enjoy it in your coffee in the morning. Not with your protein, and/or starch.
- Avoid creamed soup
- Creamed sauces
If you make these few minor adjustments, you will leave on a lighter note, and not feeling like you just sacrificed taste, or your healthy lifestyle. Surprising to most, a lot of times what I find many of us are really looking for, when eating Italian, is something hot, warm, and comforting. A rich marinara sauce offers us just that. Although broccoli is no loaf of Italian bread, a good chef will saute up a healthy batch of steamed, or garlic sauteed greens, and make them delicious. I promise. Your body will ultimately thank you too! If you are a big fan of home cooked Italian pasta, invest in a spiralizer and whip up a great zucchini pasta dish, as seen on letttucelove.com. This is a tool, and recipe that everyone can enjoy!
What’s your favorite Italian dish? What have you done to make it “healthier”? What do you order when dining out at an Italian restaurant?