When it comes to eating healthy out, Italian food gets a particularly bad rap: pasta and bread and cheese, oh my! But I’m here to tell you that Italian food need not be the forbidden fruit or path straight to dieting hell. Rather, it’s just misunderstood.
Strip away excessive American portions and alterations, and Italian, with its focus on fresh, seasonal food cooked simply, can be one of the most flavorful and healthy cuisines. Olive oil is a staple, as are fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and fish, and nuts. It’s the quintessential heart-healthy diet.
To take advantage of the healthy Italian cucina when eating out, keep these simple tips in mind:
- Order roasted pepper or minestrone soups instead of cream based soups.
- Avoid pastas loaded with butter, cream, or cheese sauce (I’m looking at you alfredo) and instead order pasta with primavera, clam, or marsala sauce.
- Choose fish and lean meat over sausage.
- Request items with ½ portions of cheese.
- Eat a single serving (yes, just one) rather than the 5-6 servings of pasta typically plopped onto a plate.
- Take half your dinner home for later (another day later, not later that night).
And just to prove that it is actually possible to control thyself, come with me to Rose Angelis, one of my favorite neighborhood (it’s in Lincoln Park) Italian restaurants in Chicago.
Picture this….it’s been a long day and you’re hungry, so feel free to order an appetizer with a friend (as is often the case at Italian restaurants, the portions at Rose Angelis are huge, so make sure to share and/or take food home with you). Consider the grilled calamari, served with an abundant portion of fresh sautéed vegetables. The dish comes with garlic bread. Skip that. Instead, help yourself to a piece or two (but no more) of that fabulous crusty white bread seducing you from the breadbasket. Go ahead and lightly dip it in the fragrant, rosemary infused olive oil sitting on your table (it’s especially delicious if you add a dash of salt). The monounsaturated fats are good for you.
While you’re waiting for dinner, enjoy a glass of red Italian wine. Studies show wine is heart-healthy, and although we should always be cognizant that alcohol does, alas, have calories, a glass (or two if you’re not actively trying to lose weight. Or pregnant) makes any meal all the more wonderful.
For dinner, try the whole-wheat crust vegetable pizza, with roasted garlic, grilled asparagus and Portobello mushrooms, spinach, and bell peppers. Request that the kitchen go light on the mozzarella and sharp provolone cheese.
There are 8 slices. Do not feel entitled to eat all of them. In fact, do not even eat half. You’ve already had calamari and bread and wine. Instead, have two pieces, taking the rest home for lunch and/or dinner the next day. Doing this not only saves calories, it saves money. And that’s a win.
There, you’ve just eaten a healthy Italian meal out. You feel satisfied (but not stuffed) and have leftover food for tomorrow. And now, since that was obviously pretend (which isn’t nearly as much fun), consider actually giving Rose Angelis a try. It’s absolutely fabulous and need not be a splurge.
Try Rose Angelis at 1314 W. Wrightwood Ave.
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