Calling all Olive Gardeners! (By that we mean "people who frequent the Olive Garden," not "people who harvest olives.") We've got a round-up of what to eat at OG... and what to avoid like the Parmesan-topped plague!
Pasta e Fagioli PER SERVING (1 serving): 130 calories, 2.5g fat, 680mg sodium, 17g carbs, 6g fiber.
Here we have a totally authentic, spoonable Italian starter. With beans, ground beef, pasta, and tomatoes in a flavorful broth, it's a super-satisfying option with very impressive stats.
"Grilled chicken" makes everything sound guilt-free, and surely "flatbread" seems innocent enough. But this is basically a four-cornered chicken Alfredo pizza. You do not need to START a meal with this creamy and carby catastrophe. PLEASE. Now back to the sane appetizer selections.
Mussels di Napoli PER SERVING (1 order): 180 calories, 8g fat, 1,770mg sodium, 13g carbs, 0g fiber.
Despite the words "butter" and "wine" in the description, this is a total no-guilt find. That's because the mussels are simmered -- not saturated -- in the stuff. Paired up with a bowl of soup, this would make a nice light meal!
One of the most guilt-free items on the menu. Plus, you definitely get that "I'm having an Italian dinner" feeling when you start your meal with a bowl of it.
EMERGENCY INTERRUPTION: SCARY SALAD SIGHTING!
We don't know what they're putting in that seemingly light salad dressing that comes on the Garden-Fresh Salad, but we disapprove. One serving of the bottomless staple salad with dressing has 350 calories and 26g fat! Don't worry -- we've got your back. Request a portion sans salad dressing, and you'll shave off 230 calories and 22.5g fat. Ditch the croutons, and you'll be down to a slim 70 calories and 1.5g fat. Then ask for one of these dressings on the side: Low Fat Italian or Low Fat Parmesan-Peppercorn. That's more like it.
Deceptive Entrées Alert
These meals aren't the heaviest on the menu, but they DEFINITELY sound lighter than they are. Do not be fooled...
Garlic-Herb Chicken con Broccoli PER SERVING (1 dinner entrée): 960 calories, 41g fat, 2,180mg sodium, 90g carbs, 12g fiber.
Oh, come on! It's not "con formaggio" (with cheese), it's "con BROCCOLI." One would assume a dish with this name is low in calories... but one would be wrong. Creamy sauce and pasta sink it. BOO.
Not only does this name call out the grilled nature of the shrimp -- usually a GOOD thing -- but it also name-drops a salad we love: the Caprese. However, these shrimp are buried under pasta, cheese, and a garlic-butter sauce. No amount of tomatoes and fresh herbs can save this dish. And that sodium, ACK!
EMERGENCY INTERRUPTION: BREAKING BREADSTICK NEWS!
You know those baskets of breadsticks that just keep showing up at your table? Well, one breadstick has 150 calories and 2g fat... and that's just the buttery stick itself. (Who doesn't dunk?!) The Alfredo dipping sauce has 380 calories and 35g fat per dish, and a dish of the marinara has 70 calories and 2.5g fat. We recommend avoiding this stuff, unless you have an implausible amount of self-control. Otherwise, you're likely to inhale 500 calories before your beverage hits the table. If your friends are cool with it, ask the waiter not to bring the bread.
It may be higher in fat than we'd like, but it's still lighter than most of the other menu items. Plus, it has protein, pasta, AND veggies. Maybe go for double vegetables and no pasta? Just a thought.
Linguine alla Marinara PER SERVING (1 dinner entrée): 430 calories, 6g fat, 900mg sodium, 76g carbs, 9g fiber.
If a trip to an Italian eatery isn't complete without pasta, this is the safest option. Slurp your noodles and bask in the tomatoey goodness without guilt. Mmmmm! Also worth noting? Every other straight-up pasta plate on the dinner menu has 17 - 75g fat. Ewww!
It may not seem super "Italian," but salmon is a) good for you, and b) not something that comes with carby pasta, at least in this case. Those are two BIG reasons we like this dish. P.S. The high-ish fat count is mostly due to the fish itself, and it's the GOOD kind of fat. (Three cheers for omega 3s!)
We have no idea why this one's limited to the lunch menu -- we're big fans nonetheless. In fact, we're drooling just ogling its photo. Herb-marinated chicken is served skewer style and accompanied by potatoes and grilled veggies. Yum time!
After-Dinner Shock! Torta di Chocolate No Sugar Added PER SERVING (1 dessert): 800 calories, 51g fat, 125mg sodium, 75g carbs, 4g fiber.
Do not -- we repeat, DO NOT -- be blindsided by the "No Sugar Added" classification. Like all of the Garden's desserts, this thing is a fat-packed calorie bomb ready to explode. If you really wanna split something decadent with your fellow table-dwellers, the Tiramisu is the lowest-calorie choice, with 510 cals and 32g fat. Or do what we do: Have coffee and then eat a chocolate VitaTop when you get home!
Don't roll your eyes at us! This isn't boring java. OG's got some seriously schmancy sipping options. No-cal choices include Lavazza Espresso and Caffè la Toscana Coffee. Have a Caffè Latte, Caffè Mocha, or Cappuccino for 130 - 180 calories, or go ahead and splurge on the Caramel Hazelnut Macchiato for 220 cals and 4.5g fat. That's indulgence done right. P.S. Even though it's not on the menu, see if they'll serve you a beauteous bowl of berries. (We've seen you use them as garnishes, Olive Garden! We KNOW they're back there!)
HG FYI! Why no sugar and protein counts, you ask? Olive Garden doesn't provide them. That's why!
CHEW ON THIS: Did you know that April is National Food Month? Um, isn't EVERY month National Food Month?!? It is to us...
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