Olive garden is a popular chain restaurant specializing in Italian cuisine. It offers appetizers, salad, pasta, chicken, meat, seafood, and desserts.
Does eating at Olive Garden come at a nutritional cost? Read on to learn the nutrition value for some of Olive Garden’s meals.
Healthier menu choices at Olive Garden
Olive Garden’s healthiest meals come from their Lighter Italian Fare menu. Olive Garden claims that their Lighter Italian Fare menu items are inspired by Italy’s Mediterranean Coast where the diet is primarily vegetables, whole grains, herbs and spices, and olive oil. Sounds good, right? But there’s a catch. Some items are a healthier meal choice on their own, but once you add soup, salad (with dressing), breadsticks, and dessert, the fat, calories, and sodium content soars. Keep this in mind as you plan your next Olive Garden meal.
1. Spaghetti and marinara
If you’re not watching carbs, traditional spaghetti and marinara sauce is one of Olive Garden’s healthier meal options.
2. Herb-grilled salmon
This salmon is topped with garlic-herb butter and served with parmesan-garlic broccoli.
3. Tilapia piccata
This mild fish is baked in a lemon-garlic sauce and topped with sundried tomatoes and capers. Parmesan-crusted zucchini completes the dish.
4. Chicken piccata
This entrée is baked in a lemon-garlic sauce and topped with sundried tomatoes and capers. Parmesan-crusted zucchini is served on the side.
5. Garlic rosemary chicken
Chicken breasts are marinated in caramelized garlic cloves and earthy rosemary for this dish. It’s served with fresh spinach for a dose of vitamin K. It also comes with garlic-parmesan mashed potatoes.
6. Shrimp scampi
For this dish, shrimp is sautéed in a garlic sauce and tossed with angel hair pasta, tomatoes, and asparagus.
7. House salad (without croutons) with low-fat dressing, and minestrone soup
Olive garden is famous for their house salad and breadsticks. Paired with minestrone soup, it’s a healthier meal, although the sodium content is high. Omit the breadstick to reduce the sodium, fat, and calories. Note that this includes one serving of each; extra salad, soup or breadsticks adds up.
8. Chocolate mousse cake
While this cake can’t be called healthy, it’s one of Olive Garden’s lighter dessert options.
9. Strawberry and white chocolate cake dolcini
Dolcini are mini desserts that are the perfect size to satisfy your sweet tooth at the end of a meal. There are a few dolcini options, but the strawberry and white chocolate cake is the lightest.
A sampling of the least healthy menu items at Olive Garden
If you’re trying to eat healthy, you may want to steer clear of these Olive Garden menu items.
1. Chicken alfredo
Anything with cheesy alfredo sauce made from butter and cream is loaded with fat and calories. Olive Garden’s Chicken Alfredo is no exception. It far exceeds your entire daily recommended intake of fat, much of it saturated fat.
2. Sausage stuffed giant rigatoni
For this meal, large rigatoni pasta is stuffed with sausage and topped with melted mozzarella cheese and meat sauce.
3. Classic calamari
Fried calamari are served with marinara and a parmesan peppercorn sauce for this appetizer.
4. Five Italian cheese fondue
Fondue is a treat for your taste buds, but not so much your waistline. This fondue is made with five types of cheeses and served with breadstick crostini.
5. Lasagna fritta
This recipe takes classic lasagna over the top by deep-frying it and topping it with alfredo sauce.
6. Chicken parmigiana
This dish is an Italian favorite. Two chicken breasts are breaded with parmesan cheese, deep-fried, and covered with melted cheese and marinara. It comes with a side of pasta.
7. Braised beef and tortellini
Braised beef, Portobello mushrooms, tortellini filled with asiago cheese, and a basil marsala sauce make up this meal.
8. Steak gorgonzola alfredo
This entrée includes steak medallions tossed with fettucine alfredo, spinach, and gorgonzola cheese. It’s one of Olive Garden’s least healthy choices.
9. Chocolate caramel lasagna
Layers of chocolate, sponge cake, caramel, and custard make up this sweet treat. Its nutritional value reflects its decadence.
The bottom line
It would be hard for Olive Garden to claim that most of their meals are nutritious. Many menu items come close to or exceed the entire daily recommended values of sodium, fat, and calories by themselves. Even so, if you watch what you eat for the rest of the day, you could enjoy a healthier meal choice at Olive Garden without wrecking your healthy eating plan.
To save on empty calories, drink water or unsweetened iced tea with your meal. Cut carbs by substituting fresh veggies for potatoes. Cut calories, fat, and sodium by sharing your meal or only eating half of it. Bring the rest home to enjoy the next day.