A bowl of warming pasta is a satisfying, comforting dish that usually comes with at least 1,000 calories. It takes a lot of research to find chain restaurants with pasta dishes that are reasonably healthy to order. Don't worry—we already saved you hours of research with the better-for-you healthy restaurant chain pasta dishes below.
Most noodle dishes fall that high in calories due to the big portions of pasta. As a registered dietitian, when I recommend pasta in moderation I am talking about one cup of cooked pasta. You'll find much more pasta than that in any dish you order! Sauces are another issue with pasta dishes as they can skyrocket the saturated fat. And sodium—all pasta dishes have tons of sodium. You can keep it down a bit by ordering the sauce on the side, holding off of the cheese (which has sodium), or just halving your portion.
The dishes below keep the portion of pasta and sauces in mind. The dish gets bonus points if it provides lean protein and more veggies. If you're curious about just how much healthier these options are in the context of restaurant pasta dishes, check out 10 Unhealthiest Restaurant Pasta Dishes.
Noodles & Company LEANguini Fresca
The noodles in the LEANguini line are made with 44% lower net carbs and 50% more protein compared to traditional pasta. As portions still need to be kept within reasonable limits, a small is what you want to order.
Olive Garden Shrimp Scampi
"Of all the pastas on the menu, the shrimp scampi is one of the healthiest and most nutritionally balanced," says Mascha Davis, MPH, RDN, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and author of Eat Your Vitamins. Considered part of the lighter menu items, this classic dish includes shrimp, and angel hair pasta, and is tossed with asparagus and tomatoes over a garlic sauce. Based on the well-balanced nutrition information and various food groups in the dish, Davis calls this dish an overall "solid and healthful option."
The Cheesecake Factory Skinnylicious Chicken Pasta
"From one of their specialties under 590 calories or less, this dish is one of the best pastas on the menu," says Davis. "While the sodium could be lower, overall this dish has a decent balance of macronutrients and a high amount of protein to keep you full and satisfied."
Fazoli's Spaghetti and Meat Sauce
The spaghetti in this dish is topped with marinara sauce made with tomatoes and three beef and pork meatballs. Although it sounds indulgent, the overall calories come in at less than 600 and the saturated fat is one of the lowest you'll see in any pasta dish with meat. The sodium is on the higher end, which tends to be the deal at every establishment you order a pasta dish from.
Piada Italian Street Food Diavolo Pasta
This pasta dish is made with tomatoes and chopped green onions which help increase the veggies and fiber. For a more well-balanced meal, add chicken (not fried) or salmon.
PER ORDER: 460 calories, 98 g fat (18 g saturated fat), 780 mg sodium, 49 g carbs (3 g fiber, 6 g sugar), 9g protein
California Piza Kitchen Shrimp Scampi Zucchini
Instead of pasta, this dish is made with zucchini ribbons and flavored with lemon, garlic white wine, parsley, parmesan, and a touch of fettuccine. The calories are reasonable for a meal with the saturated fat being around 50% of the recommended daily max, but overall it's a balanced pasta dish.
Bertucci's Shrimp Rossini
One of the better pasta choices you'll find is made with sautéed shrimp, capers, and tomato cream sauce tossed with spaghetti and shaved cheese. Calories are a touch high but the saturated fat is reasonable for a pasta-based restaurant meal.
Bravo! Italian Kitchen Shrimp Scampi
This order is the "healthiest" you'll find at this restaurant. Although it's a few hundred calories higher than recommended for a meal, the saturated fat is on the lower end compared to most other choices. The sodium is very high – you can ask for the sauce on the side which can help cut back on both sodium and saturated fat if you use only a portion of it.
Lyfe Kitchen Pomodoro Penne
This lentil-pasta dish includes grilled chicken, crimini mushrooms, spinach, scallions, parmesan, and cashew creamy Alfredo. It's also gluten and tree-nut-free. The better-for-you option is certainly balanced, though I would hold back on some of the portions and take it home for later just to cut back on the portion a bit.
Yard House Sesame Shrimp Noodles
This rice noodle dish is pretty well balanced in terms of carbs, proteins, and fat; however, like most pasta dishes, it's rather high in sodium, which mainly comes from the sauce.