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Nutritionists Tell Us Their Go-To Healthy Orders at Olive Garden

What do lasagna, alcohol and breadsticks have in common? They're often shunned by dieters determined to lose weight.

They also all make an appearance on Olive Garden's menu—but don't let that scare you away if you're a fan of the restaurant. As it turns out, these sinful sounding dishes are the very things diet experts are ordering when they dine there—we asked them ourselves. Though there's no denying that a number of the chain's dishes are in desperate need of a nutritional makeover, if you stick to the expert-sanctioned picks below you can rest assured your meal will be delicious and flat belly-friendly.

Chicken Meatballs & Roasted Parmesan Asparagus

"When dining at Olive Garden, I suggest building a meal from the appetizer section of the menu. I like the Roasted Parmesan Asparagus (minus the aioli) or a Garden salad with low-fat dressing along with the Chicken Meatballs. These combinations provide more than 30 grams of protein, filling fiber and some fat, which helps keep you satiated. If you have to have the breadsticks, stick with just one and skip the dipping sauces. The buttery breadsticks are tasty enough on their own!" — Alissa Rumsey, a NYC based Registered Dietitian and Owner of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition & Wellness Consulting

Soup, Salad & Breadstick Combo

"If I found myself at Olive Garden, I would ask for a salad with low-fat dressing on the side, one or two un-buttered breadsticks and a bowl of minestrone soup. Keep in mind that portions can quickly get out of control at these types of restaurants. Don't be sucked in by never-ending portion promises and push away from the table before you're tempted to go back for more." Lisa Cimperman, MS, RDN, LD, Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

Steak Toscano

"I recently went to Olive Garden after dropping my kids off at camp and ordered the Steak Toscano with steamed broccoli. I ate about half and had my server pack the rest up to go. It was surprisingly delicious and provided me with high-quality filling protein, fiber, calcium, vitamins A, B C, and K as well as folate, a nutrient that may play a role in reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke as well as some cancers." Elisa Zied, MS, RDN, CDN, author of Younger Next Week

olive garden lasagna classico

Red Wine & Lasagna Classico

"When I go to Olive Garden, I tend to eat simply and classically. I'll start with a glass of red wine and order the Lasagna Classico. I'll enjoy half the serving and box up the remaining half for another day. A half-serving has 480 calories, 28 grams of protein, 29 grams of fat and 1,180 milligrams of sodium. I also enjoy a serving of the Famous House salad at just 140 calories. While this meal isn't necessarily low in fat, sodium or calories, it's incredibly delicious and satisfying and doesn't totally derail my diet." Christine M. Palumbo, MBA, RDN, FAND, a Chicago-area registered dietitian and nutrition communications consultant

Cucina Mia! Custom Pastas

"The make-your-own pasta option at Olive Garden is a smart pick because it allows you to tailor your meal to your nutritional needs. I'd order the gluten-free rotini with primavera sauce and sautéed shrimp and ask for a side of steamed broccoli to add to my dish. The shrimp is a lighter protein option, the primavera provides some vegetables and the broccoli increases the fiber, vitamin and mineral content of the dish." — Nicole Cormier, RD, LDN, owner of Delicious Living Nutrition

"I love Olive Garden's new Cucina Mia offerings that let you design your own pasta dish. I would go for the whole-wheat linguini with primavera sauce and grilled chicken. The trio of ingredients provides all the elements of a balanced plate: whole-grain carbs, vegetables, and lean protein. Plus, the tomato-based sauce is a great source of vitamin C. The key at Olive Garden is to watch the portions and either share a pasta or take half of your meal home." — Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN, nutrition communications consultant and founder of Nutritioulicious

Citrus Chicken Sorrento

"When dining at Olive Garden, I like to order the Citrus Chicken Sorrento from the Lighter Fare menu. It's very flavorful and only has about 400 calories. It's also high in protein, has a low-carb profile and comes with a healthy serving of antioxidant-rich veggies. It leaves me feeling satisfied, not bloated and heavy." Lauren Minchen MPH, RDN, CDN, a Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist based in New York City

olive garden herb grilled salmon

Herb-Grilled Salmon

"A meal comprised of Olive Garden's Herb-Grilled Salmon with broccoli and a house side salad—sans croutons—is a nutritionally sound meal with about 560 calories. Salmon is a healthy choice because it's lower in calories than many other protein options and just one serving provides 50 percent of the recommended daily intake of omega-3 fatty acids." — Jim White RD, ACSM HFS, Owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios

"The Herb-Grilled Salmon is a smart entrée choice because it's made up of the ideal trio of nutrients: protein and healthy fats from the fish, and fiber from the side of broccoli. Plus, ordering this meal over most of the other entrée options saves you a ton of calories—up to 600 in some cases!" Torey Armul, registered dietitian nutritionist and Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

Garlic Rosemary Chicken

"If I'm not in the mood for salmon, I order the Garlic Rosemary Chicken. It has a delicious herb-infused flavor and comes with spinach and mashed potatoes. Sometimes I'll tell my server to hold the potatoes and ask for extra spinach, which is rich in iron, calcium, magnesium and Vitamin K, a nutrient that plays a vital role in bone health." Ilyse Schapiro MS, RD, a registered dietitian with private practices in New York and Connecticut

Garden Primavera Pasta

"My favorite lunch dish from the Lighter Italian Fare Menu is filled with fiber-rich vegetables and tomato sauce, and has a reasonable calorie count because of its smaller portion size. It's definitely one of the better dishes you can order." — Leah Kaufman, MS, RD, CDN of Leah Kaufman Nutrition


Dana Leigh Smith
Dana has written for Women's Health, Prevention, Reader's Digest, and countless other publications. Read more about Dana Leigh