The Best & Worst Menu Items at Olive Garden
We know the breadsticks at Olive Garden are likely what keeps customers coming back for more, however, they do offer plenty of other choices (a whole menu's worth) and it's time to sort the unhealthiest from the moderately healthy ones. From the appetizers to the pasta dishes to the decadent desserts, we took a look at everything on the Olive Garden menu and called on Kelli McGrane MS, RD for the food tracking app Lose It! to handpick which menu items she thinks are the best for you as well as the ones she recommends you steer clear of.
Here are the best and worst Olive Garden menu items.
Worst: Loaded Pasta Chips
We think loaded pasta chips is code for loaded nachos.
"The worst appetizer option is the Loaded Pasta Chips at 1,410 calories," says McGrane.
This appetizer is not only the most caloric, but also has the most fat and sodium as well. Even something as dense as the Lasagna Fritta would be a better option at 1,070 calories, 71 grams of fat, and 1,650 milligrams of sodium. If you're splitting this among several people though, you won't completely wipe out your day's worth of fat and sodium.
Best: Chicken Fingers
"Your best bet on the appetizer list is the chicken fingers as an order provides only 220 calories, 1 gram of saturated fat, 430 mg sodium, and 0 grams of sugar, while also containing a good amount of protein with 19 grams," says McGrane. "Even if you include the marinara dipping sauce, you'll still be lower in sodium, total fat, and saturated fat than most of the other options."
Soups and Salads
Worst: Chicken and Gnocchi Soup
"It's a close call between the Chicken and Gnocchi soup and the Zuppa Toscana, however, with more than half your daily sodium needs and nearly twice as much saturated fat that's recommended per serving, the Chicken and Gnocchi soup is the least healthy," say McGrane.
Best: Minestrone Soup
"While a salad without dressing is the healthiest option, most of us want dressing on a salad. Instead, go for the Minestrone soup which has just 110 calories, 1 gram of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 4 grams of fiber, and 5 grams of protein," says McGane. "While it does contain 810 mg of sodium, unless you pick a salad without dressing, all of the soup and salad options are going to be high in sodium."
Worst: Meatball Pizza Bowl
Only Olive Garden would find a way to marry meatballs and pizza into one giant dish.
"Meatball Pizza Bowl is one of the highest calorie options. It's also the second-highest in total fat with 56 grams and 29 grams of saturated fat," says McGrane.
Even more worrisome about this meal is its sodium content—it exceeds the recommended daily allowance of 2,300 milligrams. Do you really want to consume a half day's worth of calories and the whole day's worth of sodium on lunch? We agree with McGrane when she says it's best to pass on this one.
Best: Spaghetti with Meat Sauce
Surprisingly, the least caloric and most low-in-fat option is the spaghetti with meat sauce.
"It also has the least amount of sodium of the lunch options, with 530 milligrams," says McGrane.
Grab a fork and get to twirling!
Tastes of the Mediterranean and Classic Recipes
Worst: Tour of Italy
"The Tour of Italy is by far the least healthy option on the dinner menu as it's the highest in calories, total fat, saturated fat, sodium, and sugar," says McGrane. "By polishing off this dish, you'll be consuming 1,000 milligrams more than the recommended daily limit of sodium, nearly all your calories for the day, and more than twice the recommended limit of saturated fat."
Is this really any surprise? The dish combined three main dishes—Chicken Parmigiana, Lasagna Classico, and Fettuccine Alfredo—onto one dinner plate. It's triple the calories for a reason!
Best: Shrimp Scampi
"For dinner, the shrimp scampi on the Tastes of the Mediterranean is your healthiest bet as it has just 510 calories and is one of the lowest options in saturated fat and sodium while still being high in protein," she says.
McGrane does want to point out that a meal with only 510 calories containing nearly 1,000 milligrams of sodium is still high, though. So, make sure to eat low sodium foods prior to dinner if you're going to order this option.
Worst: Garlic Parmesan Fries
"The garlic parmesan fries are the least healthy option with 260 calories, 13 grams of fat, 400 mg of sodium, and less than 1 gram of fiber," says McGrane.
To be fair, there are only four sides: garlic parmesan fries, garlic mashed potatoes, parmesan-crusted zucchini, and steamed broccoli. So, out of all of these, the fries are the least healthy.
Best: Steamed Broccoli
"The steamed broccoli is the healthiest side with just 35 calories, 0 grams of fat, only 35 mg of sodium, and high in fiber," says McGrane.
We agree! We condone any chance to add more vegetables to your plate.
Worst: Chocolate Brownie Lasagna
"The Chocolate Brownie Lasagna contains more sugar than 9 glazed donuts," says McGrane. "With a whopping 103 grams of sugar, 144 grams of carbs, 27 grams of saturated fat, and 910 calories, it's one of the least healthy options on the entire menu."
Dessert isn't supposed to be twice the size of your main meal, rather it should be half!
Best: Dolcini Mini Desserts—Amaretto Tiramisu
"Your safest bets are the Dolcini mini desserts, in particular, the amaretto tiramisu," says McGrane. "While 10 grams of saturated fat is on the higher side, it contains just 230 calories, 11 grams of sugar (the lowest of the dessert options), and 65 milligrams of sodium."
Also, how cute are these desserts? The portion size is right for these sweet treats.
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