Restaurant Eating Without the Bulge

By Katherine Tallmadge, M.A., R.D.


Restaurant Eating Without The Bulge
Italian Dining Without Adding a Notch To Your Belt
Pasta Dishes
Pasta Menu Recommendations
Salads and Sides
Salad, Sides and Appetizer Recommendations
Main Courses
Main Course Recommendations
Pizzas and Subs
Dessert Recommendations

Restaurant Eating Without The Bulge

I love going out to restaurants. The whole ambiance is delightful. I enjoy the solicitude of the staff, watching the people, and simply taking a quiet hour or two to relax and enjoy good food. There are times when I go out and choose healthfully, and there are other times I enjoy a good splurge and overindulge, either choice is perfectly normal.

For me, eating out is a special occasion. For millions of Americans, however, it’s a way of life. I know more than a few people who eat out all three meals 5, 6, even 7 days a week. That’s when restaurant food could present problems if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Let’s face it, one reason that the dishes we get in restaurants are so delicious is that they’re swimming in richness, and chefs choose their ingredients and cooking methods for their effects on the palate, not for their health properties or low-calorie contents. An occasional splurge won’t do any lasting damage. Indulging – or, to be frank, overindulging – on a regular basis will add some serious weight if you aren’t careful.

If you eat out frequently, I recommend some basics. Before you go, or even decide on a restaurant, look at the restaurant’s website and menu so that you know what to expect and make a note of some of the courses you think would be tasty yet healthy. This way, you’re not so tempted by the sights and smells of the fattening foods you’ll inevitably be surrounded by once you get there.

Second, if you have read about the restaurant and chef, then you may have some idea of how heavy-handed the chef is with butter or other fattening ingredients; or whether the restaurant serves a sole diner a portion that could feed four. But if the place is new to you then look around you for clues. Take a walk to the rest rooms and look at the food on other diners’ plates. How big are the servings? Are the meats, veggies, pastas swimming in sauce? What do you smell? Don’t be afraid to ask the wait staff for help. Finally, it is ok to ask for a take-home bag if the serving size is too much.

Set some priorities. Suppose, for example, you’ve booked four meals out this week. You certainly won’t lose weight, and you may even gain weight, if you eat with abandon each time. What you can do, however, is decide in advance that one of those nights is going to be your “splurge night.” Order anything you want. Enjoy every bite. Savor each and every one of those special calories. On the other three nights, order more carefully. You’ll still enjoy the experience of dining out, but you won’t take in more calories than your poor body can handle. In my book, Diet Simple, I call this strategy “The 25 Percent Blowout.”

Some diet plans and nutrition fanatics forbid, or at least discourage, eating at restaurants and enjoying yourself with abandon at all. I cannot agree. My Diet Simple approach is designed to help you enjoy your meals – enjoy life, for that matter – feel satisfied, but maintain your health and a healthy weight. Eating out with friends or family is a wonderful experience. No eating plan has a chance to last if it’s not enjoyable. What I do advise is eating (and ordering) smart. By all means, enjoy your meals away from home – but take a few simple steps to keep the calories under control.

In my new column for, starting soon, I’m taking the guess-work out of restaurant dining to help you choose healthier, lighter meals – and not just settle for fish and vegetables (though this is sometimes the most delicious choice when made by a great chef). Each month, we’ll choose three similarly – themed restaurants at differing price scales. I will give you specific menu suggestions which will allow you to enjoy your restaurant experience without adding a notch to your belt!

To give you some perspective, the average woman should eat about 1,800 to 2000 calories daily to maintain her weight. The average man, about 2,200 to 2400. My menu recommendations are based on this assumption. But a person’s calorie needs can vary widely depending on his height, weight, age and degree of fitness and activity level. To find your individualized calorie needs for weight maintenance, weight loss or even weight gain, find the personalized formula in “Stoking Your Metabolism.”

Once you determine your days’ calorie needs, I find people feel best and avoid blood sugar and appetite highs and lows, with their accompanying cravings, when they eat 1/3 of their days’ calories in the morning, 1/3 mid-day and no more than 1/3 of their days’ calories in the evenings. So, for the gals, that means your meals should be no more than about 600 calories, but if you prefer to have more food at dinner – my recommendation would be 800 at the most for a dinner out. For the guys, meals are no more than 750 calories – or 900 max for dinner out. These rules aren’t carved in stone, but they’ll give you some context when I give you recommendations or you go to a restaurant’s website to view the calorie content of some of their offerings.

Italian dining without adding a notch to your belt… at high end “Tosca,” mid-range “DaMarco” and inexpensive “Olive Garden”

The beauty of traditional Italian cooking is its simplicity: Italians have a no-fuss approach to cooking so their extraordinary ingredients shine. A little olive oil, salt and pepper, maybe an herb or two,– and voila… a light, healthy masterpiece! But for this magic to happen, the freshness of the basic ingredients is vital. Italians (in Italy) have access to the most delicious produce, nuts, grains, olive oil, pasta, cheese, seafood in the world – because they still get it from their own backyards, the neighborhood farm or the fisherman nearby. This freshness and high quality is why simplicity works – no complex cooking styles or sauces necessary, which in turn, keeps calories down and health up, especially because serving sizes are still traditionally small.

But this is where real Italian cooking and most American Italian restaurants part ways. Most Americans expect a lot of food on the plate for their money. We call it “value.” But when restaurants are expected to serve such huge amounts of food for low prices, the quality of the ingredients suffer, fattier methods of cooking, and gooier sauces are used to compensate. This is one reason why Americans who regularly eat in restaurants are fatter, according to research. In fact, one study found if a person ate in a restaurant 12 times or more per month, they were eating 20% more calories… and that can pack on the pounds very quickly!

This is not to say it’s impossible to eat healthfully in an American Italian restaurant. You just have to go in with your eyes wide open! Of course, as in any restaurant, the no-brainer healthy selection is a salad-like appetizer, a simple seafood preparation, such as grilled fish, and fruit for dessert.

But when in Rome, we want to do what the Romans do – and that’s eat pasta! Drink wine! Linger over several courses of beautiful food…! More on the Mediterranean Diet…

I’ll be giving you many examples of delicious and light menu choices so take heart. You don’t need to be disappointed – just alert and careful… Italians do interesting things with vegetables and seafood. Mussels and clams cooked in broths, or raw bar style. The beef or seafood carpaccios are excellent light and tasty choices. And always check the side-dishes and appetizers. Small servings of pastas that involve vegetables and light sauces are tasty examples. Of course, if we ate more Italian-sized portions and preparations, we’d be fine. Italians in Italy eat lightly – small pasta portions, salads, vegetables, and simple grilled fish.

Pasta Dishes

This is where Tosca ( shines. There, you’ll find house-made pastas in the traditional Italian amount of “six to eight ounces per pasta dish,” (about one-and-a-half to two cups of cooked pasta) said Executive Chef, Massimo Fabbri.

Da Marco Ristorante (, on the other hand, fills their plates to capacity. “Every pasta dish contains at least three to four cups of cooked pasta,” said Chef Giuliana Fortini, the wife of owner Marco Fortini, who makes the fettuccini and the raviolis from scratch.

For comparison’s sake, cooked pasta is 200 calories per cup (two ounces dry), quite low in calories, that is if the portion is the smaller, traditional Italian size. Of course, that’s before the olive oil, meats, cheese or sauces are added (that’s the fattening part).

Keeping that in mind, a pasta dish at Da Marco with its three to four cups of pasta would start at 600 to 800 calories before any toppings are added. That means a whole pasta dish would be a meal for two people once it has its toppings, as owner Marco Fortini likes to be generous with his meats and cheeses and says he serves at least ¼ lb. with his dishes. One pasta dish at Da Marco would feed three people in Italy as a first course, and maybe four people, depending on the amount of meat, cheese, and sauce used in the dish. So, I recommend you share one pasta dish between three or four people if you would like additional courses, such as wine, salad, a main course or a dessert.

At Tosca, with the additional meats and sauces, I would consider a pasta dish an entire meal for one person, depending on the toppings, as it would be several hundred calories lighter than a Da Marco pasta dish, containing half the pasta. But, it would still be at least 400 calories, so if you’d like to have another course at Tosca, share your pasta dish with one or more people or, says Chef Fabbri, “ask for a half portion.”

At Olive Garden (, based on the calorie and nutrient content of their dishes, which can be found on line, I believe the pasta dishes – calorie-wise, if not quality-wise – are comparable to the dishes at Da Marco, averaging 1,000 calories, based on the serving size information given me by Mr. and Mrs. (Chef) Fortini.

Pasta Menu Recommendations

I recommend sharing all of the pasta dishes or getting a half portion


Pasta alla chitarra integrale con salsa di pomodoro e pomodorini ciliegia

Housemade whole wheat square spaghetti with tomato sauce and cherry tomatoes

Linguine ai frutti di mare e pomodoro leggermente piccante

Linguini with a seafood assortment in a lightly spicy tomato sauce

Raviolini ripieni di pomodoro biologico saltati all acqua di pomodoro

su salsina al pesto

Raviolini filled with organic tomato pulp, sauteed with tomato water

and served on a basil pesto sauce

Pappardelle alla carota biologica con ragu di coniglio locale e timo fresco

Carrot flavored pappardelle with a rabbit ragu in a white wine sauce and fresh thyme

Da Marco

Linguine or penne pasta
Pasta with homemade tomato sauce

Penne Caprese
Penne pasta with cubes of fresh mozzarella and tomatoes with a light touch of anchovy paste and balasamic vinegar

Gnocchi di patate
Housemade potato dumplings served in a pesto or tomato sauce

Linguine con le Vongole
Linguine pasta with clams in a tomato or white wine sauce

Linguine ai Gamberi
Linguine pasta with fresh shrimp in a white wine and garlic sauce (avoid the rose sauce which is made with butter and cream)

Fettuccine ai Funghi Porcini
Fresh housemade pasta with imported Porcini mushrooms, extra virgin olive oil and garlic

Olive Garden

Linguine alla Marinara

Children’s Menu Spaghetti & Tomato Sauce

Salads and Sides

In all of these restaurants, it’s tricky to have more than one course. Even the salads and appetizers can contain the calories of whole meals. For instance, the salads at Da Marco contain one quarter pound of cheese or meats, according to Fortini, which is the maximum recommended by health experts for an entire meal – and alone can contain 400 calories, or more. The cheese/nuts salads at Tosca, according to Chef Fabbri, provide two ounces of cheese and one ounce of nuts, also about 400 calories. With dressing, that will come to 500 + calories for a salad in both restaurants. So, if the salad contains cheese or meats, it is your main course. Add a glass of wine, and fruit for dessert and consider it dinner!

On the other hand, if you order the house salad, ¼ pasta portion in Da Marco or Olive Garden or ½ pasta portion in Tosca, you may be able to choose a light entrée and still have a glass of wine (woo hoo!).

Salads, Sides, and Appetizer Recommendations


Insalata mista organica delle fattorie al condimento di aceto balsamico e olio novello

Organic mix greens salad with balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil dressing

Capesanta arrosto su purea di fave, pancetta la quercia e salsa al tartufo nero

Roasted scallops with pureed fava beans, braised domestic Pancetta

and black truffle sauce

Zuppetta fredda di sedano con mortadella in due modi, e pistacchi Italiani

Chilled celery soup with Mortadella two ways and Italian pistachios

Sautéed cauliflower

Sautéed mushrooms

Warm spinach salad with pine nuts

Grilled asparagus “grandmother style”

Da Marco

House Salad:
Mixed greens in balsamic & extra virgin olive oil w/cucumber, tomatoes, onion

Fresh tomatoes, basil and garlic on toasted Italian bread

Black and green olive spread on toasted bread with a side of artichokes

Olive Garden

Chicken & Gnocchi (One serving)

Garden-Fresh Salad


Mussels di Napoli

Pasta e Fagioli

Zuppa Toscana

Main Courses

In all three restaurants, many of the main courses contain at least one half pound of meat, chicken or seafood. This is too much for most people to eat in one meal. Usually, the health recommendation is three to four ounces of protein per meal. But I can look the other way with 6 ounces if the seafood or meat is extremely lean, such as shellfish or a white fish. But, you’d be better off sharing the protein in most main courses, then ordering extra vegetables to round out the meal. Da Marco owner, Marco Fortini says his chicken and veal main courses contain about eight ounces of meat.

Tosca’s Branzino is about seven ounces, the pork tenderloin about 10 – 12 ounces and the Halibut about eight ounces, according to Chef Fabbri. Fabbri also stresses that only one tablespoon of sauce is used with the meats and fish, keeping calories down “otherwise it’s a soup!” he says he “just brushes the top for color.”

Some appetizers or salads make excellent main courses and contain just the right amount of protein for a healthy meal. This way, you can afford a salad, pasta, some wine, and maybe even dessert (YAY)!

Main Course Recommendations


Branzino del Mediterraneo con zabaglione all’aceto balsamico

e spinaci ai pinoli ed uvette (recommend sharing)

Roasted Mediterranean sea bass with a balsamic vinegar sabajon

and sautéed spinach with pine nuts and raisins

Filetto di maiale in crosta di funghi selvatici, fagiolata marinata all’aglio novello, zucchini biologici e salsa al Marsala (recommend sharing)

Wild mushroom crusted pork tenderloin, bean salad marinated with spring garlic,

organic zucchini and Marsala wine sauce

Halibut arrosto in crosta di nocciole Piemontesi, baby granturco, fagiolini

e salsa al burro e limone (recommend sharing)

Pan roasted Halibut in a Piedmont hazelnut crust served with baby corn, green beans

and butter-lemon sauce

Duo di carpaccio di pesce alla Tosca

Tosca interpretation of artic char and tuna carpaccio

Insalata di astice con pomodori heriloom, cetrioli “diva”, pisellin e Bellavista

Lobster salad with heirloom tomatoes, diva cucumbers, english peas and Bellavista

Capesanta arrosto su purea di fave, pancetta la quercia e salsa al tartufo nero

Roasted scallops with pureed fava beans, braised domestic Pancetta

and black truffle sauce

Da Marco

Vitello Pizzaiola (recommend sharing)
Tender slices of veal sautéed with red wine topped with homemade tomato sauce with a side of linguine tomato sauce

Filetto di Pesce (recommend sharing)
Lighly fried tilapia with a side of housemade fettuccine in a lemon or tomato sauce

House Salad
Mixed greens in balsamic & extra virgin olive oil w/cucumber, tomatoes, onion with grilled chicken or shrimp

Olive Garden

Herb-Grilled Salmon

Venetian Apricot Chicken

Children’s Menu Grilled Chicken with pasta & broccoli

Children’s Menu Cheese Pizza

Children’s Menu Chicken Fingers with Broccoli

Pizzas and Subs

For the more casual Italian meal, you may prefer a pizza or submarine sandwich. My recommendation: Be Ready to Share!

The sub sandwiches in Da Marco are probably at least 1,000 calories each. The bread, when weighed by Chef Fortini, is 1/3 pound – that’s about 5 ounces. And with most plain breads being 70 to 80 calories per ounce that means the bread alone is 350 to 400 calories. Then they “fill the sub so it’s as full as possible, so for example one-third pound of meat is typical (another 250 calories – it it’s lean, to 500 calories – for cured, fatty Italian meats). Then we add oil (another 100+), vinegar, cheese (another 100+) and vegetables,” said Chef Fortini. “People usually eat a whole one.” Oops!

I have the same recommendation for the “individual” pizzas. Olive Garden’s starts at 910 calories. With meat toppings, add another 260 calories. Veggies only add 40 calories at the most. Da Marco’s pizza with a 14” thin crust probably starts at about 1,500 calories, plain.

My recommendation would be to have a salad and a portion of the pizza – “individual” or not!


We all love sweets, but they tend to be calorie bombs. So, to treat myself, I occasionally (not too often) will eat a dessert for dinner. When I was growing up, one of my favorite dinners cooked by my Swedish mother was crepes with lingonberries and whipped cream. Yummy! Who wants to waste calories on the dinner when all you really want is the Tiramisu, the cappuccino mousse cake, or the warm cherry cobbler with vanilla ice cream? They’re usually just as many calories as the whole meal. Or, if you simply can’t go that deeply into debauchery, I recommend a very light, healthy dinner of, say, lobster tail and salad, or tuna carpaccio with greens or a light seafood soup … followed by the fattening dessert of your choice. Either way, you can have your cake and eat it too! But the following recommendations are exceptions and shouldn’t add a notch to your belt.

More on Sweets

Dessert Recommendations


Granita al cocomero e melone

Watermelon and cantaloupe granita

Selection of 3 sorbets

Da Marco

Ooops… can’t find anything… except for those “calorie bombs” I discussed

Olive Garden

Berries & Zabaione

Children’s Menu Sundae


I’m a great believer in wine’s therapeutic value and almost never eat a meal in a great Italian restaurant without a glass. Wine is only 25 calories per ounce – a glass contains anywhere from 4 – 6 ounces. And, as long as we follow health recommendations: maximum 5 ounces daily for women and 10 ounces daily for men, I always encourage my clients to celebrate their meals with a good “salute!” And plenty of eau du Potomac is always at arms’ reach as well! (no bottled water, please, for the environment’s sake!)

More on Wine’s Benefits

Call Katherine: 202-833-0353 or Email Her
For more fabulous tips and simple, effective ways to lose weight,
buy her book, Diet Simple!

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