Eating out on the ketogenic diet can be hard, but it’s especially hard if the place you’re going to specializes in never-ending Italian pasta bowls and bottomless breadsticks. The good news is, you can eat keto at Olive Garden
While the family-style Italian restaurant specializes in pasta-based dishes, you’ll be happy to know there is something for you if you’re on a low carb or ketogenic diet. In fact, their options are a lot healthier than going for a bunless burger from Burger King or other fast food chains.
Our favorite low carb and keto Olive Garden meals are the herb-grilled salmon filet with broccoli and grilled chicken with veggies. There are, however, a few things to watch out for.
We’re here to show you how to eat low-carb at Olive Garden so you can safely stay in ketosis or fat-burning mode.
Tips For Eating Low Carb at Olive Garden
Olive Garden is open from about 11 AM until 11 PM, so it’s a good place to go for lunch or dinner. You can find nutritional information for all of the dishes at Olive Garden on their website.
This won’t help you much if you plan to customize your order, but it will give you an idea about how many calories you’re taking in.
If you know you’ll be dining at Olive Garden for lunch or dinner, you might want to eat a small, keto-friendly snack beforehand so that you’re not starving when you get there. This will help you make a smart food decision.
Here are some other tips for making it through a meal at Olive Garden.
#1. Have a plan
It’s easy to walk into a place like Olive Garden and get swept away by the ambiance. Everyone around you will probably be drinking wine, eating breadsticks, and washing it all down with a humongous pasta dish.
Develop a plan ahead of time by figuring out what you’re going to order and stick to it when you go in there so you’re not tempted to eat something you shouldn’t.
#2. Stick with a salad
We admit that the amount of pasta and bread-based choices at Olive Garden is overwhelming. But you can always count on a salad to get you by, at least for one meal.
Olive Garden doesn’t offer many salad dishes except for their famous house salad. But it comes in a big bowl and you can get as much of it as you want. Just be sure to ask for no croutons or dressing unless it’s olive oil and vinegar.
From here, you can ask for a side dish of a piece of grilled meat of your choice and you’ll have a low-carb meal.
#3. Ask for double vegetables instead of pasta
Almost every dish you order at Olive Garden comes with some form of pasta. Even their gluten-free menu contains gluten-free pasta (which still contains too many carbs to be eaten on a keto diet) with very few other choices.
The best dish we’ve found on their menu is the herb-grilled salmon, which comes with a salmon filet topped with garlic herb butter and a side of parmesan garlic broccoli.
Now that you know they serve broccoli, you can ask for this instead of any pasta that comes with a typical dish!
#4. Ask for zoodles
Olive Garden used to offer zoodles on the menu, which are noodles made from zucchini. They are low-carb and offer an excellent alternative to regular pasta.
However, we don’t see them on the menu anymore. You can always ask your serve if they serve zoodles. If so, you can swap regular noodles for zoodles to make almost any dish low carb!
#5. Watch out for the sauce
Italians love creamy sauces, which isn’t usually a problem for ketogenic dieters if they contain the right ingredients.
Expect the sauces at Olive Garden to contain milk, refined sugars, vegetable oils, and other preservatives or food additives that are not keto-friendly.
Even some tomato-based sauces contain added sugars and flour to enhance the flavor and thicken the texture, so be mindful of this when ordering.
The same goes for soup. We don’t see any soups on the menu that are ketogenic-friendly, and we’re almost certain they contain flour to help thicken them up.
#6. Ask for grilled meat
Olive Garden has some great grilled chicken and meat options, but make sure you skip any accompanying sauces. Swap any potato sides for salad or broccoli.
Before ordering any dish, make sure the meat is grilled and not breaded or else you might find yourself picking the breading off the meat.
Also, beware of meatballs. They might look like a great idea because they contain lots of meat, but most meatballs contain breadcrumbs as a binding agent.
What To Order at Olive Garden
You’ll still need to customize the following dishes to fit your low-carb needs, but we’ll show you what to order. Here are the keto-friendly choices if you customise them:
- Chicken Giardino (ask to hold the pasta and have extra vegetables instead)
- Salmon Piccata or Chicken Piccata (ask for steamed broccoli instead of parmesan-crusted zucchini, which is breaded and fried)
- Grilled chicken Margherita
- Herb Grilled Salmon
- Chicken Marsala (ask to hold the sauce and noodles or get a side of steamed broccoli instead)
- Grilled Chicken Parmigiana (ask if they can hold the breadcrumbs on the chicken and do a side of steamed broccoli instead of spaghetti)
- Five-Italian Cheese Fonduta (you can order this and use it on top of a piece of grilled meat)
- 6 ounce sirloin (order this with broccoli instead of other side dishes)
- Chicken Scampi (ask for no sauce and double vegetables instead of the pasta)
If none of these options look good to you, then you can always go with the old standby of a bed of lettuce and your choice of grilled meat.
Olive Garden should have some type of oil and vinegar dressing as an option, so be sure to order this instead of their house dressing.
Don’t be afraid to order off the menu or create your own dish. Customize your salad with double meat, cheese, olives, avocado if they have it, and lots of low-carb veggies.
Dishes To Avoid at Olive Garden
While some pasta dishes at Olive Garden are customizable, there are plenty that aren’t.
The following dishes contain so many ingredients unsuitable for a low-carb diet that it’s just not worth your time trying to make them low-carb-friendly. Beware of the soups too. Even the ones that don’t come with pasta have potatoes or beans which aren’t permitted if you eat keto.
Here are some examples of foods to stay away from at Olive Garden.
- All appetizers, including lasagna dip, loaded pasta chips, stuffed mushrooms, and parmesan zucchini bites
- All soups
- Seafood and chicken Alfredo
- All ravioli and lasagna dishes
- Fettuccine Alfredo
- Eggplant and Chicken Parmigiana
- Tour of Italy
- Five cheese Ziti al Forno
- Spaghetti and meat sauce
- All desserts
- All sweetened beverages, such as fruit smoothies, white wine, soda, and sweetened tea
- All gluten-free pastas
- All pasta dishes that cannot be customized and swapped for vegetables
Trying to eat low-carb at Olive Garden is no easy task. The good news is that you can easily customize your order or make up a dish based on what you can eat since it’s a sit-down restaurant and not a fast food joint.
The best low-carb dish we found is the herb-grilled salmon, but we also listed a few others that you can custom order to make it low-carb.
If all else fails, we recommend ordering a side salad with olive and vinegar dressing and getting a side dish of the grilled meat of your choice. Top your salad with extra cheese, olives, bacon, double meat, and low-carb veggies.
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