If you’re on the keto diet, you might think there’s nothing on the menu for you at Olive Garden, known for its breadsticks, creamy pastas, and other classic carb-heavy Italian dishes. But if you choose wisely, you can eat keto at Olive Garden.
What Does a Keto Meal Look Like?
On a ketogenic, or keto, eating plan, you follow a diet high in fat, low in carbs, and with moderate amounts of protein. Different types of keto diets call for different proportions of each nutrient. But for a 2,000-calorie diet, it might look like about 165 grams of fat, 75 grams of protein, and 40 grams carbs per day.
When you eat a low-carb diet, your body creates less glucose (its usual energy source). Instead, it burns ketones, a fuel your body produces from its own fat stores. Ketosis is the metabolic state your body goes into when you have ketones in your blood. If you eat too many carbs, you'll no longer be in ketosis.
Keto-friendly foods include:
- Full-fat dairy products
- Non-starchy vegetables such as greens
- Nuts and seeds
How to Eat Keto at Olive Garden
The key to eating keto at Olive Garden is to customize your meal. So you'll skip high-carb menu items like pasta, breadsticks, and even croutons on your salad.
Olive Garden shares the nutritional information for all its dishes online and on the menu at the restaurant, too. Before you head out to Olive Garden, look up the menu to see what suits your keto diet.
If you didn’t get a chance to plan ahead, you can ask you server about what your options are for low- carb substitutions.
Appetizers, Soups, and Salads
If you're dining inside the restaurant, start by asking your server not to bring the free breadsticks. Your best bet for an appetizer is to stick with salad or soup. Calamari or fried mozzarella might sound low-carb, but each contains more than 45 grams of carbohydrates.
If you opt for salad, order it without croutons (as listed on Olive Garden's Gluten Sensitive menu). One salad with no croutons contains 8 grams of fat, 7 grams carbs, and 2 grams protein.
Olive Garden's regular Italian dressing contributes 8 grams of fat, 2 grams of carbs, and 0 grams of protein per serving. (Avoid the low-fat dressing, which has the same amount of carbs but less fat). Or ask your server for carb-free oil and vinegar and mix your own.
Among soups on the menu, the lower-carb options include:
- Zuppa Toscana (15 grams fat, 15 grams carbs, 7 grams protein)
- Pasta fagioli (5 grams fat, 16 grams carbs, 8 grams protein)
- Minestrone (1 grams fat, 17 grams carbs, 5 grams protein)
Olive Garden's Lunch Favorites menu is loaded with carb-rich pastas. So for the most keto-friendly meal, stick to the dinner menu, no matter what time of day it is. Most entrees come with "unlimited" soup and salad. If you indulge, don't forget to include them in your daily nutrient counts.
Low-carb items you can order from the dinner menu include:
- Grilled Chicken Margherita (27 grams fat, 14 grams carbs, 65 grams protein)
- Herb-Grilled Salmon (29 grams fat, 8 grams carbs, 45 grams protein)
- Herb-Grilled Salmon Coho (15 grams fats, 8 grams carbs, 50 grams protein. As a regional menu item, this may not be available in your area.)
- 6-ounce Tuscan Sirloin (12 grams fat, 8 grams carbs, 46 grams protein)
Another option is to order a custom meal. You'll have to check with your server about what's available. But based on what's listed on the kids' "Create Your Own Pasta" menu, it might look like:
- Meatballs (no noodles), for about 13 grams fat, 2 grams carbs, and 8 grams protein. Top with tomato sauce for another 5 grams fat, 8 grams carb, and 1 grams protein.
- Shrimp (0 grams fat, 0 grams carbs, 10 grams protein) with Alfredo sauce (43 grams fat, 5 grams carbs, 8 grams protein), plus steamed broccoli (0 grams fat, 7 grams carbs, 4 grams protein) on the side.
- Grilled chicken (2.5 grams fat, less than 1 grams carb, 26 grams protein) with tomato or alfredo sauce. Add steamed broccoli if you like.
Dessert and Drinks
If you want to stay in ketosis, pass on the dessert menu.
Olive Garden has a long list of beers, wines, and cocktails on its beverage menu. Most are packed with calories, sugars, and carbs. It's best to stick to water, coffee, or unsweetened tea. But if you just can't resist, a small glass of white or rosé wine will run you about 4 grams of carbs.