Rome, where civilization and religion essentially began, is a place everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime. Enter a place where beauty is at every corner and one can spend hours admiring the craftsmanship put into a single building, a piece of artwork or a pasta dish that has been perfected over the years. The cuisine is something not to miss and as much a part of the experience of Rome as any other. When you experience a meal in Italy, you experience traditions that have been passed down for generations and embedded in every Italian. Meal time is family time and the typical Italian meal spans the course of 2-3 hours. There are also certain dining etiquettes one should be aware of beforehand. Check on dining etiquette in Rome. The traditional Italian meal consists of five courses. The first being an antipasti dish such as a charcuterie board or bruschetta. The main course is divided into 2 courses, the first called primo which is a pasta or rice dish, the second called secondo piatto is a meat or fish dish and contorni or side dishes may be ordered al-la cate. Dessert or dolce concludes the meal. So how does one not expand their waist line with a food culture characteristic of pizza, pasta, cheese and gelato? Here are a few tips that will allow you to enjoy the cuisine without overindulging.
1. For breakfast, order the cornetto semplice (similar to a croissant) without the fruit or cream filling. These cornettos are typically made with more sugar than croissants thus yielding a sweeter product to begin with. Biscotti are another lighter choice compared to other pastries as they typically do not contain butter. Also, opt for standing at the espresso bar to keep yourself on the go, to avoid additional charges that incur when sitting at a table and mingle with the locals.
2. Don’t feel pressured to order every course. Skip the antipasti and choose either a pasta or meat/fish course or chose to share one of each. Red sauce pastas are lighter than the cream based but there are just some dishes one must try while in Rome, Cacio e Pepe being one. Made with only butter, pecorino cheese, pepper, and pasta, the result is decadent and if done correctly the true test of Italian cuisine. Share this with your fellow diner.
3. Eat the bread with the meal not as a means to fill up before the meal arrives. Italians use the bread as an accompaniment to the meal, to scoop up the extra sauce but the bread is typically delivered to the table before the order is even placed. So you can cut an easy 200 calories by not eating 2 slices of bread before the meal.
4. Add in a hefty serving of vegetables. Artichokes and tomatoes in Rome are delicious! Order a salad and choose vegetable side dishes to accompany the main course. Or have them as your meal. For pizza and pasta, choose vegetarian.
5. Skip the dessert at lunch and dinner but enjoy single serving of gelato during the day when you are more active. Gelato is often enjoyed on-the-go by Italians. So have your sweet treat mid-day as you are walking around the city.
6. Engage in the Italian approach to mealtime. Italians eat leisurely, enjoying both the food and company. As a result they eat more slowly and allow themselves to experience the feeling of satiety before they over eat. It takes about 20 minutes for our brains to actually register that we are full. So, when you eat slowly, you will likely eat less.
And above all else, enjoy the Italian cuisine as it is not one to miss. Just keep portion sizes and moderation in mind. Buon appetito!
Lisa Stollman, MA, RDN. CDE, CDN is a nationally-renowned teen and adult weight management expert with offices in Huntington, NY and the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Lisa is the author of The Trim Traveler: How to Eat Healthy and Stay Fit While Traveling Abroad (Nirvana Press 2014) and The Teen Eating Manifesto: The Ten Essential Steps to Losing Weight, Looking Great and Getting Healthy (Nirvana Press 2012), the premier guide on healthy eating and weight management for teens. She loves to share her enthusiasm of eating healthy, traveling and staying fit. To find out more about Lisa, visit her website.