How to Eat Healthfully & On a Budget in Italy

high protein high fat diet, how to not overeat

Hey guys! Recently got back from my weeklong trip to Italy – can’t believe it’s over but happy to be back in my swing of things.

I get a lot of questions about how to stay healthy while studying abroad, and while on vacation.

In this blog post, I’m going to talk about some general notes to keep in mind for staying healthy during these (not necessarily!) tough times.

how to eat healthy and on a budget in italy


Some General Notes About Italy


1. Order Vegetable Side Dishes  

eat healthy and on a budget in italy

Surprisingly to me, as I thought Italy would fall more under the Mediterranean cuisine, it was actually difficult for me to find the regular amount of vegetables I was used to. You may have to order additional side dishes to find veggies.


2. Portions Are Not as Big as I Assumed

I was expecting huge pizzas and pasta dishes the size of half the table, but this was not at all so!

Menus often have these options:

  • Antipasi (Appetizers) – these are appetizers – small salads, prosciutto and cheese plates, burrata, calamari, etc.

  • Primi (“The First”) – this usually includes pasta dishes like spaghetti and gnocchi

  • Secundi (“The Second/ Entrees”) – this usually includes meat or fish. If I’m hungry for more than an appetizer – I just stick with this!


You do NOT need to get all courses! It of course depends on how hungry you are, whether this is a meal or a snack, etc. but you may be a-ok with just one of the antipasti, primi, OR secundi.

Many salads in Antipasti have some good fats and proteins like fish and cheese – keepin ya full! AND the appetizer section generally has a meat and cheese plate – these are often BIG and very filling on their own.


3. You can Easily Order Gelato in a “Kid’s” Size

how to eat healthy and on a budget in italy

Along with #2 above, you can order gelato in a very small size. Research shows we appreciate the first and last bites of a meal or snack the most – so let’s minimize those middle bites! By getting a very small size, you can still enjoy yourself, but not overindulge.

I recommend getting gelato in a cup rather than a cone to minimize extra carbs and refined sugars. When gelato comes in a cup, sometimes they put a wafer cookie in it – let’s forgo this – you’re already having (basically just) sugar!


4. Save $$ by Going to a Bar Offering Aperitivo

Pretty much the coolest thing is “Aperitivo” which is available at many restaurants – you buy a drink and then have access to unlimited (I think?) appetizer food – which can EASILY be a meal. It of course depends on the restaurant/ bar, but what I saw available was pizza, salami and prosciutto, cheese, and veggies.


5. Try to Stick with 1 Starch Per Day

This is one of my general weight management “rules of thumb”, but I always try to follow it even while traveling. Starchy foods include:

  • Grains like rice, quinoa, bread, pasta, and pizza crust

  • Starchy vegetables like potatoes, beans, peas, and corn

Therefore, if you know you’re having, for example, a special pizza meal for dinner, try to stick with non-starchy food items for breakfast and lunch – like eggs for breakfast, and a salad with cheese and fish for lunch.


6. You Don’t Have to Tip at Restaurants

In fact, there’s not even a line for it! There is generally a 1-3 Euro “cover charge” which includes your waiter/ waitress service and your bottled still (“natural”) or sparkling (“frizzante”) water.


7. Let’s Skip the Oil & Bread 

If you’re following my “1 starchy food per day” rule of thumb, I’m guessing you don’t want to use it on the piece of bread you’re offered at the start of the meal. Also, the oil you dip it in, while delicious, can easily rack up 200-300 extra calories.


8. Take Food for Snacks at Breakfast Buffets  

If you’re staying at hotels, pack in your purse some extra food for snacks (or lunch!) later in the day. Choose a piece of fruit, hard boiled eggs, and a to-go packet of nutella ;) Also, as I say in my course, only eat breakfast if you’re hungry – not just to eat!


9. You’ll Get Espresso Instead of a Cup of Coffee    

I’m more used to large volumes of hot or iced coffee – so espresso by itself was a bit foreign (hehe) to me. You could get a cappuchino, but lattes weren’t on the reg. You may have to adjust your tastes here.


10. For Alcohol – Stick with Wine or Prosecco    

I generally recommend sticking to alcohol drinks without added sugars - light beer, wine, vodka or other hard alcohol with seltzer or a no-calorie mixer (like Diet Coke), prosecco, etc. 

Italy is known for their wines, so I recommend sticking with wine and prosecco in Italy! 



Where We Ate 


Here are the best places where we ate in Italy – AND some highly recommended places we were not able to visit but were mentioned by readers and Instagram followers!



 La Battaccela – This was, what we felt, our most authentic meal. We ordered burrata and tomatoes (so many veggies); mixed grilled veggies (again, so much veg - YUM!); and a mixed plate of meats (salami, prosciutto, etc.) and cheeses. This was a TON of food so go hungry!

Gelateria al Cerci – The raspberry gelato tasted pretty much exactly like mushed up raspberries (i.e., no added sugar, not too sweet) – SO GOOD. 



I Ghibellini – we didn’t actually eat here, just passed by, but it looked like they had the most incredible Appertivo (see #4 above).

Da Pinnochio got a lot of questions about this one! It’s where I found the zoodles! They were listed as a “hot salad with seafood”. 

Birthday Dinner – Zak took me here for my birthday – incredible place‼ We got the cheese and meats (salami, prosciutto, etc.) platter for an appetizer (easily a meal by itself – I would JUST get this next time!), and I got steak, and Zak got veal for our entrees.

Vennci one of the most popular gelaterias. The lemon and 75% chocolate were my favorites.


Cinque Terre

how to eat healthy and on a budget in italy

The cutest spot for day-long hiking! Cinque Terre is a region made up of 5 small towns by the ocean and you can hike in between them. It’s recommended you start your hike at the south end in Riomaggiore because it’s the easiest hike – but this path was closed when we got there (check ahead of time!). So we took the train to the farthest town (Monerosso) and hiked as backwards as far as we could. It actually worked out well because we hiked the hardest (steepest) path first – getting the hardest part over with. 

The views on the hike are incredible! We ate lunch right on the ocean in Verazio (one of the five towns). Unfortunately I can’t remember or find the name of the restaurant! 



how to eat healthy and on a budget in italy

Soho – guys, if you’re in Genoa, GO HERE. This was our best meal in Italy. The fish dishes were so fresh and lightly, but so well seasoned. We got the raw fish appetizer to start (omg.); Zak got lobster pasta (a special) for his main, and I got the seafood tower (one of their most popular meals) for my main.

Le Rune – we weren’t able to go here – but came highly recommended! Looks like a great, tucked-away lunch and dinner spot.



Reader Recommendations


Here are some highly recommended places we were not able to visit but were mentioned by readers and Instagram followers!



  • Eduardo Gelato

  • Gelateria Frigidarium Roma

  • Peruggia


  • Osteria Trattoria Da Fortunada

  • Pizza Zizza

  • Restaurants in the town of Bologna (cool Medieval town!)

  • Restaurants in the town of Reggio Emilia Romana

  • L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele (in Rome)

  • Carlo e Camilla (in Milan)

  • Gusta (in Florence)


  • Villa Borghese

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