Every fall for the last four years, Olive Garden has sold its exclusive Pasta Pass, a glorified golden ticket to never-ending bowls of red-sauced rotini and creamy fettuccine Alfredo. Last year, fans were so stoked to eat free pasta for seven weeks that the chain's 21,000 passes sold out in one second—literally—and then reportedly re-sold on eBay for as much as $900.
This year, the brand decided to completely out-do itself, offering 22,000 traditional pasta passes plus an additional 50 that include a trip to Italy. Yes, you read that right: Olive Garden wants to send 50 lucky soup, salad and breadsticks lovers (and their friends!) on a trip abroad that includes all airfare, accommodations and meals while touring through Rome, Florence, Siena and Assisi for seven days in early April.
When OG's pasta passes go on sale on Thursday, September 14 at 2 p.m. ET, fans will vie for the limited pasta passes ($100) and the even rarer passport pasta passes ($200), and they'll be valid for unlimited eating at restaurants nationwide from September 25 to November 19. If you're lucky enough to snatch one up—and want to indulge in pasta with a bit less guilt—here's what you should order.
At 350 calories for the full-size portion, this choice cuts out 80 extra calories alone. (Traditional cavatappi, fettucine, spaghetti and rigatoni clock in at 430 calories each.) Not to mention you'll get a boost of fiber from the whole-grain noodles—14 grams compared to a measly 3 grams in the white pasta. Fiber can help you slim down, keep you full and keep your heart healthy and reduce your risk of diabetes.
Olive Garden's house-made red sauce is just 140 calories, which is a staggering difference from its Asiago Alfredo sauce (720 calories) and new creamy mushroom sauce (650 calories). If you want something slightly more indulgent, try mixing the traditional Alfredo sauce (660 calories) with the marinara, or opt for the five-cheese marinara that contains 330 calories. The marinara sauce is also the lowest in sodium, but still clocks in at a hefty 720 milligrams. Do your best to watch your salt intake the rest of the day, since you're only supposed to get 2,300 milligrams daily.
Ordering crispy shrimp (160 calories) or grilled chicken (170 calories) is your best bet for topping your plate of pasta. Other options, including chicken fritta and a pair of meatballs, will set you back 240 and 320 calories, respectively. Avoid the sausage altogether—just two pieces are 470 calories. Adding protein to your pasta is a smart choice because it fills you up and helps balance out the carbs in your pasta. Protein (and fat) slows down the digestion of carbohydrates so your blood sugar doesn't spike up and crash.
If you don't want to stuff yourself with a full plate of linguine, ask your server to start you with the refill portion, which can cut up to 200 calories from your order.
Another hack to your pasta pass is simply taking advantage of the complimentary soup and salad (and breadsticks) that accompany those unlimited bowls of rigatoni. The house salad is just 150 calories per serving while the minestrone soup is just 110 calories, and both pack in plenty of veggies. Pro tip: Ask for the salad dressing on the side and use it sparingly. While starting your meal with low-calorie vegetables is always a good idea, just be wary of the sodium content of the soup (810 milligrams per serving) and the salad dressing (520 milligrams per serving).
While the offer can only be redeemed when you dine in, customers can still take leftovers home. So if you're craving a linguine lunch, cut your carb intake and save half for the next day. Not only will you cut back your portion, you'll also get a second lunch from the deal.
If you're a pasta pass holder, or just an Olive Garden diner, these tips will help you eat healthier meals. But if you were to go to Olive Garden every day, even with our menu hacks, it would be hard to get all your veggies in and not go overboard on sodium. If you know you're going out for dinner, to Olive Garden or any restaurant, make sure you eat a healthy breakfast and lunch so you're going in with an advantage.
Can't get a pass this year? Try making our best Italian recipes at home for a healthier take on pasta night.