How to Make a Healthier Pasta Salad Recipe

Get tips for how to make a healthier pasta salad recipe.

There are endless healthy ways to make pasta salad. While pasta salad is a crowd-pleaser, traditional recipes typically weigh in at over 500 calories per serving. They also skimp on the good stuff like whole grains, crunchy vegetables, fresh herbs and lean protein. Our step-by-step guide includes lots of ideas for great flavor combinations to help you make a healthier pasta salad and our featured pasta salad recipes are all under 315 calories per 11/3-cup serving.

Stacy Fraser, Test Kitchen Manager

Download our FREE How to Make Broccoli & Feta Pasta Salad Guide!

Watch Us Make Healthy Pasta Salad


Choose & Cook Pasta

1. Choose & Cook Pasta

Whole-wheat pasta adds 2 grams of heart-healthy fiber per ounce of dry pasta versus white pasta. The amount of dry pasta to start with depends on the shape. To get 4 cups of cooked pasta, use 2 cups elbow macaroni, 2 1/2 cups shells, 3 cups bowties or fusilli. Cook pasta and drain (but don’t rinse). Spread on a large baking sheet to cool.


Load Up on Veggies

2. Load Up on Veggies

Use as many cups of veggies (and/or fruit) as pasta. This keeps your pasta salad healthy and slashes the calories compared with typical versions that are made with mostly pasta.

Ideas for Vegetables and Fruit to Add to Pasta Salad:
• Arugula
• Artichoke hearts
• Baby spinach
• Broccoli
• Fennel bulb
• Melon
• Mushrooms
• Onion
• Peas
• Peppers
• Tomatoes
• Zucchini


Add Lean Protein

3. Add Lean Protein

Adding lean protein to pasta salads helps make them more satisfying. To keep prep time to a minimum, use convenient proteins like canned beans or tuna, cooked ham or roasted chicken. You’ll want to add 1 to 2 cups lean protein to a pasta salad made with 4 cups of pasta.

Ideas for Pasta Salad Proteins:
• Hard-boiled eggs
• Cooked chicken breast
• Cooked ham (reduced- or low-sodium)
• Beans
• Chunk light tuna


Add Ingredients to Boost Flavor

4. Add Ingredients to Boost Flavor

For the best flavorful pasta salad, don’t forget to add a few higher-calorie or salty ingredients like cheese, cured meats or pickled vegetables. Chop them small so you get a little bit of big flavor in each bite. Add 1/2 to 1 cup total for a pasta salad made with 4 cups of cooked pasta.

Flavor-Boosting Ingredients for Pasta Salad:
• Capers
• Full-flavored cheeses
• Olives
• Pepperoncini
• Prosciutto
• Salami
• Sun-dried tomatoes


Pictured Recipe: Creamy Buttermilk Dressing

5. Use a Lightened Pasta Salad Dressing

Skip high-calorie creamy dressings and use a lighter version made with low-fat mayonnaise and buttermilk. Or try a heart-healthy vinaigrette made with olive oil.

Toss: 8 cups of prepared pasta salad with 3/4 cup dressing:

Creamy Buttermilk Dressing
Mash 1 clove garlic and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a bowl into a paste. Whisk in 1/2 cup buttermilk, 1/4 cup low-fat mayonnaise, 3-4 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (see Combos, left) and 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar until smooth. Makes about 3/4 cup.

Herb Vinaigrette
Whisk 1/4 cup each extra-virgin ­olive oil, reduced-sodium chicken broth and red-wine vinegar in a bowl with 3-4 table­spoons chopped fresh herbs (see Combos, left), 2table­spoons finely chopped shallots and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Makes about 3/4 cup.


Recipes to Try

Recipes to Try

Try these healthy pasta salad recipes that follow our tips for creating a flavor-packed pasta salad.

Antipasti Pasta Salad
Broccoli & Feta Pasta Salad
Melon & Chicken Pasta Salad
Vegetable & Tuna Pasta Salad
Peas & Ham Pasta Salad