How to Make a Healthier Pasta Salad Recipe
There are endless healthy ways to make pasta salad. But without focusing on a few key ingredients, you could be skimping on good-for-you 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.
Related: Healthy Pasta Salad Recipes
1. Choose & Cook Pasta
Whole-wheat pasta adds 2 grams of satisfying 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 bow ties or fusilli. Cook pasta and drain (but don't rinse). Spread on a large baking sheet to cool.
Start with 4 cups cooked whole-wheat pasta:
- Bow ties
2. Load Up on Veggies
Traditional pasta salads are made with mostly pasta. But here at EatingWell, we suggest you use as many cups of veggies (and/or fruit) as pasta. Doing so not only delivers delicious flavor, but it also means you'll get a healthy dose of important nutrients, such as fiber, vitamin C (e.g., from red bell peppers) and heart-healthy fats (like from avocado).
Add 4 cups fresh vegetables and/or fruits:
- Baby spinach
3. Add Lean Protein
Adding lean protein to pasta salads helps make them more satisfying, although this step is optional, especially if you'll be serving the pasta salad as a side. To keep prep time to a minimum, use convenient proteins like canned beans or tuna, cooked ham or roasted chicken. And remember, when squash, beans and corn are eaten together, they form a complete protein.
Add 1 to 2 cups lean protein:
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Cooked chicken breast
- Cooked ham (reduced- or low-sodium)
- Chunk light tuna in water
4. Add Ingredients to Boost Flavor
For the best flavorful pasta salad, don't forget to add a few 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:
- Full-flavored cheese (Parmesan, cotija, Cheddar)
- Smoked sausage
- Sun-dried tomatoes
5. Add a Homemade Dressing
If you're looking to lighten things up, but still want the creaminess of a classic pasta salad, consider swapping half of the mayo in the mix with buttermilk or yogurt. Or try a heart-healthy vinaigrette made with olive oil or canola oil.
Toss 8 cups pasta salad with 3/4 cup dressing:
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Try these healthy pasta salad recipes that follow this formula for creating a flavor-packed pasta salad.