Make a healthy version of a classic: Pasta salad 2.0

Make a healthy version of a classic: Pasta salad 2.0

July is here and it is the month of fireworks, freedom and lots of delicious picnic food.

Whether you are planning on barbecuing with a group of friends at the lake or staying in your backyard, the picnic staple of pasta salad is bound to be on your menu.

While pasta salads can be the perfect side to take along to any summer party, they are often packed with excess calories, sodium and saturated fats. Pasta salads can still be a crowd pleaser without piling on mayonnaise, cheese and processed meats.

If you are at a loss at how to create a healthier alternative to your classic pasta salad recipe, but ensure it is a delicious crowd pleaser, then fret no more.

These four tips can help transform your traditional side into a nutritious and delicious option.

Pick your pasta

If you take a stroll down the pasta aisle, you are sure to notice the plethora of pasta choices available. It does not matter what shape of pasta, so go wild with penne or elbow or rigatoni.

The important matter is the pasta’s ingredients. Look for pasta made from whole wheat. Using whole wheat is great way to increase your whole grain and fiber consumption.

How do you know if your pasta is whole grain? Look at the label and make sure whole grain is the first ingredient listed. Gluten-free options may also be of benefit if you suffer from celiac disease.

Vary your veggies

Not a fan of tomatoes? No worries, you are not alone. Pasta salads can serve as a friendly vehicle for your vegetables. Paring pasta with broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers and tomatoes not only makes the dish more colorful, but it also adds texture and nutrients and can be a great way to transform the taste of that vegetable you have been struggling to like.

Pack in the protein

Protein is another key component to making your pasta salad high quality and highly satisfying. It can be a great way to transform your pasta salad from a tasty side to a fulfilling entree. Lean sources of protein aid in satiety and keep you feeling fuller for longer.

Protein sources such as salami and pepperoni have higher amounts of saturated fat that increase cholesterol. It is best to limit these meats or omit them all together.

Great sources of lean protein to add to your salad can include chopped hard-boiled eggs, cooked chicken breast, mozzarella cheese or plant-based options such as edamame or beans. However, if your pasta salad is intended to be a side dish, keep in mind that with protein, a little goes a long way.

Dress it up

Pasta salad would not be complete without a dressing, am I right? I am not here to tell you that you have to neglect a dressing to top off your salad, but I will give you more healthy options of what to drizzle on top. A dressing is supposed to enhance the salad, not drown out the ingredients. Whether you are making or buying your dressing, think of lighter options such as light mayonnaise, nonfat Greek yogurt, or using vinaigrette made with a healthy fat such as olive oil.

To keep the portions of the dressing under control, a good rule to stick to is two tablespoons of dressing per serving.

Caprese pasta salad

Servings: 10


1 13 1/4-ounce box whole-wheat penne (or other shape) pasta

4 medium tomatoes, chopped or 1-pound grape tomatoes, halved

1/2 pound fresh low-fat mozzarella cheese, in 1/2-inch cubes or fresh mozzarella “pearls”

1/3 cup chopped fresh sweet basil


1/4 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon Italian seasoning

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)

Wash hands with soap and water for 20 seconds. Gently rub tomatoes and basil under cool running water before chopping.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Rinse with cold water and drain.

In a large bowl add pasta, chopped tomatoes, cheese and basil.

In a separate bowl whisk together olive oil, vinegar and salt if desired.

Add to pasta mixture, toss and refrigerate till ready to serve.

— Nutrition information per serving: 266 calories; 9g protein; 31g carbohydrate; 4g fiber; 12g total fiber (4g saturated fat); 18 milligrams cholesterol; 22 milligrams sodium. This recipe was provided by eatwheat.org. Heckman is an intern with Penn State University and wrote July’s Practical Plates column under the supervision of Laurie Welch, Food, Families and Health educator for Lycoming and Clinton counties Penn State Extension.


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