While pasta salad is a crowd-pleaser at potlucks and picnics, traditional recipes typically weigh in at over 500 calories per serving. They also skimp on good, healthy ingredients like whole grains, crunchy vegetables, fresh herbs and lean protein. Here are our 5 secrets for making a healthier pasta salad that's full of flavor, plus 5 pasta salad recipes all under 315 calories per serving.
1. Pick the Right 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.
2. Load Up on Veggies
Veggies add color, crunch and fresh flavor to pasta salad. 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 PastaSalad:
• Artichoke hearts
• Baby spinach
• Fennel bulb
Recipe to Try: Vegetable & Tuna Pasta Salad
3. Use 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)
• Chunk light tuna
Recipe to Try: Peas & Ham Pasta Salad
4. Don't Forget to Add 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:
• Full-flavored cheeses
• Sun-dried tomatoes
Recipe to Try: Antipasti Pasta Salad
5. Use a Lightened 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--with all of the other flavorful ingredients you'll never taste the difference or miss the extra fat and calories.
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.
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), 2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Makes about 3/4 cup.
What do you put in your pasta salad?
By Stacy Fraser
Stacy Fraser is Test Kitchen manager at EatingWell. With a background in ecological agriculture and many past growing seasons under her belt, Stacy began her study of food in the field, literally. Before joining the crew at EatingWell, Stacy managed the kitchen of breakfast and lunch hot spot Penny Cluse, in downtown Burlington, Vermont, where she learned how to make simple, delicious food from fresh ingredients.
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