Perfecting the Healthy Pasta Salad

by in Healthy Tips, June 2, 2009

pasta salad
Oh, pasta salad. It seems like no cookout would be complete without it. Everyone has their favorite recipe — some lighter than others. Avoid the common pitfalls and keep your mix nutritious and delicious with these tips and recipes.

Calories in Classic Pasta Salads
I remember growing up eating kosher hot dogs with a spoonful of mayonnaise-drenched macaroni salad on the side. These days, I don’t touch any salad dripping in mayo, and it wouldn’t make the menu in my house. A typical 1/2 cup serving of classic macaroni salad contains 310 calories — about two-thirds of the calories come from fat (about 22 grams). Whether you make it with macaroni or any other noodle, when you use full-fat mayonnaise or loads of oil, you’re not doing yourself or your guests any favors.

The Pasta
Start by switching to whole-wheat pasta or using another whole-grain pasta like Barilla Plus. This is a good way to up your dish’s fiber. With 80 calories per 1/3 cup of pasta, be mindful of the portion size (remember, this is a side dish) and stick with 1/2 cup servings.

The Fats
Typical pasta salad have several types of fat poured on them: oils, mayo, heavy cream, sour cream, pesto sauce or fatty dressings (or sometimes a combination of these ingredients). As we always say, fat is not the enemy, BUT when you add tons of it to a side dish, problems start. The rule of thumb should be about 1 tablespoon of oil or 2 tablespoons of low-fat mayo or dressing per serving.

The Veggies
Here’s where you can load up on the good stuff. Tomatoes, onions, celery, bell peppers and scallions are wonderful to use in a pasta salad. Toss in any of your weekly market finds. My favorite ingredients are green olives and tomatoes — there’s no need to add extra salt since the olives are salty to begin with.

Other Fun Add-Ins
Pine nuts, chicken, beans, mozzarella or feta cheese jazz up a pasta salad easily. Remember, that all these “extras” tack on more calories so use them sparingly to just add flavor. My young kids have sensitive taste buds — I tend to keep my salads pretty light with simple flavors. One basic pasta salad we often make has fresh tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and a touch of olive oil mixed with the pasta. They usually end up picking out just the noodles, but once in a while, I catch them tasting a tomato (they do it on the sly).

    Healthy pasta salad recipes to try:

  • Healthy Pasta Salad (shown above)
  • [Photo: Born With A Whisk / Recipezaar]

    TELL US: What’s your prized pasta salad combo?

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Comments (36)

  1. Lena says:

    Recently I boiled elbow pasta, rinsed and cooled it for cold pasta salad, added halved cherry tomatoes and a can or ham or chicken. I did add mayonnaise but added less. I wanted to add onions but not all of my sons like them so I left them out. Since my husband and sons enjoyed it so much I made more that week.

  2. Gayle says:

    I am not overly fond of most pasta salads because of the heavy mayo dressings.
    However, with the light Italian style dressing and lots of fresh veggies, I have learned to appreciate pasta salad as an alternate to potato salad for summer cookouts, etc.

  3. Yolanda P. says:

    My pasta salad is healthy and tasty! I start with whole grain rotini and add capers, finely chopped red onion and low fat grated cheese. I make my own vinagrette to control the salt content with balsamic vinegar, evoo, and sea salt. Drizzle over and mix in. Simple and delicious!

  4. davidkun says:

    i love it.i think nice food.thank you

  5. Christiana says:

    oricheitte pasta with roasted beets, goat cheese, arugula, and some nuts for crunch…and of course, fresh grated parm

  6. Diana Sullivan says:

    I also like adding a little Pepperoni, which I tear into smaller pieces. This is especially good with a pasta salad that has Light Italian as the dressing….Crumbles of Bleu Cheese add alot of flavor, too.

  7. Brenda says:

    my salad consist of 3color pasta tomatoes cucumbers black olices broccoli red onions and a light red wine vinigaret with a dash of salad seasoning you can also add different cheeses depending on what you like or diet your on. mots blue even fetta what ever you fancy yum yum

  8. nora@ffr says:

    nice photo :) this sound delish and healthy..

  9. cathy says:

    I want the pasta to have a lot of flavor by itself, so I add mrs dash to the boiling water. Sometimes,save some of the starchy water & boil it down (takes a little time) & add it to the dressing. When the pasta is hot add no fat italian. Love the green olives too!

  10. Taketia Ware says:

    I normally use the multi colored spiral pasta noodles, raw spinach chopped,cherry or grape tomatoes, red onions, black and green olives, and light Italian salad dressing. (Shrimp, lobster, or crab optional.

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