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. Eric and Lo says:

    I can not retieve recipes. I have tried all of my computers and have also asked friends to try. It freezes our computers. I miss getting recipes!

  2. Sandy Santiago says:

    Cathy Parlitsis’s comment on “Brown rice pasta tastes exactly like regular pasta and is WAY healthier!” is music to my ears, I try to remain gluten-free since it iritates my system and makes me feel bloated, I can enjoy pasta salad again!, Thanks

  3. Laura T. says:

    Try adding red wine vinegar to the whole grain pasta while it is still hot. It soaks up lots of flavor. Then add veggies of your choice with a little olive oil Delish!

  4. Julie J says:

    I use equal parts mayo/sour cream. Cuts down on the heaviness. Squeeze some lime, chopped cilantro, parsley , basil, red,yellow orange peppers, celery, olives and tomatoes. With the tri colored pasta, it is so beautiful.

  5. Auntycon says:

    I add some chopped ham or pepironi too and that makes it a complete meal in one bowl. I agree that the light Italian dressing goes well with all the veggies and does not over power any of them. I am now hungry for some so must go boil water.

  6. Julie Landesman says:

    Hey great Ideas! Thank you for sharing! I also love Rice salad, instead of Pasta, do it with brown rice… don't cook all the way and when cool, add the homemade vinaigrette, veggies, black beans and voila! A delish salad!

    Also, when making potato salad, add the vinegar to the just boiled potatoes for added flavor and let them be a bit hard when you pour out the H2O, then let the steam cook them with the vinegar seeping thru ( cover with a cloth)… yum!
    I am going to make a whole grain pasta salad instead with Ranch dressing, cubed mozzarella, tomatoes, colored peppers, rsted peppers and tomatoes and a bit of spinach and parsley! I love color in my food, when it is all natural! the Ranch is used since that's what the kids love! I am starving!

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