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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