In a way pasta has always felt like “the forbidden fruit” for me. The thing to be avoided at all costs. In my mind, it was always the food that had no nutritional value and therefore, I tried to avoid it at all costs.
That was until I realized that my thought process was actually quite silly and I had been missing out! There’s no reason why pasta can’t be uber healthy. In fact, I’d argue that even the over-processed-refined-white-flour kind is worth eating sometimes.
But when you’re cooking it at home, there’s really no reason not to spruce it up and make it as healthy as possible. Not to mention, it makes the flavors far more complex and interesting! Sounds like a win-win to me.
And seeing how pasta is one of the easier and fastest dishes to make, I aim to make pasta once a week… when Josh coaches CrossFit and I’m more likely to be wearing baby Beckett while I cook. All you baby-wearing mamas know, when you’re wearing a baby, dinner needs to get on the table as fast as possible!
Here are my steps to making any pasta healthy:
How to Make Any Pasta Healthier
1. Add a Boost of Protein
Start with a protein-based gluten-free pasta like Banza made with chick-peas or the red lentil quinoa blend from Trader Joe’s or Thrive Market. Just by doing this one thing, you’re avoiding the white refined flour pasta and packing in an extra protein punch.
Keep in mind that this may change the flavor profile if it's something you're not used to. I think the chick-pea and quinoa/brown rice blends taste the best; however, if this is completely new to you, I'd recommend going half and half with the pasta you normally make to start.
You could always swap all or half for zucchini noodles. Even though I love "zoodles", I don't find it a strong enough substitute when you want pasta. Plus it takes some work to create the noodles and I like the extra boost of protein the legume varieties add!
2. Check Marinara Sauce Ingredients
Choose a marinara sauce with no added sugars. Quickly browse the ingredient list to ensure none is there. Manufacturers like to sneak it in anyway they can. My go-to is this one from Thrive Market. I find the sweetness to taste odd and out of place in other sauces so I was happy to make this switch.
3.Throw in Lots of Veggies
What veggies do you have leftover in the fridge? I like to use this as an opportunity to use up whatever I can… usually it’s a combination of bell peppers, zucchini, and/or mushroom. Plus I always have onion and garlic on hand.
4. Add Extra Seasonings
Use any combination of the popular Italian spices like parsley, oregano, etc. Or make it one step easier by throwing in a tablespoon or two of an Italian seasoning blend. Spices are packed with antioxidants.
And don’t forget the salt. It enhances the flavor and without it, any meal is surely lacking.
5. Don't Forget to Add Greens
When your pasta is finished cooking stir in one to two good handfuls of spinach and let it wilt. I like to get my greens in anyway I can and sometimes I don’t have time to make a salad or the desire to eat one (even though I usually love them!).
Substitutions for this Healthier Pasta
This recipe is very adaptable. If you're not ready to swap out your pasta, use a pasta you're familiar with and follow the rest of it. Not a fan of veggies yet? Try the pasta and leave the veggies out for now. Regardless, I encourage you to add the spinach because it's barely even noticeable.
Also, feel free to swap out the veggies listed in the recipe below to use whatever ingredients you need to use up. And always, be generous with the salt as it's sole purpose (in my opinion!) is to boost the flavor.
So there you have it… pasta made as healthy as it gets. Having said that, don’t be scared to indulge if you so desire! Sometimes there’s just nothing like a big plate of pasta someone else made for you, no matter how many vegetables they probably don't add.