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12 October, 2017

7 Healthy Weeknight Pasta Tricks That R.D.s Love

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Through all the ups and downs in my life, one thing has remained constant: My love for pasta. In my opinion, no meal comes closer to perfection. It’s great for every mood, whether you’re sad and in need of a pick me up or happy and ready to celebrate. Aside from complicated dishes like lasagna, it’s almost always super easy to make (a number of recipes can even be made in one pot!). And there are hundreds of different ways to prepare it, meaning it’s practically impossible to get bored of.

For a while, though, I was under the impression that pasta wasn’t healthy. This was sometime around the advent of cauliflower rice and zucchini noodles, when I was a broke college student who didn’t know much about healthy eating aside from the misguided belief that “carbs were bad.” I still ate spaghetti all the time (often out of necessity) and I couldn’t help but feel guilty when I did. What good was I doing myself by throwing back bowl after bowl of carbohydrates if they weren’t good for me?

I’ve since come to learn that carbs really aren’t bad for you (in fact they’re one of our main sources of energy) and that real-deal pasta (not zoodles) can absolutely be a healthy meal, provided you know how to prepare it. Registered dietitians love the comfort-food classic as much as I do, and they know exactly how to turn it into a well-rounded meal. Read on for all their tips, from piling up on veggies to choosing the best pasta shape. They’ll help you make a weeknight pasta dinner that’s both good and good for you.

1. Make your own sauce.

Many store-bought sauces are packed with sodium and added sugar, Cara Harbstreet, M.S., R.D., of Street Smart Nutrition tell SELF. The obvious solution? Make your own sauce! Even if your cooking skills are limited, it’s easy to whip up a makeshift marinara with just a can of tomatoes, plus some combination of olive oil, garlic, herbs, and wine. If you’re in a pinch, there are better-for-you jars out there. Amy Gorin, M.S., R.D.N., owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition recommends Rao’s Homemade Marinara and Mario Batali Tomato Sauce—they’re both low-sodium and have no added sugar. They’re a little pricey, so your best bet is still to make your own. This three-ingredient marinara recipe from Martha Stewart is a great place to start

2. Smaller pasta shapes will make your portions seem bigger, without actually making them bigger.

Gorin’s latest healthy pasta trick is using smaller pasta shapes like elbow macaroni or cavatappi, because you get more bang for your buck. “In a serving, you get more pieces of pasta, versus a larger pasta like a rigatoni,” she says. This can help with portion control, since you feel like you’re getting a really good helping of noodles. Ditalini and orecchiette are other good options to try.

3. When it comes to veggies, the limit does not exist.

“My rule of thumb at home is to always include a minimum of three servings of vegetables every time I cook pasta,” Harbstreet explains. To get to three, one thing she’ll often do is blend extra veggies into her sauces. Try blending carrots and onions into your marinara, or toss a bunch of chopped mushrooms into bolognese. If you’re really not sure which veggies to add, or just don’t want to run the risk of accidentally making something strange, try out one of these pasta recipes with at least two servings of vegetables per serving.

Andrew Purcell, Carrie Purcell

4. Don’t forget about protein!

A bowl of noodles and butter is kiddy food—you need a pasta packed with protein to really keep you satisfied. “Protein takes your body a longer time to digest, so the protein is going to help keep you fuller for longer,” Gorin explains.

The protein sources you include all come down to your preference. Meat sauce is a classic choice, but you can also add lentils to marinara for a meatless sauce that’s still got some protein. Soft-boiled and fried eggs are another option Gorin loves (breakfast pasta, anyone?). She likes to throw them on top of pasta with marinara, but if that’s a little too off-the-wall for you, try adding them to something like Alfredo or pesto penne. And don’t forget, cheese is technically a protein. It’s also high in fat, so you’ll want to limit how much you add. She suggests no more than a quarter cup for lighter recipes like pasta marinara, and no more than a couple tablespoons for heavier creamy dishes.

5. Give alternative pastas a try.

Once upon a time, it seemed like the only alternative to white pasta was whole grain pasta. If you like whole grain pasta, great, but the heartier flavor and chewier texture is off-putting for some people. Thankfully, the market is now far more saturated with all sorts of different types of pastas. These days, you can pick up anything from fiber-rich lentil pasta to high-protein chickpea pasta at almost any supermarket. Cooking with these different varieties of pasta is an easy way to add protein, fiber, and more nutrients to your meal. And get this: Because their flavors and textures are vastly different from your typical whole grain pastas, they’re fun to try. My recommendation: Test a different variety every week until you find one you love.

For example, Harbstreet’s favorite healthier pasta is Barilla White Fiber. “It’s a good compromise for those who want additional fiber, but don’t like the texture or taste of whole grain pasta,” she says. Gorin is a big fan of the pastas produced by Banza, Modern Table, and Tolerant Foods. And SELF editors can’t get enough of Ancient Harvest Pow Mac and Cheese, which has 16 grams of protein per serving.

Of course, you don’t have to use one of these varieties to make a healthier pasta. If you’d rather stick with classic white flour pasta, go for it. There are still plenty of other ways to make your meal healthier.

6. Measure out your olive oil.

Harbstreet recommends using no more than 2 tablespoons of olive oil per pasta serving. But if you pour straight from the bottle, you might be adding way more than that without realizing it. If you’ve ever measured out a tablespoon of olive oil for a recipe, you know that it really doesn’t look like much—a sign that your perception of the proper portion size is way off.

If you’re watching your calories (which you don’t need to do to be healthy, FWIW) this tip is especially relevant. Consider that a single tablespoon of olive oil is about 119 calories—if you accidentally triple or quadruple that, you’re adding on that many more calories for hardly any difference in flavor.

Andrew Purcell, Carrie Purcell

7. Lighten up rich, decadent classics like Alfredo and bolognese with a few simple hacks.

Gorin’s favorite way to lighten up a cream sauce like Alfredo is to sub in Greek yogurt or blended cottage cheese for heavy cream. Dietitians generally recommend getting at least 15 grams of protein with every meal, and one container of Greek yogurt boasts 17 grams of protein. Boom! As for bolognese, subbing in lentils or mushrooms for half the meat will increase the volume and boost your fiber and veggie intake.

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