We all seem to have a love/hate relationship with pasta. We love to eat it but hate the guilt that comes with it, right? So many carbs and calories, made worse by a heavy meat sauce or tons of cheese. Most of us have emotions and memories piled on top of that from our childhood. I remember spaghetti night when I was a kid. Mom would hand me a plate, which felt huge in my small hands. On it was a giant mound of spaghetti topped with a homemade meat sauce and my favorite part, the parmesan cheese! I couldn’t get enough parmesan cheese. With my plate licked clean I can still feel how uncomfortably full yet satisfied I was as we all flopped onto the couch in a food coma, excited for the newest episode of Mork and Mindy. Needless to say, pasta is a trigger food for me, and I’m willing to bet many of you have similar stories. There is a way to enjoy a giant plate of pasta though, without the shame.
I call it 50/50 pasta. The name is not nearly as exciting as how delicious it is, trust me. There are a few tricks you can use to make your favorite pasta healthy. Even lasagna can be lightened up quite a bit without losing flavor. What’s even better is that most pasta dishes only take about 20 minutes. That is faster, healthier and cheaper than going through a drive through. Get your kids to help you and you will have an added bonus of creating memories in the kitchen that they will have for their lifetime.
My first trick is to create volume by using half veggies and half pasta. Veggies are a great way to “crowd out” high calorie foods without depriving yourself of them. A serving of pasta is a cup, which you can eat in a blink of an eye. By the time you’re done adding veggies and sauce your tiny cup has grown into a big ‘ol pile of pasta! (or about 2 cups) For marinara sauce I use a whole bell pepper, mushrooms, zucchini, onion and green olives. I have also added cauliflower to it which was pretty good. Use what you have and like. There is no shame in using a jarred sauce but if you have time and energy to make it homemade that’s even better. For meat eaters stick to lean ground turkey or turkey sausage to keep it from having a lot of fat. I still love parmesan but do try to keep it to a tablespoon now.
My second trick is to spend the extra money and buy protein pasta. It is so much more filling than regular pasta and is made with a blend of chickpeas and semolina. That gives it more fiber. The texture is just like regular pasta too. If you have tried the Banza brand pasta and like it, use it. I prefer the protein pasta in the yellow box.
Lastly, for the vegetarians out there, I add a can of chickpeas, which I mash to make a creamy sauce or leave whole and add to my veggies and marinara. Another option is to throw in 1/2 cup red lentils in the marinara and simmer until they meld into the sauce. Both legumes add a ton of protein and fiber to the dish and are highly nutritious. This is also a great, easy way to incorporate meat free Monday’s into your schedule for those trying to cut down on meat.
Here’s my recipe for creamy pasta with squash:
- 1/2 box protein pasta- any shape
- 1 can chickpeas with liquid
- 1 cup mushrooms
- 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
- 1 med size each yellow AND green squash
- 1/2 small onion
- garlic to taste
- salt & pepper
- squeeze lemon
- parmesan cheese
Start your pasta by boiling salted water. While that is going add chickpeas with liquid to a small saucepan. Bring to a gentle boil and start fork smashing the chickpeas in the pan. Add the yeast, salt & pepper, garlic and lemon (optional) and simmer until it looks saucy, smashing more as needed. It will look similar to cheese sauce. Remove from heat. Saute your veggies in a large skillet on medium high so they get a little caramelized then cook a few more minutes until they are al dente and mushrooms are soft. Add a splash of pasta water if needed. You can use any veggies you like or need to use up! Drain pasta, reserving a ladleful of water. Pour the pasta, pasta water and chickpeas over veggies. Stir and taste. Adjust seasoning as needed then sprinkle on some delicious parmesan. To make it vegan, just replace parmesan with a sprinkle of nutritional yeast or a grated brazil nut mixed with a pinch of nutritional yeast. This recipe makes 4 servings, is very low in fat and is about 350 calories each serving.