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How to Make a Healthier Pasta Salad Recipe

Make a healthier pasta salad with this easy no-recipe formula that uses whole-grain pasta, fresh veggies, lean protein and a zingy homemade dressing to tie it all together.

There are endless healthy ways to make pasta salad. While pasta salad is a crowd-pleaser, traditional recipes typically weigh in at over 500 calories per serving. They also skimp on the good stuff like whole grains, crunchy vegetables, fresh herbs and lean protein. Our step-by-step guide includes lots of ideas for great flavor combinations to help you make a healthier pasta salad and our featured pasta salad recipes are all under 315 calories per 1 1/3-cup serving.

1. Choose & Cook Pasta
Whole-wheat pasta adds 2 grams of heart-healthy fiber per ounce of dry pasta versus white pasta. The amount of dry pasta to start with depends on the shape. To get 4 cups of cooked pasta, use 2 cups elbow macaroni, 2 1/2 cups shells, 3 cups bowties or fusilli. Cook pasta and drain (but don’t rinse). Spread on a large baking sheet to cool.

Start with 4 cups cooked whole-wheat pasta:

2. Load Up on Veggies
Use as many cups of veggies (and/or fruit) as pasta. This keeps your pasta salad healthy and slashes the calories compared with typical versions that are made with mostly pasta.

Add 4 cups fresh vegetables and/or fruits:

Artichoke hearts
Baby spinach
Fennel bulb

3. Add Lean Protein
Adding lean protein to pasta salads helps make them more satisfying. To keep prep time to a minimum, use convenient proteins like canned beans or tuna, cooked ham or roasted chicken.

Add 1 to 2 cups lean protein:

Hard-boiled eggs
Cooked chicken breast
Cooked ham (reduced- or low-sodium)
Chunk light tuna

4. Add Ingredients to Boost Flavor
For the best flavorful pasta salad, don’t forget to add a few higher-calorie or salty ingredients like cheese, cured meats or pickled vegetables. Chop them small so you get a little bit of big flavor in each bite.

Add 1/2 to 1 cup total:

Full-flavored cheeses
Smoked sausage
Sun-dried tomatoes