How Do I Order Healthy Pasta?

By Mary Parsons, MS, RD

It’s hard to deny cravings for pasta. Carbs are comfort food! But even though restaurant pasta dishes have a reputation for indulgence, it’s absolutely possible to maximize the health of your Italian meal. Our simple strategy?

Think MyPlate: aim for a balance of vegetables and lean protein along with your (ideally whole-grain) carbohydrates. Bulking up the meal with these nutrient-dense foods allows us to downsize the pasta portion and create a more nourishing meal.

An easy way to load up on veggies is to pair your pasta with a salad. By starting your meal with a first course of leafy greens, you’re guaranteed to get in the good stuff before you start to fill up on pasta. But don’t stop there – look for entrées that include vegetables, too!

For lean protein, look for menu items featuring chicken, shrimp, or other tasty seafood. As much as we love meatballs, without access to nutrition information, it’s difficult to know what will end up on your plate: the calories and fat can vary widely depending on the type of ground meat, what other ingredients are mixed in, and the cooking method.

When it comes to sauce, we all know that Alfredo isn’t health food, but don’t forget about the butter and cream often added to other sauces, like marsala, carbonara, picatta and vodka. Classic marinara is traditionally touted as the healthy option, but if you’re looking for something more exciting, go for one of these specialty sauces:

  • Arrabiata: Garlic and hot chili peppers make this red sauce perfect for those who like some spice!
  • Puttanesca: Fragrant and flavorful, this sauce pairs tomatoes with olives, capers and garlic.
  • Pesto: Although pesto is relatively high in fat, it’s “good fat” from nuts and olive oil, making this sauce rich in nutrients; just watch the portion if you’re watching your calories.