A friend on Facebook posted the other day asking for high-protein food recommendations for her son, who is underweight. The more obvious answers include peanut butter, cheese, meat, eggs and yogurt (especially if it’s Greek).
But I remembered I’d just been to the grocery store (for the sixth time that week), and I saw all of these high-protein black bean pasta noodles in a special section of the pasta aisle.
Likewise, for the first time ever, I noticed noodles made of zucchini and squash. Most kids love pasta, so what if my friend—what if all of us—could get a ton of extra nutrients into our kids by serving them pasta alternatives in their favorite noodle dishes?
What Traditional Pasta’s Missing
Regular pasta is commonly made with refined wheat flour, but the refining process can strip some of the fiber, vitamins and minerals right out of the wheat, leaving those noodles with scant nutritional value. All those delicious carbohydrates give us little in return except for what my mother likes to call “a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.”
Wouldn’t it be great if we could enjoy all our favorite pasta dishes without sacrificing the vitamins, minerals, protein and gluten-free, healthy carbs? You bet your Yankee Doodle Dandy it would!
Corny humor aside, here are six healthy pasta alternatives and recipes to traditional pasta, for when you have a few extra minutes and can make it work:
1. Zucchini Noodles or “Zoodles”
Zucchini is low in saturated fat and sodium, and very low in cholesterol. It’s also a great source of protein, vitamin A, thiamin, niacin, phosphorus and copper, dietary fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, riboflavin, vitamin B6, folic acid, magnesium, potassium and manganese. Wow, that’s a lot of nutrients!
The easiest way to make zoodles is to use a vegetable spiralizer; you can buy an affordable handheld one here
, or just buy pre-made zoodles in your grocery store’s produce section. When fully cooked, zoodles taste almost like al dente spaghetti! You can substitute them in any spaghetti dish, cooking them in the pasta sauce instead of boiling them as you would real noodles. Or sauté them for a few minutes, then top with sauce.
Some delicious recipes I found include Zucchini Pasta with Avocado Sauce
, One Skillet Parmesan Garlic Zoodles
and 10-Minute Italian Sausage Zoodles
.(Use Land O’Frost’s delicious Italian Style Smoked Sausage with Peppers and Mozzarella
for that really pops).
2. Squash Noodles
Another vegetable-based pasta alternative, squash noodles are low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and they contain a bunch of vitamins and nutrients like vitamin B6, dietary fiber and vitamin C to name just a few. Like zoodles, squash noodles are made with a spiralizer, but can also be found pre-made in the produce section, and can be cooked using a variety of methods.
Some of the yummiest squash pasta recipes on the internet include Summer Squash Spaghetti with Roasted Tomato Sauce
, Butternut Pasta with Mushrooms and Sage
, and Chicken Meatballs with Pesto Butternut Squash Noodles
3. Quinoa Pasta
Quinoa is naturally gluten-free and contains a ton of nutrients like iron, B-vitamins, magnesium, calcium, fiber and more! It is one of only a few plant foods considered a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids.
Quinoa pasta (pasta made out of quinoa) is cooked by boiling it, just like traditional pasta, but you need to watch that pot carefully
and make sure the quinoa noodles don’t stick to each other or the bottom of the pan, so be sure to stir. Whatever you do, don’t overcook, or you’ll end up with a goopy mess! Most recipes suggest tossing any gluten-free noodles with oil after cooking to keep them from sticking.
Some great recipe ideas include Quinoa Pasta with Spinach and Tomatoes
, Quinoa Baked Ziti
and Southwestern Quinoa Pasta Salad
. You can find quinoa pasta in the pasta aisle or international section of your grocery store.
4. Rice Pasta
Rice noodles are the second-most common rice product in Asia—the first being rice of course. Regular pasta has more nutrients than rice noodles, but the benefit of rice is that it doesn’t contain gluten. If you or your kids are gluten-sensitive or have Celiac disease, but you crave those traditional pasta dishes, rice noodles are the way to go. Just like quinoa pasta, rice pasta requires close monitoring while cooking.
Delicious rice pasta recipes include Aromatic Pork and Noodle Soup
, Brown Rice Spaghetti Puttanesca
and Thai Rice Noodles with Chicken and Asparagus
. You can find rice pasta right alongside regular pasta in the grocery store, as well as in the Asian food section.
5. Black Bean Pasta
Black bean pasta may be the hardest one to slip past your kids, because true to its name, the noodles are black. Black noodles may be visually off-putting, but they are loaded with protein, iron, calcium and fiber, low in sugar and calories, and gluten-free. Black bean pasta has an “earthier” taste than regular noodles, but its texture allows for better absorption of yummy sauces. Cooking it, as with the other gluten-free pastas, just takes more attention to prevent it from sticking.
Some mouth-watering recipes I found include Black Bean Pasta with Peas and Onions
, Mexican Black Bean Spaghetti
and Greek Style Black Bean Pasta Salad
. Look for black bean noodles right in the pasta aisle or the international food aisle in your grocery store.
6. Shirataki Noodles
These noodles originated in Asia but are taking the Western World by storm because they are virtually calorie and carb-free, due to their 100 percent fiber content. Shirataki noodles come in spaghetti, fettucine, macaroni and angel hair varieties, and unlike the other pastas on this list, they are sold pre-cooked and packaged in water. Most cooks agree that the noodles taste much better if they are rinsed well in hot water or even boiled for a few minutes to remove any residue or odor from their packaging liquid. Because the noodles are calorie-free, you can add some richer, cheesier sauces without feeling too guilty, a big plus in my book!
Recipes I plan to try include Quick Chicken Alfredo
, Turkey or Chicken Tetrazzini
and Low-Carb Mac’n’Cheese
. Shirataki noodles are always sold refrigerated; look for them in the produce section or ask your grocer where they’re kept.
This list is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to pasta alternatives. Thanks to the spiralizing craze, you can make noodles out of virtually any vegetable, like beets, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, carrots and much more.
There are tons of other gluten-free pastas to try like corn pasta, lentil pasta, soba noodles (look for 100 percent buckwheat soba noodles to stay gluten-free) and chickpea noodles. Do some experimenting and taste-testing, and you're sure to find a healthy alternative to pasta your family loves.