Whole Grain Pasta Salad: An Easy, Healthy Make Ahead Lunch

As a kid, I always avoided pasta salad at potlucks and parties. Too vinegary for my taste, and undoubtedly loaded with child-repelling olives. But then in college I got hooked on pasta primavera, the gateway pasta, and before you know it, I was whipping up portable penne salads in my own home.

When packing my lunch for work, I like to choose meals that don’t require too much assembly in the crowded office kitchen. But they still have to be tasty enough for me to look forward to eating, filling enough to last me till dinner, and healthy enough for me to feel nourished and happy with my choice. Pasta salad fits the bill. It also makes great picnic food, which I verified this weekend at the Arnold Arboretum while soaking up the unseasonably warm weather.

This makes a great pantry clean out recipe (read: inexpensive), because like most salads, it’s super adaptable. I start with whole grain pasta (any shape will do, but the whole grains are mandatory), and then add whatever vegetables I have on hand (cherry tomatoes are a favorite when they’re in season). For protein, I like to toss in canned chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans. (Chickpeas and pasta are a highly underrated combination, as I learned from a college classmate who would sprinkle them onto spaghetti like little meatballs.) Lastly, I finish with olive oil or pesto, and sprinkle with cheese or fresh herbs if I have them on hand. Easy peasy.

The more vegetables you can add in, the healthier it will be. Looking for ideas? See below for two pasta salads that I’ve made recently.

 Healthy Whole Grain Pasta Salad with Tomatoes, Broccoli, Chickpeas, Feta, and Olive Oil

Whole grain farfalle (bow-ties) with chickpeas, cherry tomatoes, steamed broccoli, a sprinkle of feta cheese, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

Healthy Whole Grain Pasta Salad with Corn, Tomatoes, Chickpeas, and Artichoke Pesto

Whole grain shells with cherry tomatoes, fresh corn, chickpeas, and artichoke parsley pesto (inspired by this recipe)

Next up, I’d love to try a pasta salad with butternut squash, cannellini beans, and kale pesto. What are your favorite add-ins? Share in the comments!

– Kelly

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