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

Quinoa Salad with Dried Cranberries and Marcona Almonds

Ask just about any Gastronomy student and they will tell you what the highlight of class is: snack. Nothing breaks up a 6:00-9:00pm lecture better than a creative, satisfying, and scrumptious bite, hand selected by someone getting an advanced degree in food.

As fun as snack is, it can be pretty intimidating to cook for a bunch of foodies. Many students (myself included) work 9-5 jobs, meaning that snack must be prepared in advance. An ideal snack is portable, temperature stable, and of course, finger-licking good. Throwing in a few superfoods or ethnic ingredients doesn’t hurt either.

Quinoa Salad with Dried Cranberries and Marcona Almonds

When my turn to make snack rolled around (we pass around a sign-up sheet on the first day of class), I knew I wanted to bring something hearty and healthy, but also trendy and tasty.  That’s how I ended up with this quinoa salad. Quinoa AND Marcona almonds? I was pretty much golden. After all, nothing gets gastronomy students going more than ancient grains and gourmet ingredients.

Quinoa Salad with Dried Cranberries and Marcona Almonds (loosely inspired by the Chicken and Farro Salad recipe from True Food)

Makes about 5 1/2 cups

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup quinoa, uncooked
  • 1 cup dried whole cranberries (I get mine from Whole Foods)
  • 3/4 cup pitted dates, sliced into thirds
  • 3/4 cup Marcona almonds
  • 2 oz (about 1/4 cup shredded) Manchego Cheese

Method:

  1. To cook quinoa, bring 2 cups of water to a boil and add quinoa. Then, reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. The outside germ of the grain will separate into a curly tail.
  2. After cooking, set quinoa aside to cool. Once it has cooled off, combine with other ingredients. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Nutrition Facts (per 1/2 cup serving): 193 calories, 7g fat (1g saturated), 29.5g carbohydrates (3.5g fiber, 13g sugar), 5.5g protein, 6.9% iron

– Kelly