In-a-Pinch Pasta Dinners

Go kid-friendly and cook-friendly with simple pasta dishes. Try our favorite pasta recipes for a smart, quick way to feed your family without falling prey to the fast food trap.

With the back-to-school and back-to-work grind of the fall, I’ve been focusing my blog posts on solutions for convenient, healthy meals. Last week, I took a look at building quick, smart sandwiches for busy weeknights. This week‘s post is all about pasta dinners — another smart, quick way to feed your family without falling prey to the fast food trap. Perfect for busy weeknights, pasta is kid-friendly, easy to prepare, versatile, inexpensive and super satisfying. Remember to expand your horizons with pasta made from a range of grains — such as spelt and whole wheat — which are far more available these days than when I was a kid. And gluten-free pasta made from brown rice, buckwheat, corn and quinoa are easier to find and are gaining popularity fast, even among those for whom gluten is not a problem. These many varieties of pasta provide whole-grain nutrition with the added benefit of natural fiber.

Pasta can be purchased fresh or dried. If you’ve never tried fresh pasta before, you’re in for a super great treat. It cooks quickly and tastes amazing! But remember, fresh pasta must be kept cold and cooked within a few days. Dried pastas are far more widely available. They, too, are simple to cook, and keep for a long time in your kitchen pantry. Either way, when it comes to busy weeknight meals, you can’t beat an “in-a-pinch” pasta dinner. When you try these ideas, it’s a sure bet your family will be saying, “Pass the pasta, please!” Just remember that when it comes to cooking pasta, either fresh or dried, your best bet is to follow the manufacturer’s directions on the package, unless you are following a specific recipe that says otherwise. Here’s my favorite quick pasta dinner:

  • Cook fresh (or dried) pasta according to package directions.

  • Add grilled or roasted veggies purchased from our prepared foods department.

  • Add some protein: either a can of organic beans (drained and rinsed), some chopped cooked chicken or some marinated, baked tofu.

  • Top with your favorite pasta sauce or a splash of olive oil.

  • Add your choice of salt, pepper, herbs, spices and cheese.

Now, you can build on that basic plan or go in new directions. Try these ideas:

  • A good pasta meal is made great by the addition of colorful veggies such as spinach, arugula, multi-colored bell peppers, broccoli, and yellow or orange squash. It’s a palate pleaser, a visual feast and the aroma is simply too good to describe! This recipe for Pasta with Mushrooms, Spinach and Mt. Tam Cheese fills the bill , and so does this recipe for Penne and Broccoli with Zesty Gorgonzola Sauce.

  • Did you know marriage is not just for people? Think inseparable pairs such as milk and cookies, peanut butter and bananas, black beans and corn tortillas. Another is tomatoes and pasta. Even if you don’t think they deserve marriage status, there’s no doubt they’ve been courting for many a year. The proof is in this recipe for Capellini Pomodoro.

  • Pasta is loved by many when served with cheese, but it is just as delicious and satisfying sans cheese. For example, this Puttanesca Pasta is completely dairy free, yet totally satisfying.

  • Our Layered Pasta and Veggie Bake is a perfect make-ahead pasta meal. Bake it over the weekend and keep it for quick weeknight dinners or as a take-along lunch.

  • Keep it super simple with this recipe for Spaghetti with Garlic and Olive Oil, , or this recipe for Spaghetti with Pecorino and Black Pepper.  Consider adding a fresh green salad for color, flavor and good nutrition.

  • Pasta salad makes a great dinner, too. Here’s my post on Portable Pasta Salads with plenty of great ideas.

Remember, when you’re in a pinch, you can always turn to pasta. For a pasta primer and plethora of other information, here’s our Guide to Pasta. Got a quick pasta fix you’ll never nix? I’d love to know!

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