March is National Noodle Month

By: Jodie Shield, RD

If you could use only one word to describe the perfect family meal, what would it be? Versatile? Convenient? Economical? Healthy? Delicious?  I would use the word pasta, because it’s all of the above.  Pasta comes in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors; it cooks in 30 minutes or less; it’s a low-cost meal (for just a few dollars you can feed a family of five); it’s naturally low in fat; and best of all, kids love it.  But before you get your pasta pot boiling, here are a few pasta pointers to keep in mind.

  • Fresh pasta and dry pasta are nutritionally identical.  So what’s the difference between them? Fresh noodles are soft and have a high moisture content.  They cook faster than the boxed variety, but they’re more perishable and must be stored in the refrigerator and used within a few days.  Dry pasta is hard and has undergone a heating process to eliminate moisture; therefore, it can be stored for longer periods of time in your pantry.
  • Colors and fancy names can be deceptive.Tomato basil linguine and spinach fettuccine may sound healthier than plain-pasta counterparts, but they’re not.  These pastas have had vegetable puree added to their basic recipes to make them more colorful and flavorful.  But because such a small amount of puree has been added, these types of pasta have no extra nutritional value.
  • Sneak veggies in your sauce.  Try mixing chopped bell peppers, broccoli, or grated carrots with your child’s favorite tomato sauce or try my Homemade Tomato Basil  sauce.  This is a great way to get your child to eat more vegetables and to boost the nutritional content of a pasta dish.
  • There’s power in protein.  Pasta contains only a small amount of protein, so round out a pasta dish by including some lean protein options such as ground turkey breast, shredded chicken, seafood, or a reduced -fat cheese.  For instance, you could offer stuffed shells or lasagna baked with reduced-fat mozzarella and ground turkey breast.
  • Serve whole wheat pasta to boost fiber.  Whole wheat pasta has three times as much fiber as regular pasta and can pack a family meal with even more nutritional punch.

So when it comes to healthy eating, use your noodle and serve up a tasty plate of pasta.  What are some of your family’s favorite pasta meals?  Stay tuned – I’ll share some of mine in my next blog.

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