You guys know I love a good mix & match recipe, but you can thank a fellow blog reader for this post! You asked for healthy pasta dinner ideas, and I’m here to deliver. 😉
Pasta dishes are among my favorites quick and easy weeknight dinners. They’re perfect for making once and eating as leftovers throughout the week!
Pasta also lends itself so well to my mix & match format. Just use whatever pasta, veggie, protein, and sauce combination you have on hand, and you’re good to go with a filling clean-out-the-fridge dinner.
(Pssst: want more mix & match blog posts? Here are more: Overnight Oatmeal 6 Ways // Avocado Toast 12 Ways // Lettuce Wraps 3 Ways // Mix & Match Grain Salad Bowls // Mix & Match Healthy Sandwiches // Mix & Match Healthy Smoothies // Mix & Match Healthy Stir Fries // Mix + Match Sheet Pan Dinners // Mix & Match Stuffed Peppers)
And now, here’s how to mix & match healthy pasta dinner recipes for the easiest dinner ever!
Mix & Match Pasta Dinner Formula
1) Start with a pasta shape
Like with all the steps in this process, your options are endless.
Choose your favorite shape, use the spare box in your pantry, or combine all the odds and ends of half-used pasta shapes. Just make sure to combine pastas that have similar cooking times!
I like whole wheat pasta as well as some of the gluten free pastas, like the chickpea spirals shown below, or quinoa pasta, but you do you!
The first step in the mix & match pasta process is to cook your desired pasta, reserve about a cup of the pasta water, drain the pasta and set aside.
One box of pasta usually serves 4 with leftover for lunches.
2) Choose a protein for your pasta dish
A protein addition makes your pasta dish more filling and well-rounded so you don’t find yourself starving again a minute later!
I love using pre-cooked protein options like canned beans, shredded rotisserie chicken, and sliced chicken sausage for extra easy meals. Chicken sausage is an especially great shortcut, since you choose different flavors to add even more “oomph” to your meal without a single extra minute spent in the kitchen.
Quick-cooking ground turkey or beef is another easy way to add a protein boost to pasta dishes.
Don’t let your creativity stop with what’s pictured below – other easy protein mix-ins could include lentils, peas, edamame, other types of canned or frozen beans, shrimp, thinly sliced beef or chicken, bulk Italian sausage, and more!
If you’re working with a raw protein like ground or thinly sliced meat or raw shrimp, just saute it in a skillet until fully cooked before mixing it with the rest of your mix & match options.
I usually use one pound of meat, one package of chicken sausage, or one can of beans per the 4-servings-plus-leftovers dinner.
Hint: all of these “cook before mixing” steps can be done a day or two in advance!
3) Add veggies!
Veggies bring color, texture, and satisfying volume to pasta dishes. This is a great step for cleaning out your fridge, too, because just about any veggie can be thrown into a pasta dish!
Some of my favorite veggies for pasta are broccoli, bell peppers, zucchini, mushrooms, spinach, and butternut squash. Other quick-cooking veggies like onions, green beans, kale, and just about any frozen veggie work well, too.
Use as many or as few veggies as you’d like!
For firmer veggies like butternut squash and broccoli, roast, steam or microwave first to get them tender before mixing with everything else.
Saute less-firm veggies like peppers, zucchini, and mushrooms in a skillet before mixing with the pasta. (If you’re using a raw protein like ground turkey, cook that first, then remove from the pan and add the veggies in to cook!)
Toss quick-cooking greens like spinach or chopped kale in right before serving and let the heat from all the other ingredients wilt the leaves.
4) Lastly, stir in a pasta sauce
Sauces round out your pasta dish with tons of flavor, and store-bought or homemade sauces do the trick equally well.
I keep jars of marinara sauce in my pantry for last-minute dinners, but I also have a stash of simple sauce recipes up my sleeve for nights when I have just a couple extra minutes.
Here are some of those “just a couple extra minute” sauce ideas to mix things up alongside these pasta dinner ideas!
Basil & Walnut Pesto
Pesto is always a favorite of mine because it packs so much flavor!
Combine 2 packed cups basil leaves, 2 cloves of garlic, 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese, 1/3 cup walnut pieces, and 1/3 cup olive oil in a food processor with a pinch of salt and pepper. Process until smooth.
Or, you can always use store-bought pesto – there are lots of fun variations on the market nowadays!
(Pssst: If you have leftover pesto, store bought or homemade, on hand, try my Pesto Baked Salmon with Veggies next.)
Creamy Peanut Sauce
I love this sauce for an Asian-inspired pasta dish that packs in tons of flavor.
Combine 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter, 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 3 tablespoons rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon sesame oil, 1/4 cup water, 1 grated garlic clove, and 1 teaspoon grated ginger in a sealed jar. Shake to combine.
This is the same sauce I use in my Peanut Noodles with Tilapia recipe, but it’s just as delicious with any combination of pasta, veggies, and protein!
Cherry Tomato & Garlic Pasta Sauce
This fresh and simple sauce is packed with flavor without being heavy, like some tomato sauces tend to be. The cherry tomatoes cook down into a sweet and savory sauce that’s hard to pass up.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add 4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced, and cook for 2-3 minutes, until they are fragrant and start turning translucent. Stir in 1 pint of halved cherry tomatoes and cook for 5-6 minutes, until they start to soften. Add 1/2 cup of pasta water (or veggie/chicken broth) and a pinch of salt and cook for another 2-3 minutes, until the liquid is reduced and saucy.
Sage Browned Butter Pasta Sauce
This earthy, nutty sauce is perfect for cozy fall pasta dishes. It uses just 2 ingredients and makes for an easy-yet-luxurious weeknight pasta dinner!
Place 4 tablespoons of salted butter in a small saute pan over medium heat. Once melted, add 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh sage leaves. Cook, stirring frequently, until the butter smells nutty and the flecks of milk solids have turned golden-amber, about 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl immediately – the golden brown flecks can burn really quickly if you keep the browned butter in the hot pan.
Toss everything together and enjoy!
Here’s where that reserved pasta water comes in handy.
Adding up to a cup of pasta water to your hot pasta & sauce helps thin out the sauce to easily coat the pasta, while the starchiness left in the water helps it stick to the pasta – no watery sauces here!
Start with a few spoonfuls of pasta water for creamy sauces like peanut sauce, or about 1/2 cup for thicker sauces like pesto. Add more or less as needed and toss it all together!
Here are some of my favorite healthy pasta dinner ideas for flavorful, easy meals.
These truly are mix & match, though! Pair any pasta shape with any veggie, protein, and sauce combination for a delicious dinner that won’t keep you in the kitchen for more than 30 minutes.
Whole Wheat Spaghetti + Rotisserie Chicken + Peppers, Broccoli & Mushrooms + Creamy Peanut Sauce
I hope you enjoyed these healthy pasta dinner ideas! Let me know which ones end up being your faves.
Looking for more easy pasta recipes? Here are a few more to try: