Throw together meals make life way easier, and having an index of them can reduce stress since you know you will have lunch or dinner in no time. But, are your go-to last minute meals well balanced to satisfy you and help you reach your health and fitness goals? This vegetarian pesto pasta gets plenty of protein from bean pasta, comes together in just 12 minutes, and can easily be made vegan!
Building a Balanced Pasta Meal
I grew up in a household where my mom made plenty of scratch meals, but pasta was a frequent fall-back meal. I loved few things more than some angel hair with butter and pepper or penne with a spicy red sauce, but with my dietitian hat on, I know those meals weren’t as nutrient-dense as they could have been to fuel my active athlete body or my parent’s busy lifestyles. What is pasta usually missing? Protein. Or a vegetable. Or, protein and a vegetable!
While there are some clear flaws in the USDA food guide’s “My Plate”, it does have one thing right, most of our meals should contain starch, protein, and produce (it also needs fat that isn’t pictured, too). Instead, I love to use the USOC performance plates! They have it all, not just considering macro-nutrients, but also hydration and, helloooo USDA… flavor!
While I share a much more inclusive and extensive list with clients and groups I work with for each nutrient category (and sriracha and Frank’s red shot should have a prime spot on the flavor list), having this plate in mind can really help when you’re building meals home, out, or away.
Adding Protein & Veggies to Pasta
So, back to pasta. You hear about how “carby” it is etc. Remember: we NEED carbs (see starch section of above plate). I’m a pasta lover, but I’m also a lover of feeling good after a meal and ensuring what I eat is satisfying and not leaving me hungry an hour later. Who’s ever eaten bowl after bowl of pasta feeling like a bottomless pit? While your plain white pasta does provide some protein and a little bit of fiber, it surely isn’t giving you all you need to feel completely satisfied from the meal. More-over, it’s not giving you what you need to refuel and recover from exercise or maintain muscle mass and strength. It’s also not providing what you need to refuel and recover from a tough busy day-in-the-life!
So, add protein and veggies. Sounds easy enough, but if you need a 10-15 minute meal, and you need easy, you likely don’t want to have to cook a separate protein source and fresh veggies. This is where my fave pantry staples come to the rescue.
Bean pastas have got what you need to provide extra protein, plus extra iron, a key nutrient in protein containing foods. They’re also rich in fiber and I swear you can find ones that don’t taste like cardboard or tree bark. While I love the protein content of plenty of other brands, Banza’s chickpea pasta is the one that fools kids and husbands most often into thinking its plain white pasta. And not that Cooper knows the difference, but he lovvved this meal and it’s easy to send to daycare for lunch with him, too.
For this meal, you’ll also want to grab a jar of roasted red peppers from the pantry and from the freezer some frozen spinach (or kale).
Vegetarian (or Vegan) Pesto Pasta
Depending on the pesto you use, this meal can easily be made vegan. While you can make your own pesto (avocado walnut, green garlic, pistachio), Sprouts has a good shelf-stable one for the pantry and you can totally freeze the vegan cashew pesto from Trader Joe’s, so it’s there when you need it.
One serving of this vegetarian pesto pasta provides 20-22 grams of protein per serving (depending on the pesto you use) vs. 8 grams for a serving of spaghetti and tomato sauce. If you want to add more (though more than 30 g likely has no benefit), you can even mix the pesto with my vegan ricotta! And it’s packed with satiating flavor so you won’t be preoccupied thinking about what you want to eat next once you’re done. Get these ingredients on your grocery list!
High Protein Pesto Pasta
- 2 packages Banza or other bean based pasta
- 8-12 ounces cooked or thawed frozen spinach
- 12 ounce jar of roasted peppers
- 8 ounces your favorite pesto sauce
- 1/2 cup hemp hearts (divided into 8 tablespoons)
- Add two packages of pasta to a 4 quarts minimum of boiling water in a large stockpot and let cook for 8 minutes (or per package instructions).
- While pasta is boiling, drain and slice roasted red peppers into small strips.
- If still frozen, thaw spinach in a small pot or in the microwave.
- Once pasta is done cooking, drain and then rinse it (rinsing removes gumminess from bean pastas).
- Mix well in a large serving bowl with red peppers, spinach and pesto.
- Sprinkle a tablespoon (or more) of hemp seeds onto each portion once plated.