Pasta: A healthy and cheap meal alternative

Published 4:34 pm Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas is right around the corner now and the busy-ness of the holiday combined with less money for groceries because of gift-buying is a common issue.  But there is something you can do to counteract both, possibly with things you already have in your pantry.

Healthy pasta meals are not only good for your health but also for change in your pocket.  Healthy pasta meals are both a dietitian’s and accountant’s dream meal — especially after Christmas, when we may have overspent. Pasta and its partners on the plate make a perfect meal — for health, convenience, great taste and budget.

In a survey of scientists of 13 countries in 2010, Oldways, a food and nutrition education non-profit organization,  asked each scientist to price a healthy pasta meal — Pasta Primavera — in his or her own country. The meal, which would serve six people, consisted of the following (all amounts before cooking):

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•Pasta: 1 box whole wheat spaghetti  (13.25 ounces)

•Olive oil: 6 tablespoons

•Garlic: 3 cloves, finely chopped

•Tomatoes: Two tomatoes, chopped or crushed

•Vegetables: Three cups mixed vegetables

•Cheese: 6 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Here is the accountant’s take on the cost of the meals:  The average price for this pasta meal was 90 cents per person (the United States came in at 81 cents per person). For a family of four in the U.S., this means a cost of $3.24 for the healthy pasta meal. Add in a salad and some bread, and the cost for the total meal for a family of four is about $5.

Here’s my take on the meal as a registered dietitian: The healthy pasta meal — Pasta Primavera — hits the mark on the nutritionals.  In one serving, there are 428 calories and the ratio of carbs to fat to protein is spot on with 55 percent as carbohydrate (and from whole grain), 33 percent as fats (good fats) and 12 percent as protein.  It’s a great source of vegetables which helps with lowering the calories, but not the flavor.

Here are a few more tips for healthy eating on a budget:

•My number-one recommendation: Create a weekly meal plan that uses the same ingredients in different ways. For instance, extra grilled chicken can be used in a casserole or salad at another meal.

•Substitute vegetables for meats. Beans and lentils are an excellent protein substitute, and vegetables add flavor, texture and nutrients.

•Eat at home…more often. Eating at restaurants or buying packaged and processed foods can increase the amount you spend on food. Buy basic ingredients, such as fruits and vegetables, to cook more simple meals at home.

•Don’t throw out bruised or dented fruits and vegetables. They can be just as tasty. Just be sure to remove all bruised areas during preparation. ­They are perfect for sauces or smoothies.

Pasta primavera

How to make Pasta Primavera

Precook the pasta and drain. Meanwhile, heat olive oil over medium heat in large pan; add chopped garlic and sauté for 30 seconds. Working quickly so the garlic doesn’t burn, add the tomatoes and vegetables. Sauté for 5 minutes or until vegetables are crisp-to tender. Toss pasta with vegetables and top with parmesan cheese.