Chefs Dish on better-for-you pastas

Chefs are often caught in the middle of consumers or decision makers who say they need more healthy options on the menu, and then seeing those same dishes not sell beyond a token few. We checked with working chefs who are solving for this challenge every day, building menu items with pasta that deliver a better nutritional profile and the functional ingredients guests are looking for…and keep the crave factor. Here are four approaches we heard about from the Barilla Brand Ambassador network:

  1. Lead with the veggies! Pasta is something guests know and love already; use it as a vehicle to amp up the vegetables on the plate. Lean into seasonality, especially for LTOs or specials. Consumers are less excited about meat analogs these days than just wanting to eat plants.

“Our approach over the last two years was to quietly elevate our pasta dishes by creating a healthy blend of pasta, aromatic vegetables, sauce and if needed use protein as garnish. We found we could go as high as 50/50 veggies to pasta and have big flavor impact and an overall healthier plate.” -Chef Jeffrey Quasha, Morrison Dining

  • A little stealth health never hurts. Blend pureed veggies into sauces, like cauliflower or butternut squash into cheese sauces. You can use less cheese and fats, amp up flavor, and get a better nutritional profile. Blending mushrooms or legumes into meat sauces or meatballs is another winning approach.

“Healthier food – especially from foodservice – only works if it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice. It should feel good to order it, and to eat it. I love the blend concept because it not only improves the nutritional profile of the plate, but it adds flavor, too.” – Chef Pam Smith, RDN

  • Embrace global flavors, especially from parts of the world that feature fresh produce and lighter fare, from the Mediterranean to India, Africa or Asia. Particularly in campus dining, exposing students to new cultures and cuisines is easier with a comfort-food favorite like pasta at the foundation of the plate. Even better if you use a better-for-you pasta like Barilla Protein+® or Barilla® Legume pastas.  

“I find it helpful to think of pasta simply as a grain, with a particular shape. It really opens up the creative possibilities. A lentil pasta with spinach and paneer cheese for instance. Or at the base of an East African dish with silsi tomatoes, eggplant and greens.” – Chef Charles Kimball, Chartwells

  • Keep it colorful, with lots of seasonal veggies and even the pasta can get in on the color play. Especially with pasta salads, bright colors add significantly to the appetite appeal and shine through in grab and go displays.

For more recipe inspiration and culinary insights, visit