If your home is like mine, pasta night is a staple at least twice a month. But, it also used to be one of the more boring meals of the week for my husband and I. The kiddos love it, so it makes the night run more smoothly, but if I went years without another red sauce on spaghetti night, I would be psyched. So, instead of throwing this simple meal out the window, we mix it up a bit. Small tweaks can add some variety while keeping it familiar enough that the kids will eat it.
But, how? My favorite way to add variety to our meal plan is to put small twists on traditional theme nights like Taco Night and Pasta Night. If you mix up the components, Pasta Night can fill a weekly hole in your meal plan without becoming boring. Here’s how.
1. Pasta Night does not have to include spaghetti.
GASP! What? That’s what I grew up on. Spaghetti and red sauce. But these days, it’s easy to add variety just by choosing different pastas.
- Use differently shaped pasta. You can choose rotini, lasagna noodles, farfalle, penne, ABC letters, orzo…the choices are endless. Each will create a different dinnertime feel and will bring a bit of fun to the table.
- Bake the pasta. Instead of boiling it and serving it with sauce on top, boil it a couple of minutes less than recommended, mix in the sauce and a little splash of pasta water, top with some cheese and maybe bread crumbs, and pop it in the oven until it’s warm and browned on top. Yum!
- Don’t use pasta at all! Spaghetti squash, rice noodles, and zoodles (which you can buy already zoodle-ed) are all great alternatives to traditional wheat-based pasta.
2. Change up your sauce.
By now you know I am a lover of Wildtree and they really knock it out of the park in the sauce department. And, having a variety of sauces to choose from has helped me add more variety to simple meals, just by swapping in something different. Wildtree lover or not, these saucy ideas should keep you far from bored.
- Cheese sauce. Wildtree has an ah-mazing Kids Cheez Blend that is the starter for a great cheese sauce or popcorn topping. But, even if you don’t have that shortcut, you can whip together a quick rue of flour and butter, add some milk and shredded cheese and voila. You have a cheese sauce.
- Alfredo or cream-based sauces. I know…full of fat and calories, right? Not necessarily. Wildtree’s Alfredo Extraordinaire is a favorite in our home and the base of a great one-pot pasta night with pasta, alfredo, shredded chicken, and spinach. We use 2% milk and far less butter so we keep the flavor, but hold the bad stuff. Even if you don’t have a mix, you can always add a smidge of cream with some parmesan, garlic, salt, and pepper and create a little something special on a Wednesday night.
- I mean…there IS red sauce. You can’t totally ignore red sauce every week, right? So, grab one you love–I happen to heart Wildtree’s Hearty Spaghetti Blend, which is lower in sugar and salt compared to jarred marinaras and super easy to keep on hand because you just mix a tablespoon of it with a can of crushed tomatoes. Whatever brand of sauce you use, this traditional pasta night is a perfect ‘Plan B’ meal for when the day, and dinner, doesn’t go according to plan.
- PESTO! I love a good pesto sauce because it packs a punch of flavor and color. You can make it with different nuts, not just pine nuts, and different herbs. Try cilantro instead of basil for twist, too.
- Peanut sauce. Add an Asian twist to your pasta night by using rice noodles and mixing in chicken and veggies for a simple pad-thai like dish. Most groceries stores carry pad-thai sauces, but they are super simple to make at home, too.
- Oil, garlic, and parmesan cheese. Just keep it simple. 🙂
3. Top it with variety.
Now that you’ve got the base and sauce covered, it’s time to really mix up your pasta night.
- Meatballs! Of course, right? But, you don’t have to always use Italian-inspired seasonings. Mix it up a bit and go with more of a Greek meatball, adding a greek spice (I love Wildtree’s Opa! Blend), maybe a bit of chopped spinach, feta, and parsley. You could go more of a BBQ meatball route and serve it with grilled chicken, a sauce made of 3/4 marinara and a splash of BBQ sauce and shredded cheddar cheese. Think outside of the box on the meatball. 🙂
- Try other meats. Shredded chicken is a favorite of mine, especially rotisserie chicken. Seafood is always a great pairing with pasta. And, frozen shrimp is super easy if you keep it on hand because it thaws and cooks so quickly. I also love ground or sliced sausage and sliced flank steak.
- Veggies. If you’re trying to bulk up the health value of pasta night, adding veggies is the way to go. My favorites are spinach, which I usually just throw in for the last 15 seconds while the pasta is cooking or add in raw and steamed broccoli. But, adding in fresh tomatoes, peppers, squash or zucchini can help brighten the meal and are perfect for easy springtime dinners.
Hopefully, these simple suggestions will help you spice up your Pasta Night. I coach my meal planning clients to keep their meals basic enough to prep and cook within the amount of time they have available and varied enough that they don’t get bored. Sounds easy, right? What other twists do you have for Pasta Night?
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