5 Veggies That Make Awesome Pasta Substitutes

Article posted in: Diet & Nutrition

Portion control is a huge part of a successful weight loss journey—or, in the case of pasta, not so huge. If you grew up with heaping piles of spaghetti and rigatoni, the proper portion of pasta can seem meager, or even depressing.

But don’t let it get you down, and don’t relegate the joy of spinning noodles until “after I’ve reached my goal.” You can use vegetables as an incredible substitute for the texture and taste of pasta—and not in the way that sucking an ice cube is a substitute for ice cream, but as a real, satisfying swap. These five veggie-as-pasta subs will give you the real satisfaction of a plate of noodles, even when you’re not on a cheat meal.

For four of them, the key is a spiralizer—a small kitchen tool that spins the vegetable towards a blade, slicing it into long, thin noodles. They’re available on Amazon and other online retailers for as little as $9. Once they’re noodle-fied, these veggies can be baked, boiled or roasted to create all kinds of dishes. One note: Spiralized vegetables are so thin and have so much surface area that they cook very quickly, often in less than a minute, so don’t leave the stove once you drop them in the water!

So try these awesome pasta substitutes and get your fork-twirling fix. And while you wait for your spiralizer to arrive, there’s good news: The first one can be made without the miracle machine.

The original: Spaghetti Squash
Spaghetti squash is like magic—in just minutes, it creates a perfectly pasta-like noodle (right down to the color of spaghetti) that has just 84 calories in two heaping cups of the cooked stuff. That’s less than half the calories in a meager, 1/8-box serving of semolina spaghetti. And the squash, like the real deal noodles, pairs perfectly with your favorite marinara or other tomato sauces.

To make it, cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds in the center, just like you would with a cantaloupe or pumpkin. Place the squash halves, cut side up, on a baking sheet, and spray lightly with cooking spray. Season with salt and pepper, and then bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees. Looking for a faster way to cook your spaghetti squash? Slice it in half and place it cut-side down in a microwave-safe baking dish. Add about an inch of water to the dish and microwave for about 12 minutes or until soft.

Once it’s cooked, use a fork to pull down at the insides of the squash—magically, noodles will appear and fall onto the plate below. Top it with your favorite sauce, and enjoy. On Nutrisystem, count one half cup of cooked spaghetti squash as one Vegetable serving.

Check out this video to see how it’s done:

Perfect for a spring vegetable pasta: Zucchini
Zucchini noodles have a near-perfect, pasta-like texture, and have a fun name: Zoodles. They’re perfect with some lightly sauteed vegetables for a fresh, spring or summer pasta dish that’s just right for outdoor dining.

First, the zoodles: Cut the ends off of two small zucchini, and place the cut end into a spiralizer. Spin to make a big, heaping pile of noodles, then drop into boiling water for less than a minute to cook. Drain and set aside. Check out the video here to see how it’s done:

Next, the sauce: Heat a pan over medium-low and spray with some cooking spray. Add a half cup of small, diced onion and a minced garlic clove. Saute for three minutes, then add a half cup of yellow summer squash, diced to the pan. Saute for three more minutes. Add one cup of halved cherry tomatoes, and stir together until the skins of the tomatoes start to blister.

Turn off the heat and mix the zoodles into the sauce right in the pan. Serve immediately with salt, pepper, and a quarter cup of low-fat grated Parmesan cheese (optional). On Nutrisystem? Count this recipe as about three Vegetable servings (and one PowerFuel if you add cheese).

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Get your peanut butter fix with Sweet Potato Noodles
Spiralizeed sweet potato can be baked into curly sweet potato fries—which is awesome—but they’re also a delicious noodle to be paired with a simple peanut sauce and broccoli for an easy Thai-inspired lunch.

Start with the sweet potato noodles: Peel two medium sweet potatoes and cut them into pieces that will fit your spiralizer. Spin the potatoes to create a pile of noodles, and set them aside. Rather than boiling the noodles, they’ll simmer and soften in the simple peanut sauce.

To make the sauce, heat a saucepan over medium-low and add one teaspoon of canola or sunflower oil. Add two tablespoons of peanut butter, two tablespoons of “light” coconut milk, two teaspoons of low-sodium soy sauce, two teaspoons of fish sauce, one teaspoon of honey, and crushed red pepper flakes (to taste). Simmer and stir until the ingredients have melded together, then add the noodles to the pan. Let the sauce and noodles cook together until the sweet potato noodles have softened, then remove.

Slice a large head of broccoli into florets, and steam for one minute, or until the florets are bright green. Serve with the noodles and sauce, and top with a sprinkling of sesame seeds.

Enjoy a half cup of sweet potato noodles with one cup of broccoli topped with one teaspoon of sesame seeds. Count as one SmartCarb, two Vegetables and one Extra on Nutrisystem.

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Brighten up summer pasta salads with No-Cook Cucumber Noodles
When put through a spiralizer, cucumbers don’t even need to be cooked—they create bright, crisp, flavorful noodles that are perfect to replace pasta in a summery pasta salad. Try this simple, low-calorie Greek-inspired dressing for a “pasta” salad that will be the hit of any barbecue.

For the dressing, mix together:

  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Black pepper, to taste

For the salad, mix two spiralized cucumbers with one cup of halved grape tomatoes, two mall chopped red onions, and—if you like—two sliced pepperoncinis. Toss with the dressing and serve. Just eat it right away—spiralized cucumbers won’t keep! If you’re on Nutrisystem, count one count 1 cup as 1 Vegetable and 2 Extras.

Get garlicky mashed potato flavor in noodle form with Turnips
Just like cauliflower, boiled turnips can be turned into a fantastic mashed potato substitute. But unlike their white cloud cousin, turnips can also be used to change up the texture and make noodles—with all the garlicky, peppery flavor you love from the mash in a twirling side dish that’s perfect mixed with any of your favorite chicken recipes.

As with the sweet potato noodles, the turnip noodles will be sauteed and softened right in the sauce. Start by peeling two large turnips and using a spiralizer to noodle-fy them.

Then start the sauce. In a pan set to medium, heat one teaspoon of olive oil, then add one minced clove of garlic and half a cup of white onion, diced. Cook for two to three minutes, or until the onion starts to turn translucent. Add three tablespoons of fresh squeezed lemon juice and a sprinkle of black pepper. Stir to combine.

Add the turnip noodles to the pan, and toss continuously so the noodles get covered by the sauce. Continue tossing until the noodles soften slightly, then remove to a bowl. Top with lemon zest and some fresh or dried rosemary. If you’re on Nutrisystem, count a half cup of this tasty dish as one Vegetable serving.