The primary crux of my practice as a nutritionist is transitioning people away from processed foods. Like most people, I grew up on a staple of casseroles, spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, and the like. Pasta is by far one of the more processed foods, predominantly made from the starch of a grain. Even when you buy‘whole wheat’ pasta, it wouldn’t hold together without a significant ratio of that fine, white starch.
Nobody wants to give up flavor … and old habits are hard to break, but here are five delicious alternatives that will not only increase the nutritional value of your meal, but help make eating gluten-free cheaper!
One of my favorite recipes using cauliflower as a substitute for pasta is my Smoked Mac-n-Cheese. Using chopped cauliflower (steamed and well drained) and about half as much white rice for ‘mouth feel’, I create a base for an American favorite that even the kid’s love. I happen to love smoked cheeses, but you can get creative here (– just try to refrain from the Velveeta please!). Mix up a batch of cheese sauce and pour it over your cauliflower mixture. Place it all in a casserole dish and garnish. (I use green onions and bacon for my garnish) Heat at 350 until it bubbles. Don’t worry, there won’t be any leftovers.
Mung Bean Sprouts
In my house, soup is a huge staple and we occasionally fall back on some old standards like “Chicken and Noodle” and the likes. In this case, I use mung bean sprouts as a replacement for the egg noodles. It never fails and I am always so thrilled with how amazingly the sprouts complement my soup. This one is just way too easy.
Spaghetti squash is like the string cheese of squash. When it is cooked, you can pull it out of its shell in strands that look a little like orange angel-hair pasta. The biggest difference between squash and pasta – aside from the nutritional value – is how light and fresh it feels in your dish. You can even crisp it back up if you place the strands in a bowl of cold water directly after removing the strands from the skin.
You can use spaghetti squash as a bed for just about anything: stir-fry, pasta sauce, 101 Asian dishes… you get the picture.
My first exposure to using zucchini as a replacement for noodles was in zucchini lasagna. Here, you take your zucchinis and slice them thin length-wise. You have to dry them out by laying them on a towel (or paper towel) and sprinkle with salt to draw the water out. Then just use them exactly the way you would use the lasagna noodles. This too adds a beautiful flavor to a traditional dish that won’t disappoint. It will also leave you feeling much less heavy than the traditional version.
You can also prepare zucchini in long thin strips for a different texture in salads and main dishes.
I should really say “whole grain rice” here because there are about 90 varieties of rice and not all of them are ‘brown’. I strongly encourage you to explore the wonderful world of rice, but don’t get too dependent. Diversity and moderation is key.
Rice makes great casseroles and works well as a bed upon which to layer your favorite sauces, vegetables, and meats. You also can mix it up a little by mixing some of the other alternatives into your rice … kind of like a ‘dirty’ rice. This helps keep the portion of rice down just a bit.
Rolled Oats (Bonus!)
Rolled oats are still a whole grain in most cases. You can get oats rolled like what you are used to in the traditional Quaker box; quick oats – which are just really fine flakes of rolled oats; and, thick rolled oats. Just like pasta, the density of the oat affects the texture of the dish.
I use rolled oats as a substitute in my ‘Tuna-noodle Casserole”. You’ll be amazed at how tasty this is for sure. Growing up, we made this with Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup. I don’t use that anymore either.
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