The Ultimate Frugal Pasta Salad Formula

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Okay, I have to tell you something that I’ve been keeping a secret. Deep down, I can be a very lazy person, especially when it comes to early mornings before work. There’s a limited amount of time (unless you decide to get up at 4 a.m.) and far too much to do. Because of that, I’m always looking for morning hacks or things that will just make my mornings run a lot smoother. If I have to be scrambling around trying to decide what to eat, if I have time to make it, then wash all the extra dishes that will ensue after making both breakfast and lunch to go – let’s just say that is not a recipe for a happy Chloe. And Heaven forbid I sleep in and still have to do all that.

So, I started doing some super quick and easy meal prepping. While I highly recommend meal prepping as much as possible, as it saves so much time and money throughout the week, I wanted to simplify the process a bit for myself. I am pretty basic. I don’t have a microwave either at home or at work, so I wanted something that would be quick and easy, that I wouldn’t have to worry about heating up, and something that wouldn’t leave me worrying over soggy bread or tortillas. My last condition was that it had to be versatile and budget-friendly.

That’s where the idea for pasta salad came from.

Talk about easy

Have you ever made pasta salad before? Because honestly, it is one of the simplest things I have ever done. Literally, you boil noodles, let them cool, add some mayo, seasonings, and some veggies and protein, and you are set to go. That’s it. Did I mention how few dishes are needed too? (I’m sorry, I don’t have a dishwasher, and dishes are my least favorite chore, so anything with fewer dishes is a win in my book!)

Even if you have been needing to utilize your local food bank, with the exception of maybe mayo, you’d probably even be able to get what you need from there.

The Basic Formula

Now, like with many things, there are different ways to make pasta salad, with them all resulting in something great. The basic foundation of a pasta salad is;

noodles + mayo + veggies + protein = tasty pasta salad

I do this in an approximate ratio of:

  • 6 cups of cooked noodles (I prefer to use either spiral or macaroni noodles, as I find the sauce sticks better)
  • 1 cup mayo (now, if you’d like a lighter version, you can do 1/2 cup mayo and 1/2 cup sour cream) Another option is an oil and vinegar dressing if you don’t want it to be creamy,
  • 1-2 cups veggies
  • 1/2 cup – 1 cup protien
  • Salt, pepper, and garlic to taste

That’s it. Pretty basic, but it will leave you with something super tasty and delicious. Obviously, this can be tweaked to your personal preferences with no problem.

Let’s talk veggies

The nice thing about pasta salad is you can either use some vegetables in the fridge that need to be eaten, some fresh vegetables from the garden, or utilize some of your canned veggies. Here are some of the vegetables that I’ve used or would be a great fit.

  • Corn
  • Peas
  • Peppers
  • Celery
  • Carrots
  • Cucumber
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Green beans
  • Tomato
  • Onions
  • Spinach (if using fresh, I recommend a little bit of a chop, if frozen or canned, just make sure you strain any excess liquid first)
  • asparagus
  • pickles
  • radishes
  • turnips

I’m sure there are many more that would be tasty, but these are some basics to get you started.

A little extra protein is always good.

Whether you eat meat or don’t, there are still a lot of proteins that can be added. It’s important to make sure you put something with a little protein in your pasta salad when at all possible. When you add protein in, not only will it help to make sure you get the proper nutrients (which can be very difficult with the latest grocery prices), but it will also help to make your pasta salad both more satisfying and to keep you full longer.

Here are some proteins I like to add in;

  • Canned Tuna
  • Canned Ham
  • Canned Chicken
  • Chicken
  • Beef
  • Beans, in all their varieties (pinto, black, kidney, lima, etc.)
  • Chickpeas
  • Cooked fish (this is a great way to use up fish leftovers, I used a little leftover salmon I’d gotten on sale, and it was great!)
  • Lentils

Have you ever made pasta salad?

Pasta salad truly does make a great, easy, and filling lunch that will last you throughout the week.

Are you a fan? Have you ever made any pasta salad? What are your go-to add-ins? Let’s talk about it in the comments section!

About Chloe Morgan

Chloe Morgan grew up living with a tight budget. In her late teens and early 20’s all the lessons she’d learned started to slip, like it does for many college age students on their own for the first time, and with their first credit card. As she’s gotten older, she’s started to deal with the repercussions and has taken on a frugal way of living, keeping her costs low, as she pays off debt and saves for her future. Chloe lives in Northern Ontario, Canada, with her cute dog, Rhea. Check out her other work on Medium, where she writes about lifestyle, mental health, and writing. 

Chloe Morgan

Chloe Morgan

Chloe Morgan grew up living with a tight budget. In her late teens and early 20’s all the lessons she’d learned started to slip, like it does for many college age students on their own for the first time, and with their first credit card. As she’s gotten older, she’s started to deal with the repercussions and has taken on a frugal way of living, keeping her costs low, as she pays off debt and saves for her future. Chloe lives in Northern Ontario, Canada, with her cute dog, Rhea.

4 thoughts on “The Ultimate Frugal Pasta Salad Formula”

  1. Yes, I work in a school kitchen so we have to be real creative with the meals and the budget!

    You can use/make pesto sauce, add to the cooked noodles, top with parmesan cheese , diced cooked chicken and diced tomatos.
    If you want to make it Greek ,use Greek dressing, sliced olives, chickpeas (drained), sliced cucumbers,bell pepers, sliced onions, diced spinach, feta cheese crumbles with the cooked noodles. Feta cheese can be stong so you may want to omit.
    Southwestern theme ,use Ranch dressing with a splash hot sauce/sirachia added, to taste. Use canned corn,black beans (drained), diced bell peppers,diced onions and tomatoes,cooked diced chicken or add canned chickpeas (drained) for veg option to the cooked noodles.
    You can top the pasta salad with spices, cheeses,etc for eye appeal.Instead of buying a variety of salad dressings,which are $$$,you can make your own for much less.

  2. Penne rigate also works well – that is mostaccioli with “ridges” – also a good pick for sauce-of-any-kind sticking.
    Avocado or hard boiled egg is also a good addition. I know avocados are expensive in some areas but may be inexpensive depending on where you live.
    Small amounts of cheese work well – a good way to use up a small amount before it goes bad.

  3. Make a BLT salad. Pasta, mayo, lettuce, cherry tomatoes and crumbled bacon, and don’t forget to add some of the bacon
    grease to your salad.

  4. I make one with small shell pasta, with the imitation crab. Onions, green olives, a small can of sliced mushrooms. Mix with mayo and some shredded cheddar. Add in some creole seasoning.

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