Homemade Pesto Pasta With Veggies Your Kids Will Eat!

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pesto pasta with veggies

You’d be surprised how much kids like pesto sauce! I know many parents think that this might be too fancy or too bold a flavor for kids, but I urge you to try this Pesto Pasta with Veggies it and see how it goes … let me know in the comments! I also find that because the sauce is green, you can throw in green vegetables and they blend right in!

Pesto Sauce

Pesto sauce is a flavorful and versatile sauce that enhances a wide variety of dishes. It is traditionally made from fresh basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil. However, there are many variations that include ingredients like spinach, arugula, or sun-dried tomatoes. I like to use nutritional yeast in this pesto pasta with veggies to keep it dairy-free for our household. Here are some of the benefits of pesto sauce:

  1. Delicious Flavor: Pesto sauce has a rich and vibrant flavor profile with a combination of fresh herbs, garlic, and cheese. Its taste is described as fresh, herbaceous, and slightly nutty.
  2. Versatility: Pesto can be used in a multitude of dishes. It’s not just for pasta; you can use it as a spread, dip, marinade, or drizzle it over roasted vegetables, grilled meats, seafood, or even pizza! I also like to use it as the base pizza sauce or as a spread for turkey sandwiches.
  3. Nutrient-Rich: Pesto is made with nutritious ingredients. Basil is a good source of vitamins A and K, while olive oil and pine nuts provide healthy fat. Parmesan cheese adds calcium and additional protein. If you opt for nutritional yeast, you are adding B vitamins, antioxidants, protein, and a small amount of fiber.
  4. Quick and Easy: Making pesto is a pretty quick process that involves blending or processing the ingredients together. It’s a convenient option for those busy weeknights!
  5. Long Shelf Life: Pesto can be stored in the refrigerator for several days if you want to make it ahead of time. You can also freeze it for longer-term storage – this makes it a handy sauce to have on hand for quick and easy meals!
  6. Customizable: You can customize pesto to your liking by adjusting the ingredients. For example, you can make it with different herbs, nuts, or cheese to create unique flavor profiles or accommodate any allergies or dietary preferences.
  7. Gluten-Free and Vegetarian/Vegan Options: Traditional pesto is naturally gluten-free, and you can easily make it vegetarian or vegan by using plant-based cheese or nutritional yeast instead of Parmesan.

Overall, pesto sauce is a delicious and versatile condiment that adds a depth of flavor and nutrition to your meals!

Squash

Squash is a versatile vegetable that I don’t feel like gets enough love. There are various types of squash, including butternut, acorn, zucchini, and spaghetti squash. Each variety hast its own unique characteristics and flavors. Here are some of the benefits of incorporating squash into your diet:

  1. High in Antioxidants: Squash is rich in antioxidants, such as beta-carotene and other carotenoids. These compounds help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals and can reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
  2. Promotes Eye Health: The high vitamin A content in squash, primarily in the form of beta-carotene, is essential for maintaining healthy vision and helps reduce the risk of age-related eye conditions, such as macular degeneration and cataracts.
  3. Supports Immune Function: Vitamin C, found in squash, is known for its immune-boosting properties. It helps the body’s immune system function properly and can aid in the prevention of illnesses.
  4. Heart Health: The potassium content in squash may help regulate blood pressure and reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease by promoting healthy blood vessel function and electrolyte balance.
  5. Digestive Health: The fiber in squash can support digestive health by preventing constipation and promoting regular bowel movements.
  6. Hydration: Squash has a high water content, which helps keep you hydrated. Staying adequately hydrated is essential for overall health.
  7. Versatile Cooking Options: Squash can be prepared in various ways, including roasting, steaming, sautéing, and pureeing. It can be used in both savory and sweet dishes, making it a versatile ingredient in the kitchen.

Besides including squash in this pesto pasta with veggies, you can incorporate it into your meals by roasting it as a side dish, adding it to soups, making squash-based pasta alternatives (e.g., zoodles), or even using it in baked goods like muffins or bread. More recipes to come soon!

Mushrooms

Mushrooms are another underrated vegetable! I personally love mushrooms and am always looking for new ways to include them in our meals. Here are some of the benefits of including mushrooms in this pesto pasta with veggies:

  1. Nutrient-Rich: Mushrooms are a good source of essential nutrients, including vitamins (such as B vitamins like riboflavin, niacin, and pantothenic acid), minerals (like selenium, copper, and potassium), and dietary fiber. They are also a source of protein, making them a valuable addition to vegetarian and vegan diets.
  2. Rich in Antioxidants: Mushrooms contain various antioxidants, including ergothioneine and glutathione, which can help protect cells from oxidative stress and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
  3. Immune Support: Some mushroom varieties, like shiitake and maitake, contain compounds that help boost the immune system. Beta-glucans, found in these mushrooms, have been studied for their potential immune-enhancing effects.
  4. Heart Health: Mushrooms are low in sodium and cholesterol and are a source of potassium, which can help regulate blood pressure. They also contain compounds like beta-glucans and sterols that may help lower cholesterol levels.
  5. Digestive Health: Mushrooms are a good source of dietary fiber, which can support digestive health by promoting regular bowel movements and preventing constipation. They also have a high water content and can aid in feelings of fullness.
  6. Bone Health: Some mushroom varieties, when exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light, can synthesize vitamin D. Vitamin D is important for calcium absorption and bone health.
  7. Mental Health: Certain mushrooms, such as lion’s mane, have been studied for their potential cognitive benefits. They may support brain health and possibly help with cognitive function.
  8. Versatility: Mushrooms are incredibly versatile in the kitchen. They can be used in a wide range of savory dishes, from soups and stir-fries to pasta and omelets, adding depth of flavor and texture to meals.

Shrimp

Shrimp is a popular seafood that offers several health benefits when consumed as part of a balanced diet. Here are some of the benefits of including shrimp in your diet:

  1. High-Quality Protein: Shrimp is an excellent source of high-quality and heart-healthy protein. It is rich in essential amino acids, making it a valuable protein source for muscle growth, repair, and overall health.
  2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Shrimp contains omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). These fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties and are beneficial for brain health, reducing the risk of heart disease, and supporting overall well-being.
  3. Rich in Vitamins and Minerals: Shrimp provides essential nutrients such as vitamin B12, iodine, selenium, and zinc. Vitamin B12 is important for nerve function and the formation of red blood cells, while iodine is essential for thyroid health. Selenium and zinc are antioxidants that help protect cells from damage.
  4. Quick and Easy to Prepare: Shrimp cooks quickly and can be prepared in various ways, such as grilling, boiling, sautéing, or baking. Its versatility makes it a convenient choice for those rushed weeknight meals.
  5. Low Mercury Content: Shrimp is one of the seafood options with lower mercury levels compared to some larger fish species. This makes it a safer choice for pregnant women and young children.
  6. Improves Bone Health: Shrimp contains small amounts of phosphorus and calcium, which are important for maintaining strong and healthy bones.
  7. Rich in Choline: Shrimp is a good source of choline, an essential nutrient that plays a role in various bodily functions, including brain development, nerve function, and liver health.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020 recommends 2 servings of fish per week. Including shrimp one night per week is an easy way to meet guidelines, especially if your family isn’t used to eating fish regularly. Try making this pesto pasta with veggies once per month to help meet those goals!

Looking for more healthful recipes? Check out our Recipes page!

Pesto Pasta with Veggies

Prep Time5 minutes
Cook Time25 minutes
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: pesto mushroom pasta, pesto pasta with veggies
Servings: 4

Equipment

  • large frying/saute pan
  • large cooking spoon
  • large pot
  • measuring spoons
  • blender (a Magic Bullet or Ninja work well for this!)
  • strainer
  • small food container, 4-8 oz (I use a small glass container with lid, but you could use a freezer ziplock as well)

Ingredients

For Pesto Sauce

  • 4 oz basil
  • 4 tbsp pine nuts, toasted
  • 4 cloves garlic (disclaimer: I use the pre-chopped garlic and put in about 4 big scoops … we like to ward off vampires over here)
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 4 tbsp nutritional yeast (I use this in place of parmesan to keep it dairy-free)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp water

For Pasta

  • 16 oz pasta (we use a brown rice pasta to keep the recipe gluten-free, I personally love Trader Joe's brand)
  • 3 squash (we use a mix of yellow and green)
  • 8 oz mushrooms (I prefer sliced baby bellas)
  • 1 lb shrimp (you'll save time if you buy pre-peeled)
  • olive oil
  • red pepper flakes, optional
  • Parmesan or dairy-free Parmesan cheese, optional (my kids LOVE to top this pasta with Parmesan!)

Instructions

  • Place a pot of water to boil for your pasta.
  • Chop the squash into quarters.
  • Preheat your frying/sauté pan and add about 1-2 tbsp olive oil. Add the chopped squash and cook until soft (move to next step while you cook). I like to cook them until they are more translucent and beginning to fall apart.
  • While the squash is cooking, make your pesto sauce. Put all of the ingredients in your blender and blend away!
  • At this point your water should be boiling. Add your pasta and don't forget to set your timer according to the package cooking directions.
  • Add the mushrooms and cook until they have let off their water. Either drain or allow to boil off.
  • Add the shrimp and cook for about 3-4 minutes, or until opaque (no longer translucent and starts to curl).
  • Your pasta should be done, drain it and then add to the shrimp and veggie mixture.
  • Add in ½ of your pesto sauce and mix well. Freeze the other ½ in your container or ziplock (you can thank me the next time you want to make a pesto dish and already have the sauce made!).

Notes

Tips for picky eaters:
  • If your family doesn’t do shellfish, you could alway sub out for chicken.
  • For kiddos who don’t love food mixed together, you can separate out some veggies and shrimp before you add in the pasta and sauce, then serve a bowl of pasta and sauce on the side.
  • For really selective eaters, you can serve plain pasta on the side with olive oil/butter and/or parmesan and allow them to try dipping noodles, veggies, or shrimp in the pesto sauce. 

About the Author

Dru Rosales

Dru Rosales, MS, RD, LD is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian. She specializes in children and adolescents with a focus on eating disorders, weight management, and sports nutrition. Dru received her Bachelor’s Degree in Kinesiology from the University of Southern California and her Master’s Degree in Nutritional Science from California State University, Los Angeles.

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