9 Ways to Add More Protein to Your Favorite Pasta Dish—and Recipes to Get You Started

Say yes to the Parmesan cheese.

Everyone loves pasta night, especially after a cold day when all you want to do is dig into a bowl full of carbs. While there's a time and place for some rich cacio e pepe or a simple linguine with tomato sauce, don't shy away from adding some protein to your go-to spaghetti dish. Whether or not you vowed to eat a bit healthier in 2022, upping your protein intake is never a bad idea.

For starters, more protein with pasta means you won't be loading up on as many noodles, which, while delicious, don't have much nutritional value. And let's not forget that protein is responsible for everything from producing antibodies, enzymes, blood, connective tissue, hormones, and more, to repairing and strengthening muscles.

Fusilli with green pesto sauce on a plate

While it may sound like we're just making your favorite pasta dish more complicated, trust us when we say these protein-boosting hacks are really, really easy to implement. For example, did you know that simply by switching up the pasta sauce you use, you can increase your protein content in a meaningful way? And if you've got some leftover rotisserie chicken, adding it to a pasta plate means more protein for you. Toss in some veggies that are on their last legs and you've really got yourself a balanced meal.

Keep reading to find out more about how you can easily add some protein to your favorite pasta dishes.

01 of 09

Toss in some meat

Baked Spaghetti and Meatballs
Marcus Nilsson

One of the easiest (and most obvious) ways to add some protein to your go-to pasta dish is to throw some meat in the mix. Both ground turkey and ground beef can be used to make some flavorful meatballs, as evidenced by this baked spaghetti dish and this meal that gives turkey a chance to shine, respectively. And if you're feeling adventurous, ground bison—which you can use in a meat sauce or a meatball—boasts an impressive 24.5 grams of protein per four-ounce serving.

On nights when you don't feel like channeling your inner Italian grandma, go ahead and shred some leftover rotisserie chicken to go with your pasta. The protein bump isn't as impressive as the aforementioned options, but it's still a boost!

02 of 09

Or fish

Whole Wheat Pasta with Chard and Pine Nuts
Victor Protasio

If you follow a pescatarian diet or simply prefer fish to meat, add some ocean dwellers to your pasta instead. Some of your best options include tuna canned in oil, which is the star of this lemony pasta, or anchovies in oil, which are featured in this whole-wheat pasta dish alongside other protein-packed foods like Swiss chard and pine nuts.

For a fish that's a bit less … fishy, give shrimp a try. The hearty crustaceans pair especially well with a pesto sauce or basic garlic and olive oil, like in this recipe.

RELATED: 10 Most Sustainable Types of Seafood, According to the Seafood Watch

03 of 09

Load up on the veggies

Linguine With Summer Vegetables and Goat Cheese
Gentl & Hyers

Need a Meatless Monday meal you can have on the table in less than 25 minutes? This pasta is packed with summer vegetables—fresh corn, grape tomatoes, and zucchini—which pack a hefty dose of protein. The crumbled goat cheese garnish gives this dish another small (but tasty!) protein bump.

For more veggies that make great pasta companions, check out this list of high-protein vegetables.

04 of 09

Add an egg

Scrambled Pasta
William Meppem

One egg contains six grams of protein, so adding one to a bowl of pasta is one of the quickest and easiest ways to ensure you're consuming a bit more of the muscle-building nutrient. Opt for this scrambled pasta, which pairs eggs with an Italian frying pepper, scallions, and spicy red pepper flakes, or give the slightly more traditional pasta carbonara a try. This classic Italian dish uses egg yolks to create a rich sauce that pairs perfectly with a bowl of noodles.

05 of 09

Try a homemade pesto

Universal Pesto Recipe
Greg DuPree

Sure, you could use pesto from a jar (which actually has many uses beyond pizza and pasta) but if protein is what you're looking for, you're better off whipping up some homemade pesto instead. This way, you can control exactly what goes into the savory green sauce. For a protein-rich pasta topper, your best bet is to make a pesto (like this one) that's loaded with pine nuts and Parmesan—two solid protein sources. For a healthier pesto that still boasts an impressive amount of protein, try this superfood version made with sunflower and hemp seeds.

RELATED: 6 Terrific Sources of Plant Protein for an Added Boost of Fuel

06 of 09

Or a peanut sauce

Gingery Peanut Noodles With Chicken
Romulo Yanes

If you resolved to order less takeout this year, this recipe for gingery peanut noodles with chicken deserves a spot in your dinner rotation. It's a quick and easy take on classic peanut noodles that gets a hefty dose of protein from shredded chicken, peanut butter, and roasted peanuts. And if you like peanut noodles, go ahead and experiment with other high-protein nut and seed butters too. Almond butter is also high in protein, and coats noodles just as well.

07 of 09

Swap out your noodles

“Zoodles” & Turkey Meatballs
Think of this dinner as a healthy helping of spaghetti and meatballs, except we cut the pasta with tons of fresh paper-thin zucchini. And let’s not forget the juicy meatballs, made from hot Italian turkey sausage for maximum flavor with minimum ingredients. They get baked on a rack, so excess fat drains off during cooking. Everything gets topped off with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Get the recipe: “Zoodles” & Turkey Meatballs. Marcus Nilsson

One oft overlooked way to add protein to pasta night is to swap out the type of pasta you're using. Pasta made from refined flour, which is probably what you have in your pantry, has about seven grams of protein per serving, but whole-wheat pasta and grain-free options like chickpea pasta can pack considerably more protein in each serving. Give this whole-wheat penne dish a try, or, if you're feeling really adventurous, whip up these healthy "zoodles" with turkey meatballs.

08 of 09

Bring on the beans

Chickpea Pasta with Almonds and Parmesan
Ngoc Minh Ngo

Chances are you've got a can or two of beans languishing in the back of your pantry. The next time you make some pasta, consider putting these legumes to good use and add them to your bowl of spaghetti or gemelli. This recipe pairs two cans of cannellini beans with tomato sauce and bread crumbs, while this dish features chickpeas—aka garbanzo beans—alongside roasted almonds and grated Parmesan cheese, which are also good sources of protein.

RELATED: 9 Ways to Use Chickpeas (That Don't Involve Hummus)

09 of 09

Don't skimp on the cheese

Macaroni and Cheese
Use a mixture of Gruyère and Cheddar cheeses for more complex flavors. Get the recipe:Macaroni and Cheese. Sang An

Believe it or not, there are several cheeses that are great sources of protein, including many that pair very well with pasta. Romano, mozzarella, and goat cheese are among the best, but don't sleep on Parmesan or Gruyère either. You could add cheese to virtually any pasta dish, but this macaroni and cheese made with a combination of Cheddar and Gruyère takes cheesiness to a whole new level.

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