Pasta Salad and School Lunch Ideas
You guys! This pasta salad––full of roasted tomatoes, a zingy oregano vinaigrette and cubed mozzarella––is just what the doctor ordered. I’m literally eating it as I type!
Usually, I try not to be too effusive about my recipes, calling things the “best” or “favorite” is not my style. Food is so subjective. But, I think we’ve stumbled upon a serious crowd pleaser unless you have a strong aversion to tomatoes or pasta (who are you?!).
I’ve been teaching and cooking veggie-based recipes all summer, and this is no exception. Lately, my family has been living off grain and pasta salads for lunch, dinner and afternoon snacks. I also have this summer farro “risotto” recipe that’s full of summer produce and a delicious leftover lunch.
Serve this pasta salad on its own or add a scoop to tossed green salad. It’s delicious as a side to roasted chicken or grilled burgers, but I highly suggest you make it on the weekend for busy weekday lunches.
School Day Meal Plan
I’ve included a sample school lunch meal plan with ideas to add to your rotation. To be completely honest, school lunches are hard for me! I get frustrated by the fact that everyone wants and likes something different and I’m supposed to keep a running mental tally. I’ve decided to approach lunch the same way I plan dinners. I ask my kids if they have a lunch idea for the week, and work in their request. That way, everyone has a voice and I can fill in the remaining days with what sounds good (or easy) to me. Or have your kids assemble their own lunch the night before and it will be ready to go in the morning!
Pasta salad. Use fresh tomatoes, or roast them to bring out their sweetness. Add vegetables your child might like or protein from garbanzo beans.
Easy quesadilla, English muffin or bagel pizzas. These are so fun to make, my son actually started making them when he was about 10. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Place your favorite type of tortilla, half a bagel or English muffin on a sheet pan. Spoon on about 2 tablespoons of marinara sauce and a little shredded mozzarella. Top with basil leaves or pepperoni slices. Bake for 10-15 minutes until cheese is melted and bubbly. On the weekend, cut some carrot and celery sticks and store them in containers in your refrigerator. You can use these all week long as lunch sides, a side of ranch dressing is optional!
Chicken salad pinwheel sandwiches with a side of fruit. Just layer a tortilla with some greens (spinach leaves or arugula) and a thin layer of your favorite chicken salad. If you’d like, add a few slices of avocado. Roll up the tortilla and slice into 1-inch pieces. Serve with apple slices or orange wedges on the side.
Mezze platter. This is a great thing to serve if you want to keep flavors separate or create a “make your own” lunch. I like to set out hummus, cucumber slices, crackers, cubed feta, tomatoes, Green Goddess Dressing and carrots and some berries, watermelon, mango or grapes! My oldest will make a salad of mixed greens and dressing topped with “all the things” and my younger two pick and choose want they want on their plate. The rule in my house is if you don’t like what’s served, make yourself a PB&J! Which, BTW, is another totally acceptable school lunch option.
Pimento cheese sandwiches. This is a fun read on the history of pimento cheese. Add a side of steamed edamame, carrot or celery sticks or berries.
Pasta Salad with Roasted Tomatoes
For the Roasted Tomatoes:
- 3 cups cherry tomatoes
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Kosher or sea salt
For the Oregano Dressing:
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
- Fresh ground pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons red wine, white wine or champagne vinegar
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
For the Pasta Salad:
- 14 ounces fresh or dried macaroni
- 2 cups arugula or spinach leaves
- 8 ounces mozzarella, cubed
- 1/2 cup basil leaves, chopped
- 1/4 pine nuts, toasted (optional)
- Kosher or sea salt to taste
- Heat oven to 350°F. Add the tomatoes to a sheet pan or baking dish, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Shake the pan to coat in oil and apace out the tomatoes. Bake in oven for approximately 45 minutes, until somewhat shriveled and softened, but not fully dehydrated. Set aside to cool. (Note, if your pine nuts are not yet toasted, you can place them in the oven for the last 7-8 minutes, shaking them once or twice for even toasting. Let cool before using.)
- Roughly chop the garlic or use a microplaner to grate it. Add it to a glass jar with a tight fitting lid, then add salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Add oregano and whisk in lemon juice and vinegar. Close the lid and shake the garlic and vinegar mixture well. Set aside to let the garlic marinate in the vinegar for at least 10 minutes. This will soften the garlic's bite and also flavor the vinegar. Add in the oil, cover and shake to combine.
- In a medium or large mixing bowl, add the cooked and drained pasta and drizzle with about 2-3 tablespoons of the oregano dressing. Toss to combine and cool the pasta if it's still warm. Add the roasted tomatoes and the juices from the pan, cheese and pine nuts if using, and toss gently to combine. Add another 1-2 tablespoons dressing to taste. Finish with chopped greens and basil (or add those just before serving). Refrigerate remaining oregano dressing for green salad or Greek salad.