Before we dive head first into all the holiday foods (and sweets!), I want to share one of my favorite healthy and simple weeknight meals with you guys—spaghetti squash with dairy-free pesto and lemon garlic shrimp! I love this meal because it’s super easy to throw together, full of flavor, and um it’s not turkey or pumpkin.
A.K.A. the perfect antidote to all the heavier carb-laden foods we’ve all be eating since last Thursday.
Spaghetti squash is one of those strange vegetables that’s truly mystifying to me. Seriously, it’s right up there with things like artichokes and pineapple all of which make me wonder, how in the world did we figure out we could eat these things?
The first time I had spaghetti squash was in high school after my mom decided our entire family was going to go on a low-carb diet. I honestly have no idea what the motivation behind this decision was at the time (maybe a friend had lost weight following it?), but I’ll just chalk it up to getting caught up in fad diet hype.
Given that my mom was the chef du jour seven days a week, if she was going low carb, we were all going low carb. Not that it mattered that much to me or my younger brother, especially once we learned that copious amounts of cheese cubes were allowed (even encouraged!!) on this new meal plan.
As is the case with most fad diets, I think our Atkins-esque adventures lasted a few months before we all gave up and went back to pasta. Anyone else experience something similar growing up? Maybe with another trendy diet?
Regardless of how you currently feel about pasta and other refined carbohydrates, I think we can all agree that trying to eat more vegetables and less processed grains is a good idea.
After all it’s December 1 (believe it or not!) and the season of indulgent party food, tempting treats and sweets, and cookie swaps is in full swing my friends. If you’re like me and would prefer to not add “buy bigger jeans” to your to-do list come January, then focusing on nutrient-rich, lean and clean meals during the week is a pretty solid strategy that I’ll personally be utilizing.
LET’S PLAY PRETEND
I love spaghetti squash but anyone who tries to tell you it’s “just like pasta!” is off their rocker. Sorry but let’s not kid ourselves, OK? Because it won’t fool anyone who’s eaten pasta but it does do a nice job as a stand in.
Especially when baked just right—i.e. when it’s barely soft enough to scrape out and still relatively “al dente.” In that case, it could quite possibly pass as angel hair pasta. Personally, as far as pasta substitutes go, I think things like kelp noodles and zucchini noodles are much more, uh noodley, but when you’re looking for a healthier way to sop up a delicious sauce, or in this case pesto, spaghetti squash has got that on lock.
Spaghetti squash is an excellent source of vitamins A and C and fiber, as well as high in potassium and calcium. It’s also gluten free so if that’s an issue for you, well spaghetti squash will be your new bestie.
Compared to regular pasta, here’s how spaghetti squash stacks up:
1 CUP WHOLE WHEAT SPAGHETTI
CALORIES: 174 kcals
PROTEIN: 7.5 g
FAT: 0.8 g
SODIUM: 4 mg
CARBS: 37 g
FIBER: 3.9 g
SUGAR: 1.1 g
1 CUP SPAGHETTI SQUASH
CALORIES: 30 kcals
PROTEIN: 0.6 g
FAT: 0.6 g
SODIUM: 17 mg
CARBS: 7 g
FIBER: 1.5 g
SUGAR: 2.8 g
While the pasta has a bit more fiber and protein, the overall carbs are substantially higher and that’s the issue my friends.
As you digest the pasta, you’ll send a surge of starchy carbs into the body that can be rapidly broken down into more simple sugars, leading to a mega spike in blood sugar. Rapid blood sugar spikes are associated with weight gain and insulin resistance, both of which are unhealthy and can lead to even more problems down the road.
Plus, the pasta may appear to contain loads of healthy nutrients but the problem is that it also contains anti-nutrients, like phytates, which block the absorption of essential vitamins and minerals. So while that fortified whole grain pasta seems like a good idea, it’s actually pretty devoid of nutrition.
Honestly, as much as I admit to loving the way pasta tastes, I’ve never loved how it makes me feel—tired, sluggish, bloated, and blah.
You can get just as much, if not more fiber from including non-starchy carbohydrates (cruciferous vegetables, leafy greens, tomatoes, bell peppers, squash, etc.) compared to pasta. And when it comes to carbohydrates, non-starchy vegetables, I always encourage people to aim to get their fill from vegetables first when possible.
Sure it takes a little more creativity and planning to think of how to incorporate new foods like spaghetti squash into your diet but I’m here to make that easier for you.
And I know you’ll love this recipe.
I really think it will become one of your go-to weeknight meals. It’s so simple and so flavorful.
Plus, it’s totally adaptable. If you don’t eat shrimp swap it out with another protein—vegetarian or animal based.
The other thing I love about this recipe is that it’s a nice change from traditional tomato-based sauces, which are by far my absolute favorite but a little variety is always good.
Pesto is not an exact science so if you don’t have all the ingredients for this particular recipe, don’t stress about it! Simply try swapping in whatever you’ve got.
No basil? Try kale or spinach!
No cashews? Go traditional and use pine nuts or try macadamia nuts (a really delicious variation) or walnuts!
Eat dairy without digestive distress? Lucky you! But maybe, just maybe, before you sub Parmesan cheese give this non-dairy version a try. You may find you love it just as much.
>>> RECIPE >>>
Spaghetti Squash with Dairy-Free Pesto and Lemon Garlic Shrimp
gluten free + fairy free + grain free + paleo
Serves: 4 | Prep time: 15 minutes | Cook time: 35-40 minutes (inactive); 15 minutes (active)
1 medium spaghetti squash, halved with seeds removed
1 1/2 lbs wild-caught shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 garlic clove, crushed (or 1 tbs crushed garlic or )
1 tbs olive oil
Vegetables per your choice (I used sliced bell peppers and onion)*
sea salt and black pepper to taste
crushed red pepper flakes to taste
1/2 cup cashews
1 bunch organic basil (about 1-1 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup olive oil
1-2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tbs fresh lemon juice
- Preheat oven to 375-degrees Fahrenheit.
- Cut the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise, remove seeds and brush with ~1 tsp olive oil. Bake cut side down for 35-40 minutes then flip over and use a fork to scrape squash into a large bowl (it will look like spaghetti noodles, hence the name!). While the squash is cooking, prepare the pesto.
- To make the pesto, simply place cashews, basil, olive oil, nutritional yeast, sea salt, black pepper, and lemon juice in a food processor and process until well combined and your desired consistency is achieved (some people prefer it more chunky and others more smooth—totally up to you!).
- To make the shrimp, drizzle remaining olive oil in a nonstick pan and add shrimp, lemon juice and garlic. Sauté for about 5 minutes on medium until shrimp curl up and turn pink/opaque.
- Plate with spaghetti squash noodles on the bottom, adding shrimp and any vegetables on top. Add a tablespoon or two or the pesto and garnish with fresh parsley, red pepper flakes, and more nutritional yeast if you like!
Save time by preparing the pesto up to a week ahead of time and store in the fridge. This way, all you have to do is roast the squash and saute the shrimp. Boom! Dinner or lunch is ready with less than 10 minutes of active cooking.
*This recipe is also great with sauted mushrooms, broccoli, spinach, onions, tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini or yellow squash—anything you like!
Wishing you all a very merry start to the holidays! And if you start to feel stressed about all the hollying and jollying, try one of my five tips for making self care a priority in the post I shared last Friday! It’s part of a new series on self care, so expect to see many more wellness-related posts that go beyond healthy eating. After all that’s only part of living honestly nourished!
I’ll see you back here on Friday for the first holiday cookie recipe of the season! You don’t want to miss it!
What’s your favorite way to make spaghetti squash? What did you think the first time you tried it?