Feeding a Crowd: Pasta Salad Variations

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Pasta Salads - Feeding a Crowd

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Life as Mom‘s Ultimate Recipe Swap theme this week is feeding a crowd. Two summers ago I got to host a couple parties/get-togethers at our house, and I fell in love with the art of pasta salad making.
Pasta Salad - Spicy Pepper

Things I Love About Pasta Salads

  1. Cheap dish to pass!
  2. Somewhat nutritious (My “real foodie” friends might take issue with white pasta, but I just can’t afford grass-fed meat and pastured eggs for a crowd…at least there are veggies in there!)
  3. Flexible amounts – you can literally make any size bowl you want without hassle
  4. Can usually make with ingredients on hand
  5. Styles and flavors vary so we’re never bored
  6. Easy to transport (you can even pack it in a plastic zipper bag, like if you’re bringing a meal to someone)


And only one thing I don’t…The quality of your leftover pasta salad will decrease each day quite significantly.  I wouldn’t recommend trying to keep it around more than 2 or 3 days.

I never used to like pasta salad, and it’s still hit or miss for me, but if you can get the right combo of veggies, meat, cheese and dressing…Yum-O!  Plus, it’s so very easy to make a HUGE batch that can feed a ton of people.

Here’s my basic breakdown:

  • Cook pasta as directed.  Any style will do, but I like penne, rotini, or shells myself.  Tricolor pasta adds extra pizazz and looks very elegant!  (Err on the side of “al dente” over “mush”.) YES you can use good gluten-free pasta!
  • Add any oil-based dressing of your choice (creamy ones probably work too, I just haven’t used them myself)  Click for my homemade dressings. I go through a lot of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, which I buy in bulk.
  • Plus vegetables:  broccoli, cauliflower, cherry tomatoes, frozen peas, peppers, ETC. (Try to include lots of super foods!)
  • Add cheese, crumbled or cut into cubes.
  • Meat optional.
  • Stir and enjoy!  (best fresh)
  • WIDE variety of choices available!

For a party, I like to make the pasta well in advance and throw it in a zipper bag in the fridge.  It doesn’t take up much space that way and is ready when you need it.  You can cut all the other parts in advance, too, then throw it together at the last minute so it’s all fresh and not soggy.

Pizza Pasta Salad - Gluten Free

I encourage you to experiment with various creations, but here are a few of my favorite finds, which I always mix up in my HuMONgous Mixing Bowl:

The Basic Pasta Salad

  • Box of pasta cooked to package directions
  • Cubes of mozzarella cheese
  • Sliced green olives
  • Cut broccoli and cauliflower florets
  • Cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • Optional:  celery, cucumber, other veggies
  • Italian dressing to taste

Note:  when packing to take to a party, bring extra dressing to add when you get there.  A dry pasta salad is a sad pasta salad!

Pizza Pasta Salad

I created this for my daughter’s Baptism party last year.  I just thought, “What would go well on a pizza?”

  • Box of pasta cooked to package directions
  • 1 green pepper, cut in bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 3oz. pkg pepperoni or so, cut up
  • Mozzarella cheese, cubed
  • green olives, sliced
  • chopped tomatoes
  • chopped broccoli
  • Sun-dried tomato dressing

Spicy Red Pepper Lover’s Pasta Salad

My husband is a huge fan of spicy foods and Kraft Red Pepper Italian dressing.  This one was for him!

  • Box of pasta cooked to package directions
  • 1 red pepper, cut into chunks
  • Pepper Jack Cheese, cubed
  • Chopped broccoli
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Red onion slices
  • optional:  chopped jalapeno, fresh or jarred
  • optional:  sliced banana peppers
  • optional: other veggies of your choice
  • Crushed red pepper to taste
  • Kraft Red Pepper Italian dressing (here’s a homemade Italian)

Greek Pasta Salad

(props to Kraft Food and Family Magazine for this one)  This is a very elegant-looking and fancy tasting pasta salad.  Use it for the more high-faluting get-togethers.

  • Half box of bow tie pasta cooked to package directions (tricolor is fabulous here)
  • 1 can (or dry equivalent) garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
  • a few handfuls of baby spinach, washed
  • cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  • chopped red onion
  • about half a container of Kraft feta cheese
  • Kraft Greek Vinaigrette dressing UPDATE: I make my own Greek dressing now

UPDATE: Here’s a classy and simple Tomato Basil Pasta Salad that uses fettuccine noodles

tomato basil pasta salad

Packing leftover pasta salad in a lunch is one of the easiest side dishes imaginable. For more lunchbox ideas and travel foods recipes, check out my eBook, Healthy Snacks to Go. You also may be interested in the Family Camping Handbook with Real Food Options, which gives an even healthier alternative to pasta salad as part of a weekend real food camping meal plan (spelt salad).

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14 Bites of Conversation So Far

  1. karen says

    I (almost) always have a bowl of pasta salad in the fridge! Greek is a big hit around here–splurge on a big tub of Kalamata olives at Costco and the really good feta (in brine) at Trader Joes. We also like to toss in leftover grilled veggies–asparagus, zuch, onions, etc.

    [Reply to this comment]

  2. says

    Yum! Thanks for the ideas!

    Have you ever tried nutritional yeast? It is SO GOOD on pasta and veggies! Click my name for a recipe.

    ‘Becca’s last blog post..Try my card game!

    [Reply to this comment]

    'Becca Reply:

    I just read this post again and noticed that I posted a link long ago before moving my site to WordPress. Here is the current location of my Improved Pasta Salad recipe.

    In the 3 years since you posted this, the price of whole-wheat pasta has come down and the quality has gone up (less grittiness), at least in my area–so I feel that making whole-wheat pasta for a crowd is affordable now, and most people will like it.

    [Reply to this comment]

  3. Katrina says

    I see you say to use Kraft Greek dressing. Doesn’t this contain bad fats?? Do you have a recipie for it with good fats?

    [Reply to this comment]

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    I’m way too late noticing your comment, so sorry! You’re right, this is a very old post. I make my own Greek now: http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2010/11/02/recipe-connection-festive-holiday-greek-salad/
    Thanks for pointing that out -I need to update the post with that link!
    :) Katie

    [Reply to this comment]

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