Life with PAG - Healthy Meal Makeover - Rotini with Sausage and Spinach

When my boyfriend got the "Eat This, Not That" book, I instantly tossed it aside. I tend to eat whatever I want (in generous portions) and more often than not it's pretty unhealthy stuff. Although I'm currently blessed with good metabolism and a petite figure, I have a bad feeling that my poor eating habits are going to catch up to me one day.

Last week, however, I decided to take a peek inside and was surprised that the book contained mostly photos with interesting commentary and nutritional facts on the side. I ended up reading it page-to-page and now carry it in my purse as a reference (since I eat out 3x a day when traveling).

The premise of the book is to continue eating the foods you love -whether at home or at restaurants- but to be informed in order to make really simple yet smart decisions that could have significant nutritional impact.

I decided to apply some learnings from the book to "makeover" one of my favorite easy n' inexpensive 15 minute meals - pasta with sausage and baby spinach.

Original Recipe (1 serving):
- 1/8th box (2 oz) Barilla regular pasta
- 1/2 cup Trader Joe's Tomato & Basil Sauce
- 1/2 link Hilshire Farms Beef Smoked Sausage
- 1 cup uncooked baby spinach leaves (I buy the $1.99 bag from TJ's)

Healthy Revised Recipe (1 serving):
- 1/8th box Ronzoni Healthy Harvest pasta
- 1/2 cup Classico Tomato & Basic Sauce
- 1/2 link Archer Farms Chicken & Sun-Dried Tomato Sausage
- 1 cup uncooked baby spinach leaves

**Optional: 1 clove garlic, minced, and 1 tbsp freshly grated cheese of your choice**

(Hah! Didn't even realize the book was in the background until now)

Pictured: Approx. 1 serving. I typically eat almost 2 servings because, well, I love food.

Directions:  Chop garlic and sausage while waiting for water to boil. Sautee garlic with sausage while pasta is cooking, until fragrant. Drain pasta, then stir together all ingredients at medium heat until sauce is heated through. Garnish with cheese. I eat this with a dot of Sriracha hot sauce and a glass of soymilk.

Click "Read More" to see the "before-and-after" nutritional information.

Clearly I took this very seriously lol, and typed up my before-and-after nutritional information (click the chart to enlarge) just to see whether the changes really made any difference. Note: delicious cheese not included in chart.

Sources: and my pantry.

Not bad at all...and I daresay the flavors even improved. The optional cheese is obviously not "healthy" but no way am I going to sacrifice my freshly-grated parmesan or romano : )  There are 3 simple replacements in this dish:

1. Use whole wheat pasta. I don't precisely understand why whole wheat is better for you, but it's got something to do with less processing and more fiber. The book's #1 choice is Ronzoni Smart Taste.

2. Be conscious of the sodium and sugar in pre-made sauce. According to the book, many jarred tomato sauces are laden with sodium and possibly extra sugar. I typically eat Trader Joe's Tomato & Basil thinking it's decent for you, and was quite surprised to discover that it contains 540 mg of sodium per half cup.  Newman's Own Tomato & Basil sauce contains 620 mg per half cup! Eeks!

3. Replace beef or pork sausage with chicken or turkey. I usually use Trader Joe's brand, but I discovered that Target's Archer Farms actually makes one of the best chicken sausages with hardly any fat and relatively low sodium.

Hope this post wasn't too boring. Exercise, nutrition, and fine cooking are definitely not my realms of expertise, but it is my resolution to learn more this year. In order to look good in pretty clothes, a girl has gotta be happy, healthy and fit. I would love more healthy-eating suggestions from readers or any tips on staying fit.


  1. One of the biggest things I learned this past year, when trying to eat "clean" was to pay attention to the sodium content of foods. This is really concern to pre-packaged convenient foods at the grocery store. We all buy them because they're "easy". But even though the package makes it sounds really great, low calories, low in saturated fat...the sodium content is ridiculous! Excess sodium in diet is related to hypertension/high blood pressure and heart disease, fluid retention (oedema) and kidney stones. So it's definitely something to be aware of. So important to read the labels of food packaging--the *entire* label!

  2. Yummy! I learn to pick more wisely. Reading some of these info online, I was amazed at the amount of fat and sodium in most dishes. Yikes.

  3. I think it's always easier to start incorporating healthy eating habits gradually, so IMO you're doing it the smart way. In general I try to do what you've done with this recipe.

    I don't track or anything, I just strive for a balanced week (others aim for a balanced day). The plus side of learning about and paying attention to nutrition is that one has the tools to get back to healthier habits when relapse happens. Or so I tell myself post-holiday crapfest!

    Key for me: Lots of herbs/spices/citrus to give things *taste*, and olive oil to carry the flavor. Lots of baking of meats and roasting of vegetables and fruits. Two gallons of water/day. More protein now (at 40+) than in my 20s (esp. almonds and walnuts for snacks or added to salads and cereal). Dark chocolate and complex carbs to keep homicidal tendencies in check. Protein + carbs at every meal = happy me.

    Oh, and BREAKFAST. [After decades of skipping it, I eat none-smelly "light" stuff I can gag down. Brunch is my ideal morning meal, breakfast something to get through!]

  4. Oh wow that comparison on the same dish is fascinating. I'm still in school and on a meal plan, but I definitely need to be aware of healthy eating after I graduate!

  5. I got that same book a while ago. Since I love to cook, I usually make most of my meals in advance so I can just reheat during the week when I'm on the go.

    But I've noticed that I don't buy pasta sauce or salsa from the store anymore...I make it myself so I can control what goes in it better. Plus it tastes a lot better too! And with pasta, I add some beans to give it more depth of flavor and fills you up faster.

    To eat healthier, I try to get fresh ingredients and if I won't be using them soon, I stick it in the freezer. Because my friends and I have been keeping each other accountable on being healthier, I don't really like fast food as much as I used to just tastes...fake.

  6. Thanks everyone for the info and tips : ) Seems like most of you gals already have the healthy lifestyle down.

    Vix - 2 gallons a day? Wow, someone recommended just 50 fluid oz to me, or approx half of my body weight. Guess it doesn't hurt to have more H2O.

    Cynthia - meal plans are killer, lol. In college I even upped mine to the unlimited plan so I could gorge multiple times a day.

  7. Yeah, 2 gallons is a lot (and I'm not an undiagnosed diabetic!) and I don't always hit it...1.5 is probably my average on non-exercise days.

    As I've discovered when I restrict fluid on long car rides, I just feel better when I'm really hydrated. I think my skin looks better, too./shallow

  8. Whole wheat vs processed flours/starches has a benefit of a lower 'glycemic index,' essentially how much and how fast the carbohydrate gets converted into glucose (blood sugar). The 'whole' portion of the grain has the indigestable fiber still intact, and this slows absorption, essentially making the body work harder to gain nutrition from it. I'm already sounding like a geek, so I won't go any further.

    Anyhow, love your post.

  9. Do you eat a lot of sweets? I'm guessing that's your secret that's not really a secret. I've been studying a lot of my skinnier friends and people who write petite blogs...they usually have that in common. They eat anything else they want, but don't really care much for sweets except on special occasions. I'd be curious if that is the same for you.


Pin It button on image hover