15 Healthy Pasta Sauce Recipes for Well-Rounded Dinners

Updated: May 31, 2024

Pasta night doesn't have to be a treat-yourself type of meal. These healthy pasta sauce recipes are loaded with antioxidant-rich ingredients.

Healthy pasta sauce transforms pasta from a carb-heavy indulgent splurge to a nutrient-rich and healthy dinner. Enjoy your garden’s harvest with these vegetable-rich recipes, or can and freeze many of these sauces to enjoy in pasta recipes all year long. After all, while pasta itself is delicious, the sauce is really what makes the meal!

Some of these recipes will simmer on the stove all afternoon, while others rely on the slow cooker to do all the work. Use these recipes when you need easy comfort food or on nights when all you have time for are 30-minute healthy dinners. Whether you make homemade noodles, use whatever dry pasta you have in the pantry or splurge on plant-based pasta, top them with these healthy sauces.

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The Best Marinara Sauce

Total Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Main Ingredients: Tomatoes, onion, garlic, basil, oregano, lemon juice, olive oil
Level: Intermediate

Need a sauce that goes with spaghetti, lasagna, pizza and more? This simple canning recipe will fill your pantry with a flavorful marinara sauce that’s bursting with garden-fresh flavor. Don’t let a single tomato from your harvest go to waste this summer, and have the best marinara sauce on hand all year long.

“I developed this marinara sauce recipe with a friend to make the most of a bumper crop of tomatoes. Now we like to make huge batches—we’re talking 220-pounds-of- tomatoes huge—and then give jars along with a pound of pasta as gifts around the holidays. Knowing this sauce is made from the heart with the best possible ingredients makes me feel good about giving it to my family and friends.” —Recipe contributor Shannon Norris, Cudahy, Wisconsin

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Garden Vegetable Tomato Sauce

Total Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes
Main Ingredients: Zucchini, carrots, mushrooms, peppers, garlic, crushed tomatoes, red wine
Level: Intermediate

Loaded with zucchini, peppers, onions, tomatoes and mushrooms, this hearty sauce is packed with garden-fresh ingredients. It’s a great way to “eat the rainbow” (aka get your nutrients in), and it freezes beautifully. Allow the sauce to cool after cooking, portion it into freezer containers, and enjoy vegetable-packed sauce all winter long.

“I make this vegetable tomato sauce regularly and store containers of it in my freezer. It’s a tasty substitute for regular pasta sauce, and the extra vegetables make it healthier. I also use it when I make pizza.” —Recipe contributor Ann Sheehy, Lawrence, Massachusetts

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Classic Pesto

Total Time: 10 minutes
Main Ingredients: Basil, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, pine nuts, garlic
Level: Beginner

Prepared pesto may contain additives or high amounts of sodium. Making it from scratch is easier than ever and requires only six ingredients. It’s simple, flavorful and completely customizable with any garden vegetables you have on hand. Try parsley pesto or spinach pesto to use up extra greens or poblano pesto to add heat to your noodles.

“This versatile pesto boasts a perfect basil flavor. Pair it with pasta and you’ve got a classic Italian dinner.” —Recipe contributor Iola Egle, Bella Vista, Arkansas

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Best Ever Cashew Cheese Sauce

Total Time: 25 minutes + overnight soaking
Main Ingredients: Cashews, olive oil, vegetable broth, nutritional yeast
Level: Beginner

Soaking cashews overnight, then blending them with cooked onions, broth and nutritional yeast creates a luxuriously smooth and decadent sauce that looks and tastes cheesy but is totally dairy-free! You’ll love this over pasta and vegetables or on pizza and sandwiches.

“This is a versatile cashew cheese sauce that’s totally plant-based. I use it as a pasta sauce, as a pizza topping, over roasted veggies, on tacos and for grilled cheese. Because it doesn’t reheat well, I don’t suggest making a double batch.” —Recipe contributor Max Gregor, Santa Fe, New Mexico

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Spaghetti with Fresh Tomato Sauce

Total Time: 45 minutes
Main Ingredients: Olive oil, onions, plum tomatoes, Romano cheese, basil
Level: Beginner

You really can’t beat homemade tomato sauce, especially one that takes just 45 minutes from start to finish. With simple but flavorful fresh ingredients like tomatoes, onions and basil, you’ll have an aromatic and rich sauce ready to spoon over your favorite pasta. Plus, it tastes even better the next day!

“When my mom made this spaghetti sauce, the house would smell so good that I’d open the windows to torture the neighbors. It even tastes wonderful the next day, when the flavors have really melded.” —Recipe contributor Vera Schulze, Holbrook, New York

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Red Clam Sauce

Total Time: 3 hours, 25 minutes
Main Ingredients: Canned clams, canned tomatoes, tomato paste
Level: Advanced

Letting this red clam sauce cook slowly for three to four hours infuses the most delicious and decadent flavor into every bite. You’ll only spend 25 minutes getting it ready, then let the slow cooker do the rest of the work while you kick your feet up and prepare to indulge in a delicious pasta dinner.

“This recipe tastes like an Italian restaurant specialty and cooks while you take care of other things. What a marvelous way to jazz up pasta sauce! ” —Recipe contributor JoAnn Brown, Latrobe, Pennsylvania

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Fettuccine with Black Bean Sauce

Total Time: 30 minutes
Main Ingredients: Green pepper, garden-style pasta sauce, canned black beans
Level: Beginner

Canned black beans add fiber and protein to any dish they’re in, and pasta sauce is no different. This recipe calls for fettuccini noodles, but you can use any pasta shape you prefer. Or, turn pasta night into a protein-packed meal by using a high-fiber or high-protein noodle made from whole wheat, chickpeas, edamame or buckwheat.

“When my husband needed to go on a heart-smart diet, I had to come up with new ways to get more vegetables into our daily meals. This meatless spaghetti sauce is a winner; it’s especially delicious with spinach fettuccine.” —Recipe contributor Marianne Neuman, East Troy, Wisconsin

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Spicy Fresh Tomato and Eggplant Sauce

Total Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes + release
Main Ingredients: Eggplant, tomatoes, carrots, tomato puree, chicken broth
Level: Beginner

Using the pressure cooker for this tomato and eggplant sauce makes cooking and cleaning up as easy as can be while majorly cutting down on the time needed to simmer. Loaded with vegetables like eggplant, tomatoes, onions and carrots, each cup of sauce has less than 100 calories and only 12 grams of carbohydrates.

“My garden is overflowing with fresh tomatoes and eggplant toward the end of summer, so I was thinking of ways that those ingredients were used in the old country. A hearty gravy (what it’s called in Sicily) for pasta is just the ticket. You can add meat or sprinkle it with Parmesan if you’d like, but it is good on its own. It also freezes well.” —Recipe contributor Teri Schloessmann, Tulsa, Oklahoma

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Cherry Tomato Pasta with Avocado Sauce

Total Time: 30 minutes
Main Ingredients: Avocado, spinach, basil, garlic, lime, olive oil, pine nuts
Level: Beginner

This creamy, pesto-like sauce is made from avocados, spinach, basil, garlic and olive oil. Use a high-protein pasta to help make this decadent pasta dish even more filling and satisfying.

“Heart-healthy avocado makes this pasta dish feel indulgent without being overly rich. The flavorful sauce is so luscious, you’ll think there is cream hiding in there. It’s guilt-free and dairy-free, but with a texture and consistency that’s similar to traditional cream-based sauces.” —Recipe contributor Julie Peterson, Crofton, Maryland

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Spaghetti Squash with Meat Sauce

Total Time: 35 minutes
Main Ingredients: Ground beef, onion, tomato puree, Parmesan cheese
Level: Beginner

Swapping regular noodles with spaghetti squash “noodles” cuts down on the carbohydrates and calories in this meal and adds another serving of vegetables! Roasting the squash as you make the meat sauce means this entire dish takes just 35 minutes—perfect for busy weeknight dinners!

“When my mom and I cooked spaghetti squash with meat sauce, all we could do was grin and say “Wow!” It’s fun to separate the noodle-like strands from the squash shell, but eating it is the best part!” —Recipe contributor Lina Vainauskas, Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina

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Romesco Sauce

Total Time: 10 minutes
Main Ingredients: Slivered almonds, bread crumbs, fire-roasted crushed tomatoes, roasted sweet red peppers, sherry
Level: Beginner

With fresh parsley and a handful of pantry ingredients, you can whip up this flavorful Romesco sauce in just 10 minutes. Whether you make it last minute or keep a batch handy in the fridge, this red sauce is perfect poured over pasta, fish, veggies or all of the above.

“Whether you pair it with fish, roasted veggies or some other creation, this flavor-packed romesco sauce will take your dish to a new level.” —Recipe contributor Lauren McAnelly, Des Moines, Iowa

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Arrabbiata Sauce with Zucchini Noodles

Total Time: 45 minutes
Main Ingredients: Ground beef, diced tomatoes, red wine, tomato paste, honey, apple cider vinegar
Level: Beginner

This popular spicy and rich tomato-based sauce is lightened up by using zucchini noodles instead of traditional pasta. Either use a spiralizer or cut your zucchini into ribbons with a vegetable peeler for low-carb and nutrient-rich noodles.

“This popular Italian dish is flavorful and spicy. We decided to re-create one of our favorite jarred sauces and serve over zucchini pasta for a lighter, healthier meal that’s naturally gluten-free. The results were amazing!” —Recipe contributor Courtney Stultz, Weir, Kansas

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Garlic Spaghetti Squash with Meat Sauce and Tomato

Total Time: 1 hour
Main Ingredients: Ground beef, mushrooms, garlic, plum tomatoes
Level: Beginner

While you can serve this meat sauce with tomatoes over regular pasta, the recipe itself calls for spaghetti squash. We love using this veggie for a low-carb, grain-free swap. High-protein ground beef, meaty mushrooms and plenty of tomatoes make this a hearty option for late summer dinners when spaghetti squash is in season.

“I have reduced grains and other starches in my diet due to health reasons, so I was looking for filling, comforting meals without pasta or potatoes. When I was tinkering with this spaghetti squash recipe, I discovered something fun to eat!” —Recipe contributor Becky Ruff, Mc Gregor, Iowa

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Southern Barbecue Spaghetti Sauce

Total Time: 4 hours, 20 minutes
Main Ingredients: Ground turkey, mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, tomato sauce, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, cumin, chili powder
Level: Beginner

Once you brown the meat and combine the ingredients, let your slow cooker do the rest of the work. By the time dinner rolls around, everyone’s mouths will be watering from this barbeque-style spaghetti sauce that’s been slowly simmering away.

“I revamped our favorite sloppy joe recipe into this thick spaghetti sauce that simmers in the slow cooker. The flavor is jazzy enough to be interesting to adults, yet mild enough for the kids to enjoy.” —Recipe contributor Rhonda Melanson, Sarnia, Ontario

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Tilapia with Lemon Caper Sauce

Total Time: 25 minutes
Main Ingredients: Chicken broth, olive oil, butter, lemon juice, capers
Level: Beginner

The protein in this dish comes from pan-fried tilapia, but the lemon caper sauce can be served over pasta with or without the fish. The bright and citrusy sauce gets a rich finish from melted butter and a burst of salty flavor thanks to capers.

“My husband and I are always trying to increase the amount of fish in our diet. This recipe is fast, easy and enjoyable, even for non-fish lovers.” —Recipe contributor Catherine Jensen, Blytheville, Arkansas

Healthy Pasta Sauce FAQ

Is pasta sauce healthy?

Depending on the ingredients used, pasta sauce can be an excellent source of vitamin C and antioxidants, and it can even provide a serving or two of vegetables!

When paired with a basic serving of pasta (2 ounces), you’ll add about 210 calories, less than one gram of fat and less than 4 milligrams of sodium. Grain-free or protein pastas are great swaps depending on what you’re looking to get out of your pasta dinners.

How do you make a healthy tomato pasta sauce?

You can make a simple tomato pasta sauce with tomatoes, onions, garlic and seasonings. The whole recipe takes just 15 minutes to prepare and includes nutrient-rich, whole-food ingredients.

How do you make a healthy creamy pasta sauce?

Instead of relying on butter and heavy cream, make a lusciously creamy pasta sauce using ingredients like cashews or avocado blended with aromatic ingredients. Try our creamy cashew cheese sauce or avocado sauce.