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When I first became a mom (eleven years ago last weekend, sob!), we lived in the Midwest where every warm-weather party was a potluck. And while I had previously used an invitation as a reason to try a new recipe, I soon realized that my brain after kids needed fewer decisions. And I decided to go with one option every time: Pasta Salad.
And I know that may sound not all that exciting, but I learned that having trusted go-to recipes for events reduced my mental load so I was actually able to enjoy the time with friends more. (Especially since in the early years, I was caring for a baby and then a busy toddler, which makes even the easiest things difficult!) So, pasta salad is on repeat.
I think it’s the Lazy Genius who recommends making a decision once, then doing it again and again to simplify your life. And I think she’s right, it does really help. It’s a similar reason to why I like having pretty set categories for dinner each night of the week—so I always know that Monday is pasta of some sort, Tuesday is Mexican, etc, and never have to start from scratch with the deciding.
It’s also why I was so determined to have a “house” birthday chocolate cake, because I love the idea of food traditions, and more practically, it saves me from rabbit-holing down the internet for a cake recipe. (My kids usually want a specific frosting, of course!) But I didn’t fully realize just how much it helps because it gives my brain a break, and I think that stress—the one of making so many food decisions so much of the day—is one that just isn’t acknowledged enough. It is so much work.
Which brings us back to the pasta salad.
There are literally millions of pasta salad recipes, but here’s why I love this one:
- You can vary the vegetables and dressing to change the flavors according to what you have and prefer. So you can make it my original Italian way, or turn it into a chicken Caesar pasta salad, a pesto pasta salad, and more.
- It has the right amount of textural contrast for a pleasant eating experience and plenty of dressing to prevent it from ever drying out.
- It stays great for days in the fridge, so you can make it ahead and share it with confidence.
- It’s super easy to deconstruct for the kids if they prefer their food to not be mixed and you can easily serve them just the pasta if that’s all they’re into.
Sometimes I have to remind myself that it’s okay to stick with our family favorites. We don’t actually have to reinvent the wheel, unless we really want to. And that when we make certain dishes regularly, our kids get to grow up with those food memories, which is an extra bonus. This will be on repeat for my family as the weather continues to warm up. I’d love to hear if you have any of these trusted recipes that you rely on for entertaining or gathering (or just at all!)