Tri-Colored Pasta Salad

Tri-colored pasta, a classic party dish because it is so easy to make ahead of time, stores and transports well, and can sit at room temperature for hours.

Rachel, the daughter

This weekend we had Jackson’s first birthday party. I made a great big salad bar with every whole-foods, plant-based topping under the sun, plus pasta salad, three bean salad, corn bean salsa, an organic fruit tray, and even pb&j for the picky-eaters. At the snack table, we had homemade salsa, guacamole, regular hummus, white bean hummus, and cowboy caviar. And to top it all off, a two-tiered custom order cake from a vegan baker with both white vanilla cake with vanilla icing and carrot cake with cream cheese icing.

Surely, there would be something for every guest with a spread like this.

As I sat down with my plate, my best friend’s 4-year old daughter asked me very kindly if she could have a spoonful of peanut butter. I’d forgotten she doesn’t eat jelly on her peanut butter sandwiches. Her mom and I laughed. I have fourteen thousand options and the girl wants a spoonful of peanut butter. I, of course, obliged and made a special “peanut butter lollipop” just for her. After she licked the spoon clean, she came up to me where I sat in my chair chatting with her mom, and leaned her elbows onto my knees, looked up so we were almost nose to nose and said “Rachel, you make the best food ever.”

Talk about humbling. In all the frenzy of worrying about what to serve, this sweet girl had it right. I could have served spoonfuls of peanut butter and if it had been served with love and made especially for my friends and family, it would have been received the same way.

It was a great party, but not because of the cute antique toy decorations…

My mom found the old train, blocks, and boxtop at estate sales. The rest I had or got unfinished from Hobby Lobby and painted myself.

not because of the organic salad bar…

Make your own salad with toppings like roasted red peppers in garlic oil, olives, sundried tomatoes, caramelized onions, marinated artichokes, shredded carrots, cucumbers, mushrooms, and roasted chickpeas.

or the fruit and pasta salads…

Pasta, three bean, and fruit salads add variety and substance to a meatless salad bar menu.

or the special order vegan cake…

A little hint, I wanted a stacked cake, but it was $25 more, so I just ordered two cakes. The bigger cake was supposed to say “Happy Birthday Jackson,” but it was blank….after I threw a little pity party, I stacked them myself and ended up with what I wanted in the first place!

not even because of the bounce house (though that was a hit)…

There is nothing like a huge blow up castle to put a smile on a child’s face!

or the presents…

or the color-coordinating family outfits…

It was a great party, because my house was filled with all nine of Jackson’s living great-grandparents, four of his grandparents, almost all of his great aunts and uncles, several cousins and our best friends. Though I got several sweet comments on the food and decor, it wasn’t the focus of the party…the birthday boy was…as it should be! He was fully aware that this was his party, and ate up all the attention. Jared and I are both shy-by-nature, but somehow we have a boy who loves being the center of attention. Forty sets of eyes on him didn’t overwhelm him in the least.

In church this Sunday, the message was on Matthew 18:1-5,

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

One of our other little 3-year old guests, held up every present Jackson opened for all to see and shouted “Look everyone! Look!”

This weekend was full of humbling reminders. Being a new food blogger and author may have put some imaginary pressures on me to throw a fabulous party with lots of delicious food that show a plant-based diet has plenty of options outside of tofu and carrots. But throwing the greatest party or cooking the best food isn’t really what it’s all about. Humbling myself to serve peanut butter on a spoon is what it’s all about. Throwing my hands in the air with the unrestrained joy of a child and shouting for everyone to look at how great a gift we have all been offered…that’s greatness.

I’m not saying I won’t throw big parties again or make cute banners again or make a big spread of yummy food again, I’m just saying I’ll remember that those things don’t make me great and don’t make a party great. People were having great parties far before pinterest came along!

The most complimented recipe I served was a simplified version of a classic recipe we’ve all had at one time or another, a humble tri-colored pasta salad. You’ve seen it so often because it is makes a lot for pretty cheap, is easy to transport, and can be served at room temperature, making it great for parties and potlucks or to pack for lunch on the go. I took some last night to a friend who just adopted a baby and my husband brought some to work for lunch today.

Tri-Colored Pasta Salad


1 17 oz package tri-colored bowtie or spiral pasta
1/2 bottle of your favorite italian dressing (I used a combination of a bruschetta italian and a balsamic dressing)
2 T. olive oil
1/2 a red onion, diced
1 cup of sliced black olives
salt and pepper
(optional mix-ins: diced red pepper, artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes, shredded chicken, Parmesan cheese)


Cook pasta according to package directions. Don’t overcook. Drain.

In a large bowl, combine salad dressing, onion, black olives, any other mix-ins you like, and pasta. Season with salt and pepper if needed. Refrigerate for two hours or up to a several days. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

(Note: If using meat as a mix-in, you’ll want to keep it chilled. I wouldn’t recommend saving leftovers with chicken that has come to room temperature.)

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One Comment on “Tri-Colored Pasta Salad”

  1. […] morning I reached for the peanut butter jar, but remembered I had served the very last spoonful to my special party guest, Avery, who then declared me the best cook ever (so she is welcome to finish off the peanut butter […]

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