When warm, spring weather hits I immediately lose all appetite for the heavy dinners like chili or pot roast that I craved during winter, and instead I’m finding myself adding light pasta salads, gazpachos, and grilled meats and veggies to our dinner rotation.
So, in honor of this gorgeous spring weather and my sudden craving to take all meals outdoors, here are some recipes that help you lighten up your pastas, soups, and even some favorite family one-pot meals over the next few months.
These aren’t necessarily lighter in calories, mind you. And no salads here. They’re just ideas for classics that are lighter on the stomach, so you don’t walk away from the table ready for bed.
Hey, there’s daylight out there to enjoy after 6PM now!
Related: 5 more dinners that feel like spring
Lighter pasta recipes
My family tends to enjoy heavier pasta dishes, like spaghetti lasagna, or penne pasta with sausage and a rich marinara sauce during the colder months, but I can’t bring myself to eat like that once it’s warm outside.
Instead, I opt for lighter pasta dishes with no heavy sauce, instead using ingredients in-season. Here are a few of my favorites.
One easy way to make your pasta dishes lighter is to change up the pasta itself — like option for linguini or angel hair instead of thicker fettuccini or tagliatelle noodles. Also, start cooking with all those fresh herbs and veggies coming into the stores! This lemony bucatini with wilted arugula by The Mess I Make, shared on Food 52, ticks all the boxes. It just sounds like “winter is over!” doesn’t it?
Just like switching from fettuccini to thinner angel hair, you can also go with super-short cuts of pasta like orzo. This lemon garlic orzo with roasted veggies at Vanilla and Bean really lets those spring veggies like asparagus and tomatoes get all the attention. I love having this recipe on hand as a main course, or a make-ahead side dish if you’re grilling outside in the warmer weather.
You might not think of carbonara as a lighter spring pasta dish, but it’s one of my favorites, especially if you can grab some fresh eggs at your farmer’s market. They make this easy 20 minute carbonara pasta from Chef Savvy even more exquisite than it already is. You can toss in some fresh veggies like asparagus or peas, too, for a bold celebration of spring on your plate.
Another consideration is to start cooking with seafood. Is it me, or is that always a welcome change to your dinner plate in warmer weather, away from heavy roasts or cuts of meat? I’m a fan of the Garlic Butter Shrimp Pasta from Basil and Bubbly if you want a place to start.
Speaking of a spring celebration, yay for cooking with fresh herbs in spring! This is the perfect time to whip up some homemade pesto for pasta. Liz recommends this recipe from Elise Simply Recipes — though you may want to start with less garlic, then add more to taste. It keeps so well in the fridge or freezer, so you can pull it out for a lighter spring pasta any time.
Make extra — it’s also great on toast with a few slices of tomato or fresh mozzarella for lunch.
(Time saving tip: I have it on good word from pesto snobs that the Kirkland brand of pesto from Costo is impressive if you go through a lot of pesto.)
Lighter hot soup recipes
We’ve had a strong rotation of chilis and stews going this winter, but it’s time to lighten those favorites up with some spring soup recipes with lighter bases instead. These soups are all hot, because it’s not quite gazpacho season yet — though hey, have at it if you want to make some! — but still honor those spring veggies.
Be sure to check our post on 7 ideas for lightening up family dinner for spring — then add these lighter soups to the repertoire.
If you just can’t get enough asparagus during springtime (hand raised!), then this 30-minute asparagus soup at Clean and Delicious is perfect. It makes use of white beans to achieve that rich, creamy texture without added calories from cream. Serve with cucumber or chicken salad sandwiches for a easy, tasty lunch or light dinner on a hot night.
If you love the Mexican flavors of chili but are craving something lighter, this spicy chicken lime soup at Cooking Classy is a great place to start. Pair with a homemade margarita on the back porch, and you’ve got a perfect dinner in my opinion.
Oh. My. Goodness. This soup. I made this Tom Kha Gai coconut soup with a recipe from 40 Aprons on a whim the other night, and it was so, so good. Like, text-your-friends-the-recipe good.
The coconut milk-based broth is creamy but so light, and it bursts with so many flavors that it leaves you feeling satisfied, and not weighed down. I did switch the chicken for tofu for my vegan husband and it worked just fine. Also, the addition of ramen noodles is a fun add-in too.
Lighter one-pot dinner recipes
One-pot dinner recipes — especially those I can make in my slow cooker or Instant Pot — are a lifesaver in the dark, cold winter months. But they’re not just for pot roast, of course, so don’t put away that instant Pot so fast! There are plenty of delicious, light, spring recipes we love that let you eat inside, when it’s not quite grilling season yet.
Here are three must-try, lighter one-pot dinner recipes that lighten up mealtime, and keep things quick and easy so you can enjoy the rest of that daylight.
Taco night is a good bet year round, and even easier when you put your slow cooker to work with this carnitas tacos recipe at From Valerie’s Kitchen. The pork is tender and just the right amount of spicy. Add a slide of perfect guacamole with some fresh cilantro, plus a bright pineapple salsa or mango salsa to take it to the next level with flavors that feel springy and wonderful. .
Remember how I mentioned seafood as a way to welcome spring? It doesn’t have to be expensive shellfish. This creamy lemon dill salmon at The View from Great Island is a nice way to change up a plain grilled salmon. And don’t fear the creamy sauce! It’s really lightened so much by the lemon and dill, and because it’s all whipped up in one pan on the stovetop, clean-up is a breeze. Definitely a spring favorite of ours.
Sheet pan dinners are one of my favorite easy meal-planning hacks, especially on nice spring nights when we want to hang outside instead of cleaning up but we haven’t yet fired up the barbecue. We’ve shared lots of easy sheet pan dinner recipes worth checking out and I want to highlight one more: The Greek sheet pan chicken at Killing Thyme. It’s perfect for spring, with the flavors of fresh zucchini, artichoke and bell peppers along with that spiced chicken.
The veggies are coming! Yes!