How many calories is a big bowl of pesto Pasta?

Quick Answer

The number of calories in a big bowl of pesto pasta can vary greatly depending on the specific ingredients and portion size. However, a rough estimate for a large, homemade bowl containing around 2 cups of cooked pasta and 1/4 cup of pesto sauce would be 600-800 calories. This will depend on factors like the type of pasta, amount of oil and cheese in the pesto, and any additional toppings. For a restaurant-style pesto pasta bowl with grilled chicken or other add-ins, the calorie count may be closer to 1000-1200 calories. The more generous the portion size and the more calorie-dense the pesto and accompaniments, the higher the calorie content will be.

What Are the Typical Ingredients in Pesto Pasta?

Pesto pasta is a simple yet flavorful dish made by tossing hot cooked pasta with pesto sauce. The main ingredients are:

  • Pasta – Most common types used are spaghetti, linguine, fettuccine or rigatoni.
  • Pesto – Made primarily from basil, olive oil, parmesan cheese, pine nuts and garlic.

Additional ingredients that may be added include:

  • Protein – Chicken, shrimp, salmon, sliced prosciutto.
  • Vegetables – Tomatoes, broccoli, roasted red peppers, roasted garlic.
  • Extra cheese – Ricotta, goat cheese, mozzarella.
  • Herbs – Chopped Italian parsley or oregano.
  • Breadcrumbs or nuts for texture.

The calories of a pesto pasta dish can increase significantly based on the specific ingredients used, portion sizes, as well as any creamy sauces or oil.

Calories in Pasta

Pasta itself can range from around 100-200 calories per cup cooked, depending on the variety:

  • Spaghetti or linguine – About 200 calories per cup
  • Penne or rigatoni – Around 185 calories per cup
  • Mini farfalle or orecchiette – Approximately 130 calories per cup
  • Low-carb or protein-enriched pasta – Can be 90-130 calories per cup

So for a large bowl with 2 cups of cooked pasta, the pasta alone would account for 200-400 calories before any pesto or other add-ins. Choosing a lighter pasta variety can help cut some calories.

Calories in Pesto Sauce

The calorie count of pesto can range wildly depending on specific ingredients. Homemade pesto is lower in calories than traditional restaurant-style pesto. According to the USDA, a 1/4 cup serving of pesto sauce contains:

  • 297 calories in regular pesto
  • 234 calories in pesto with low-fat ingredients

So if using 1/4 cup of pesto on a pasta dish, just the sauce can add 230-300 calories. The primary factors accounting for calories in pesto include:

  • Olive Oil – Regular pesto gets much of its calories from the olive oil. Using less oil will lower the calories.
  • Cheese – Parmesan and pecorino provide a nutty, salty punch but also considerable calories.
  • Pine Nuts – These creamy nuts add healthy fats and texture but also 130+ calories per 1/4 cup.
  • Basil – The fresh herb is very low in calories but essential for flavor.
  • Garlic – Minimally impacts calorie totals but provides big flavor.

Making pesto with less cheese and oil, using vegetable broth instead of oil, or substituting lower-calorie nuts like almonds can reduce the calories while still providing richness.

Calories in Pasta Toppings

In addition to the pasta and pesto, any other mix-ins will increase the calorie count. Some common toppings and their calorie contributions:

  • 2 oz grilled chicken breast – 110 calories
  • 2 oz salmon – 90 calories
  • 2 oz shrimp – 28 calories
  • 1/4 cup diced prosciutto – 140 calories
  • 1/4 cup feta cheese – 115 calories
  • 1/4 cup roasted red peppers – 15 calories
  • 1/2 cup sauteed vegetables like mushrooms, onions, spinach, broccoli, tomatoes – 25-60 calories
  • 1 tbsp Parmesan cheese – 25 calories
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil or cream sauce drizzle over top – 120-240 calories

It’s easy to add 200 or more extra calories from high-calorie toppings like meat, cheese and sauces. Going heavy on the vegetables will add relatively fewer calories.

Putting it All Together – Estimating Total Calories

Considering the potential calorie range of each component, here’s a rough estimate of the total calories in a large bowl of pesto pasta:

  • Pasta – 200-400 calories
  • Pesto sauce – 230-300 calories
  • Protein topping like chicken – 100-150 calories
  • Vegetable toppings – 25-100 calories
  • Cheese topping – 50-150 calories
  • Oil or sauce drizzle – 100-200 calories

Add this up and a big bowl can quickly climb into the 800 to 1200+ calorie range, depending on your choices of ingredients and serving sizes.

Some examples:

  • Basic – 1 cup pasta + 2 tbsp pesto = 500 calories
  • Vegetarian – 2 cups pasta + 1/4 cup pesto + mushrooms, tomatoes, spinach = 600-700 calories
  • Chicken – 2 cups pasta + 1/4 cup pesto + 3oz chicken + veg = 800-900 calories
  • The Works – 2 cups pasta + 1/4 cup pesto + 3oz chicken + cheese + creamy sauce drizzle = 1000-1200 calories

As you can see, it’s easy for a pesto pasta bowl to contain 700, 800, 900 calories or more depending on the serving size and what you top it with. To lighten it up, choose smaller portions of pasta and pesto, load up on low-cal veggies, and go easy on high-calorie meats, cheeses, oils and creamy sauces. With mindful ingredient choices you can still enjoy the delicious flavor of pesto pasta while avoiding excess calories.

Calorie Ranges for Restaurant Versions

At most Italian restaurants, a bowl of pesto pasta is likely to weigh in even higher than homemade versions in terms of calories per serving. Some examples based on popular chain restaurants:

  • Olive Garden

    • Chicken & Shrimp Pesto Cream Sauce – 1280 calories
    • Shrimp Alfredo & Pesto Sauce – 1210 calories
  • Macaroni Grill

    • Pesto Chicken Pasta – 1140 calories
  • Carrabba’s Italian Grill

    • Penne Positano with Chicken – 1170 calories
    • Penne Pomodoro with Chicken – 1020 calories

As you can see, restaurant pesto pasta dishes often range from 1000-1300 calories for a single bowl. This is significantly higher than what you’re likely to make at home. Restaurant portions tend to be very large, the pesto is calorie-dense, and the recipes usually include multiple high-calorie mix-ins like chicken, prosciutto, cream sauces and hefty amounts of cheese. If trying to watch your calorie intake, sharing a bowl or taking half home for leftovers is a smart strategy when dining out.

Tips for Lightening Up Pesto Pasta

You don’t have to give up this delicious pasta to cut back on calories. Here are some easy ways to make pesto pasta healthier:

  • Use Banza or lentil pasta for more protein and fiber.
  • Make pesto with less oil, low-fat cheese and almonds instead of pine nuts.
  • Saute plenty of vegetables like zucchini noodles to bulk it up.
  • Go easy on high-calorie meats, choosing lean proteins like shrimp.
  • Use just a drizzle of oil over the top instead of heavy cream sauce.
  • Fill your bowl with tomato sauce before topping with pesto.
  • Skip the fatty cheese topping and use just a sprinkle of Parmesan.
  • Add cannellini beans or chickpeas for more protein and fiber.

With a few simple substitutions and smart meal building, you can create satisfying pesto pasta dishes that are light on calories but still full of flavor. Portion control is also key – be mindful of proper serving sizes.

Healthy Pesto Pasta Recipes

Here are some delicious and nutritious pesto pasta recipes to try:

Lightened Up Chicken Pesto Pasta

  • 1 serving Banza chickpea pasta
  • 1/4 cup light pesto
  • 2 oz grilled chicken breast, sliced
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 cup fresh baby spinach
  • 1 tbsp shaved Parmesan cheese

Toss everything together in a bowl and enjoy a protein-packed 415 calorie meal.

Veggie Pesto Pasta

  • 1 serving protein-enriched pasta
  • 2 tbsp pesto
  • 1/2 cup fresh or roasted summer veggies like zucchini, yellow squash and bell peppers
  • 1/4 cup white beans or chickpeas
  • 1 cup baby kale
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste

A veggie-licious 350 calorie bowl!

Shrimp & Tomato Pesto Pasta

  • 1 serving pasta
  • 1/4 cup pesto
  • 4 oz shrimp, tails removed
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • 2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped

Saute the shrimp and garlic in olive oil and red pepper, then toss everything together for a 480 calorie meal.


A hearty bowl of pesto pasta can certainly deliver on taste, but it may also carry a hefty calorie cost if you aren’t mindful of portions and ingredients. A large homemade bowl with pesto, pasta and high-calorie toppings like chicken and cheese can easily contain 700-1200+ calories. Restaurant pasta bowls often tip closer to 1000-1300 calories. Pay attention to proper serving sizes for pasta and pesto, and load your bowl up with low-calorie vegetables rather than fatty meats and creamy sauces. With a few simple tricks, you can keep pesto pasta as a delicious menu option even when watching your calorie intake.

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