Creamy Lemon Pasta Salad with Spinach

Creamy Lemon Pasta Salad with Spinach - A lightened-up workweek lunch that will get you through the afternoon! |

Remember how even though I work from home, I still “pack my lunch” for the following day, using fridge salad kits? The options for these kits are really endless, and today I’m drawing inspiration from the most popular pasta salad in all the land. I used to work at the gourmet prepared foods counter of a local grocery store, and they had this pasta salad made with gemelli pasta (a twisted shape sort of similar to rotini) that people would order by the pound…or more.

Before I worked at this store, I loved that pasta salad, too. But once I became an employee, I got a behind-the-scenes look at how it was made, and learned it involved something called “heavy duty mayonnaise.” Yes, that’s a real thing. Yes, it’s just as horrifying as it sounds. I don’t know when the mayonnaise industry started using the same terminology as hardware stores, but it scared me enough to inspire me to go home and create a salad kit version free of any heavy-duty ingredients.

Creamy Lemon Pasta Salad with Spinach - A lightened-up workweek lunch that will get you through the afternoon! |

For starters, I made the pasta salad version of my kit with a combination of (regular!) mayonnaise and Greek yogurt, flavored up with lots of bright lemon juice and zest. To further move this salad away from heavy-duty status, I serve the lemon pasta salad over a big bed of spinach. Once you finish it off with some sundried tomatoes, Parmesan cheese and pistachios, all you need to do is stir everything up in your bowl for a lightly-dressed and flavorful lunch.

I like to do this salad as a fridge salad kit, because the spinach stays fresher (and the pistachios more crunchy) when everything is combined the night before or morning of, rather than days in advance. I just keep all of the prepped ingredients in separate containers on a sheet pan in the fridge, and when it comes time to make lunch, scoop a little of each item into my bowl.

Creamy Lemon Pasta Salad with Spinach - A lightened-up workweek lunch that will get you through the afternoon! |

Even though this salad might be a little lightened-up from the original inspiration, it still has enough staying power to get you through the afternoon, thanks to the yogurt-based dressing and cheese. Cheese and yogurt are made with milk produced by Michigan’s hardworking dairy farm families, and they’re both excellent sources of protein! Not only that, but Michigan’s dairy industry contributes $14.7 billion to the state’s economy every year, so buying local dairy is a great way to support the state I’m proud to call home.

For more information on The United Dairy Industry of Michigan and to find out why Milk Means More, visit their website and connect with them on FacebookPinterestYouTube and Twitter.

Creamy Lemon Pasta Salad with Spinach - A lightened-up workweek lunch that will get you through the afternoon! |

Creamy Lemon Pasta Salad with Spinach

Yield: 6 servings

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes


For the Lemon Pasta Salad:

  • 8 ounces gemelli pasta
  • Juice of 1 small lemon
  • 5 tablespoons Greek yogurt
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Pinch of salt and pepper

For the Salads:

  • 1 package (5 ounces) baby spinach
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced sundried tomatoes
  • 6 tablespoons shaved Parmesan cheese
  • 6 tablespoons shelled pistachios


  1. Make the Lemon Pasta Salad: Cook gemelli according to package instructions; drain. Rinse pasta with cold water; drain.
  2. Meanwhile, in medium bowl, stir together lemon juice, yogurt, mayonnaise, Dijon, lemon zest, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Add pasta; stir until well combined.
  3. Prep all salad ingredients and place in covered containers on rimmed baking pan, along with Lemon Pasta Salad; refrigerate. Use salad kit to prep lunches as needed throughout the week.

Making one of my recipes? Please let me know by sharing a photo on my Facebook page, or uploading to Instagram or Twitter with the tag #foxeslovelemons. It would make my day!

The folks at Milk Means More made a fun little video of this recipe! Check it out here:


Disclosure: This post is part of an ongoing relationship I have with The United Dairy Industry of Michigan for recipe development. Posts like this help me pay for the costs associated with this blog (groceries…lots of groceries), and help support me as I pursue a career in recipe development and food photography. All opinions are 100% my own.

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  1. Another healthy, light and tasty salad creation from Lori! I love every bit of ingredient in this recipe. Thank you for sharing!

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  2. “Heavy duty mayo”??? Yikes! Of course I have an aversion to regular mayo (& whipped cream, it’s a texture thing:). This salad my friend is my perfect summer salad!

  3. Thanks so much, Julie! My husband and I just ate these salads for dinner tonight, and I totally fooled him! He thought my version was bought from the grocery store. And since that version is so well-loved, I take that as a compliment 🙂

  4. Haha right? It’s terrifying to even think about heavy-duty mayo. UGH.

  5. “Heavy duty mayo”?! That sounds terrifying! What the hell is in it that makes it “heavy duty”?! Never mind, i don’t want to know. I actually never have mayo in my house because we never use it/eat it, etc. I wouldn’t mind buying a teeny tiny jar so that I can make this pasta salad. I took a Foods class in grade 12 and we were responsible for making the cafeteria food for lunch. I remember a guy in my class was making filling for some kind of sandwich (either chicken salad or tuna salad) and he was just dumping in huge gobs of mayo with no thought to the actual recipe, laughing all the while. I was pretty grossed out. Thanks for bringing back that memory, girl 😉

  6. Loving the creamy AND lemon of this- screams summer! Sooooo good!

  7. For those of you that don’t know, the grocery store pasta salad Lori gets is one of the tastiest sides ever. And I thought that is what I was eating the other night when we had dinner. I had no idea Lori made it herself. She did the original more than justice – it was fantastic and a healthier version. She completely pulled a fast one on me … But in a good way.

  8. I love what you said about heavy duty mayonnaise. Even my mayonnaise-loving husband (as in mayonnaise is one of the major food groups) thought it was funny. And the salad sounds very interesting, worth a try.

  9. Ohhhhhh gross. I feel like everybody has a mayo horror story! haha.

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