Regular pasta made with white flour sounds wholesome enough, but it brings with it all the baggage that any food made with refined grain does--it is digested quickly and causes a spike in blood sugar, and therefore, over time, can lead to an increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, and weight problems.
Verdict: Eat regular pasta in moderation, and cook it al dente (until it's just tender). If not boiled till it's really soft, the grain is broken down more slowly in the stomach, lessening the blood-sugar elevation.
Whole Wheat Pasta
Afraid of whole wheat pasta? Don't be. The cardboardy-tasting penne of yesteryear has given way to some truly delicious noodles (I love the Bionaturae brand) that don't taste all that different from the white stuff. Whole wheat pasta will help protect you against a host of chronic diseases, and keep you and your kids full longer, thanks to the fiber and gentle effect on blood sugar.
Verdict: Best choice -- make this your default pasta.
Canned Pasta Meals
While quick to prepare, pre-cooked spaghetti and ravioli that come in a can are swimming in salt, sugar, and, if non-organic, lots of additives like MSG. If you were preparing homemade pasta with sauce, would you add two teaspoons of sugar to each serving? How about more than a quarter teaspoon of salt?
Verdict: It's worth taking a few extra minutes to boil up some pasta and add your own sauce.
Ramen noodles are tempting because they're so cheap and so easy to prepare, which is probably why college kids are known to live on these noodle bricks. One package contains 76 percent of the sodium one should have for the entire day, as well as partially hydrogenated oils, MSG, and lots of things that are "hydrolyzed" and "autolyzed."
Verdict: Too much salt, too many additives, and nothing but empty calories.
Boxed Mac and Cheese
Mac and cheese--in many kids' eyes, the king of all noodles. There are some very real differences in the ingredient lists of boxed mac and cheese products, though, so be sure to read the labels. Perhaps you'd like to avoid having Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 be part of your child's dinner.
Verdict: If you need the convenience of boxed mac and cheese, go for the brands that contain the fewest ingredients and no artificial colors. But you can also consider just boiling up plain pasta and stirring in some grated cheddar and a bit of salt for a more wholesome alternative.