Skinny Pesto

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This lightened up pesto tastes just as good as the traditional version but with half the calories and fat. Use it in all your favorite pesto dishes without sacrificing any flavor.


Skinny Pesto has all the flavor of your favorite basil pesto with half the calories and fat as traditional pesto.

It works for all your favorite pesto recipes including this amazing Pesto Chicken and our favorite Pesto Shrimp with Zucchini Noodles.

We are drowning in basil over here and before watching our bumper crop wilt away, I am making this healthy skinny pesto by the bucket. It's something our whole family loves and there are so many different ways to use it in meals.

It makes a great quick and easy pasta sauce, it is divine as a marinade for chicken or beef, is the perfect pizza sauce, and even tastes amazing with your morning eggs.

Seriously, this pesto tastes good on almost anything and has so many different uses. I recommend doubling or tripling the recipe and storing it for when you need some quick recipe inspiration. 

Skinny pesto sauce with chicken with tomatoes on a marble board.

Pesto has always been a refrigerator staple in our house. Before I started cooking, it was usually the store-bought variety and now that I cook all the time, it's always a big jar of homemade pesto.

It's also almost always in my freezer. Yes, pesto is freezer friendly too and one of the best things to keep on hands for quick meals.

Speaking of freezers, there are certain things I always like to have in my freezer for quick meals when I need them.

The first is a great homemade marinara sauce, usually with meatballs that can be quickly paired with pasta, spaghetti squash, or used for sandwiches or for quick stuffed peppers.

The second is a homemade soup, usually chili, that can be used for lunches or dinner paired with a simple salad.

The third is a breakfast option – like these frozen breakfast quesadillas or DIY Egg McMuffins.

Last on the list is today’s recipe for skinny pesto. I use it for pasta, simple stir-fries, homemade pizzas, sandwiches, baked potatoes, baked chicken, and more. I always have at least two or three containers frozen and ready to go. 

Ways to Use Pesto

Here are some more delicious pesto recipes to try!

Is pesto healthy?

When it comes to pesto, it's one of those ingredients that people almost always want to know if it's healthy or not. This is actually a tricky question to answer and really depends on your diet and needs.

On its own, pesto is relatively healthy. It contains fresh basil, garlic, lemon, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil.

Other than the Parmesan cheese, all those ingredients are pretty healthy on their own. However, there is a lot of oil in traditional pesto.

Although olive oil is a healthy fat, if you are trying to lose weight or watch calories, those extra calories can be a problem.

Whether you make it the traditional way or use our skinny pesto recipe, here are some of the specific health benefits of pesto:

  • Fresh basil is a powerhouse when it comes to antioxidants and is also known to be anti-inflammatory and has natural anti-bacterial (or infection-fighting) properties. A recent study also showed that it may help reduce stress and have natural adaptogens.
  • Garlic has long been known as a medicinal food and has been used for centuries to treat infection and illness. In addition to its ability to help fight infections, it also has been shown to reduce blood pressure, cholesterol, improve bone health, and lots of other benefits. 
  • Lemons are packed with Vitamin C, fiber, and contain many beneficial plant compounds. They have been shown to help with digestion and can also help detoxify the body.
  • Olive oil ranks as one of the healthiest choices when it comes to cooking oils/fats. It is full of monounsaturated fats, that are shown to help reduce cholesterol and promote heart health. It is also full of antioxidants and has been shown to help fight against numerous diseases.

Healthy pesto sauce with shrimp and zucchini noodles

What is pesto sauce made of? Can I use different herbs and greens?

Traditional pesto is an Italian sauce made with fresh basil, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, lemon, garlic, and olive oil.

It is traditionally made with a mortar and pestle but most people use a food processor or blender now for convenience.

Although basil is the traditional herb used, you can make pesto with all kinds of different combinations of herbs and greens.

Consider making pesto with cilantro, arugula, parsley, spinach, kale, or arugula. You can also combine herbs/greens to create your own flavor combinations. 

Many people also like to switch out the nuts in pesto since pine nuts can be really expensive. You can use walnuts, almonds, pistachios, or cashews for different styles of pestos. You can also leave the nuts out entirely if you have a nut allergy.

How many calories are there in pesto?

Pesto traditionally has about 120 calories and 12 grams of fat for every two tablespoons. This lightened-up skinny pesto has just 60 calories and 6 grams of fat since it uses less olive oil and cheese.

What are your favorite ways to use pesto?

The Recipe
Skinny pesto in a wooden bowl with olive oil and a spoon.

Skinny Pesto

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  • 2 cups basil leaves, packed
  • 6 tbsp. water
  • 4 tbsp. Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper

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Add everything to a food processor or blender and blend until smooth.


Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks or freeze.


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Nutritional Facts
Serving Size: 2 tbsp.
Amount Per Serving
Calories 62
Calories from Fat 50
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 6g
Saturated Fat 1g
Monounsaturated Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0g
Cholesterol 2mg
Sodium 132mg
Total Carbohydrate 2g
Dietary Fiber 0g
Sugars 0g
Protein 2g

* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

The Nutritional Values provided are estimates only and may vary based on the preparation method.

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About the author Meet Kristen McCaffrey
Hi, I’m the cookbook author, recipe developer, and food enthusiast behind Slender Kitchen. I am obsessed with making healthy food that is easy to prepare and absolutely delicious. Meal planning is my secret weapon and I hope I can make meal time easier for you with our tried and tested recipes and foolproof meal plans. Learn More
On Skinny Pesto
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Janine Frogge
October 12, 2023 - 15:35
Add a Rating:
5 STARS. This recipe works well for Weight Watchers. I added shrimp and served it over whole wheat thin pasta. I substituted walnuts for the pine nuts. Even my picky non-dieter husband ate every last bite!
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Cheryl Selk
August 1, 2023 - 08:05
Can I use sunflower seeds or pepitos in this pesto
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September 15, 2022 - 17:06
Add a Rating:
So super easy and wholesomely delicious. I was worried that it seemed a bit runny but it doesn't matter. The flavor is all there. I could DRINK good olive oil, so can stand to lose a few and this could help. All the flavor, so many fewer calories.

I think garlic can be tricky if not in grams or oz in the recipe -- there's so much variations in size and even strength. I used a little less than the recipe called for and it is mega garlicky. Which is not a terrible thing. I do wish "tsp' versus "tbsp" was a little more obvious -- I just figured out why my pesto was runny! I used tsps instead of Tbsps. And it STILL didn't ruin it :)

I needed to bring more pesto pasta than I made to a family birthday, so I added a bunch of cut, blanched asparagus and used this cool, weird, wholewheat pasta called Gigli.

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August 31, 2021 - 17:03
Help me with the math here, please. This recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of olive oil, which is typically 120 calories, but this pesto is noted as 62 calories per 2 tablespoons.

What olive oil are you using that is only 31 calories per tablespoon???
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September 1, 2021 - 11:22
The whole recipe only uses one tablespoon of olive oil and it makes a full cup of pesto. There are 8 servings of 2 tbsp each. Does that make sense? So there is actually only 1/8 tbsp of olive oil in each serving. Hope that helps!
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August 30, 2021 - 18:56
Add a Rating:
Love this recipe! Yes, pine nuts are $20/lb, I almost fainted! Next time I will try almonds. This was delish in my turkey burger! Thank you, I can't wait to try more Skinny recipes!
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Rosa Romero
August 30, 2018 - 04:22
This looks great but with can I use in place of the pine nuts?
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August 17, 2022 - 10:02
Walnuts are also nice I sometimes sub half the pine nuts for walnuts and toast some extra off in a pan with some diced pancetta to add a salty crunchy topping to each serving and a little fresh Parmesan :)
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May 6, 2020 - 00:39
I would recommend something aromatic. If you add a less flavorful nut I would consider adding a pinch of cilantro into the mix :)
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July 2, 2020 - 14:46
What is cilantro? Never heard of it!
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Karen Crossley
January 26, 2021 - 12:45
In the uk we call cilantro fresh coriander leaves. Available in all super markets but if you go to arabic grocers you’ll be able to buy it in a huge bunch for a £1 or £2 compared to about 20grm bags for nearly a£1 which is nothing when cooking Morrican/Algerian soups & stews which are some of y favourite food after working with a group of Muslim women and celebrating Ramadan with them. I learnt some amazing recipes and love coriander in salads, as a type of pesto marinade, tons in soups & tanjines etc. x my mouth is watering xx
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August 30, 2018 - 09:39
Any nuts will work. You can use almonds, walnuts, pistachios, pumpkin seeds. You can also leave the nuts out.
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June 21, 2022 - 11:01
Sliced almonds worked great
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September 14, 2020 - 09:41
I just used sunflower seeds. Delicious!
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