Casserole Pictured: Southwest Black Bean Casserole
Casseroles are a one-stop shop for feeding busy families, and there’s definitely a way to create a clean eating casserole that is more nutritious for the whole gang. Here’s how I do it.
Ditch condensed soups
Most condensed soups are high in sodium and fat, and loaded with unnecessary ingredients. If you’ve never made your own cream soup, now’s the time! Swap out cream of mushroom soup with this homemade version, or check out this excellent guide to making cream of chicken soup. If your homemade soup recipe is less thick than the canned version, use a little less broth or stock in the casserole recipe.
Add whole grains
White rice, flour tortillas and pasta all have their place at the table, but they lack fiber and the nutrients that come with using whole grain recipes. Switch out all or part of the grains with their whole grain counterparts like brown rice, whole grain pasta and whole grain corn tortillas to give the casserole a nutrient boost.
Beef up the veggies
As a dietitian, this is probably my biggest problem with casseroles–they really need a boost of vegetables. If a recipe calls for broccoli, double the amounts. If your casserole is beef-based (like this easy baked ziti recipe) add in mushrooms which have the same umami flavors. This meaty mushroom-beef blend is referred to as blenditarian dining. If a casserole is missing out on veggies, add them in. Zucchini, peppers and mushrooms blend in well with Italian-inspired casseroles, and if Mexican flavors are what you’re craving try adding in sweet potatoes, zucchini, peppers and corn.
Swap out meat for legumes
Beans are a great addition to any casserole, as they generally take on the flavors of whatever they’re being added to. Black beans and pinto beans are perfectly matched for Mexican dishes; whereas, garbanzo, kidney, and cannellini beans are suited for Italian flavors. My favorite trick is to swap out half the ground beef with cooked lentils or just add two cups cooked lentils to any ground beef casserole. Lentils are so tiny they’re be hard to spot, but will truly give your casserole a healthy boost.
Embrace yogurt over sour cream
Yogurt is packed with probiotics (healthy bacteria our gut needs more of), and is often packed with satiating protein and lower in saturated fat than sour cream. In recipes, plain yogurt can be swapped 1:1 with sour cream.
Skim the cheese
Some casseroles are so ooey-gooey that they can stand to lose a little cheese. I’m not saying opt out of cheese all together, because their flavors are important and cheese has some nutritional attributes, but let’s face it, cutting back from 2 cups to 1 cup won’t make a huge impact in flavor.
Make your own spice mix
Taco seasoning is one of the most common spice mixes being used in popular casserole recipes. Instead of the store-bought variety that is dense in sodium and unwanted filler ingredients try this homemade taco seasoning mix, and scale back the salt as needed.
Boost mashed potatoes with cauliflower
Cauliflower has become a popular swap for potatoes, but it’s not that one vegetable is more nutritious than the other. There’s no need to swap out all of the potatoes, instead sub out half of the potatoes for mashed cauliflower got variety in the vitamin and mineral profile of your dish. Try out the swap in this lighter version of shepherd’s pie.
Skip over the cream cheese
Cream cheese is a common ingredient in classic recipes, but really has little nutritional value. Swap out the cream cheese with pureed cottage cheese, ricotta cheese or kefir cheese for more protein that still adds in the creaminess you’re craving.
One more thing…
Now, before you go swapping out every ingredient in Grandma’s favorite casserole recipes, take caution and start off with only one or two substitutions per recipe, and then go up from there. For example, this classic enchilada casserole can get a make over by cutting the cheese in half, adding in beans with the ground beef, and switching whole grain corn tortillas for flour tortillas. It’s time we bring back the casserole, one makeover at a time. Don’t forget to balance the plate with a hearty portion of veggies either way!