You'll love this fun take on a traditional favorite!
Chicken Parmesan was one of the first dishes I learned to make when I went to college. After flipping through a newly bought cookbook, I saw these perfectly, golden brown chicken breasts atop a savory red sauce. I immediately set out to make it…except mine didn’t turn out so picture-perfect. Since I didn’t really know what I was doing, I burnt a few pieces of the chicken and had to trim off the edges. To hide my mistakes, I turned my dish into chicken parmesan casserole! My roommates loved it, and they had no idea I messed up!
The traditional chicken Parmesan uses a heavy breadcrumb coating and lots of oil. We wanted to make a healthier version of the classic that didn’t skimp on flavor, and this recipe certainly delivers. If you serve this for a dinner party, no one would know that it’s healthy!
Skip the Frying
Frying isn’t all bad, but it certainly adds unnecessary calories to your meal. Some people say that the oil doesn’t get absorbed into the food, but I would disagree. Have you ever fried a few batches of fritters? After three batches, you need to add more oil to the pan. Where did that oil go? Into the food, of course.
We skip the frying for this chicken parmesan casserole because it’s completely unnecessary. You don’t need the chicken to be crispy because it would become soggy, anyway, after baking in the savory tomato sauce. And, you certainly won’t need to see the golden brown appearance because it will be hidden inside the dish.
It wouldn’t quite be chicken parmesan without a crispy bite, though, so we have a little trick up our sleeves to make that possible. We top the casserole with Panko breadcrumbs. This adds a crunchy layer on top of the dish. Who needs frying when we have tricks like this?!
Whole Grain Pasta
I’ve had a lot of people tell me they don’t eat pasta anymore because it’s unhealthy. With vegetable spiralizers and zucchini noodles becoming more and more popular, it’s easy to skip the pasta if you’re not into it. But, I’m going to make an argument for whole grain pasta.
There are two different types of carbohydrates: simple carbs and complex carbs. Simple carbohydrates (also called simple sugars) are easy for your body to break down. They provide little nutrition (other than energy to fuel your body), and they can raise your blood glucose level rapidly.
Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, are composed of long saccharide chains that link together three or more types of sugars. Your body takes a long time to digest these carbohydrates, which means they provide lasting energy to your body. These complex carbohydrates have actually been linked to weight loss because they also contain fiber and other nutrients.
Long story short – whole grain pasta shouldn’t be considered a “bad” food to consume, especially if you’re trying to lose weight. Whole wheat flour has three parts of the grain – the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. The bran and the germ are the most nutrient-dense parts of wheat, and these are stripped out when refining flour to become white flour.
At the end of the day, this skinny casserole is not only healthy, but it tastes great, too! If you want to take it one step further, substitute this easy homemade marinara sauce in for the store-bought version. Be sure to see the notes below for options. You’ll even find instructions for a yummy vegetarian version.
Skinny Chicken Parmesan Casserole
- 1 pound penne pasta whole grain
- 1 jar marinara sauce 24-25 ounce jar, no sugar added
- 15 ounces diced tomatoes optional
- 1 pound boneless and skinless chicken breasts cut into bite size pieces
- 1 cup skim mozzarella cheese shredded
- 1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs whole wheat
- 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1 teaspoon Italian Seasoning optional, ground oregano
- Cook pasta according to the package directions, drain.Preheat the oven to 375°. In a 9 x 13-inch casserole dish combine the cooked pasta, marinara, tomatoes, and chicken. Stir well. Cover and bake for 30 minutes.
- In the meantime, combine bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, and seasoning.
- After 30 minutes, remove the casserole and stir in the mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture evenly over the top. Leave uncovered, return to the oven, and bake an additional 10-15 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and the top is crispy.
- We've made the casserole with and without the diced tomatoes. It's delicious either way. It really depends on how much tomato flavor you prefer.
- For an even cheesier casserole, add an additional 1/4 cup Ricotta and 1/4 cup cottage cheese. Stir in along with the mozzarella.
- For a vegetarian dish, leave out the chicken and follow the directions as indicated.
- Garnish with fresh basil, if desired.
- This casserole is truly versatile. 🙂
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