Healthier ways to enjoy the comforts of casserole

An overhead view of a white rectangular casserole dish with melted cheese over spiraled pasta noodles and pepperoni. Contains an orange I block logo and Illinois Extension wordmark.
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Casseroles are the essence of comfort food. They’re warmth on a cold autumn day, solace in time of mourning or sickness, and simplicity when needing to feed the family. Loosely defined, a casserole can be any food prepared in a casserole dish. A casserole dish is a deep, oven-safe dish, such as a 13x9-inch baking pan or stoneware of any shape or size. Most people, however, would conclude that a casserole contains at least three or four of these elements: protein, vegetable, a binding element, grain, and cheese. 

Depending on the ingredients, casseroles can be healthy or not-so-healthy. The not-so-healthy casseroles generally contain a lot of butter, heavy cream, cheese, or fatty meats. Try to look for healthier versions, such as those that contain lean cuts of meat, poultry or fish. Chicken, turkey, at least 90% lean ground turkey or beef are good choices. Beans and lentils are also great protein options. Add lots of vegetables and look for brown rice or whole wheat bread or pasta for a grain. Use lower-fat cheese, such as part-skim mozzarella, or use a strong cheese, like feta, and add less of it. Tomato sauce or a sauce made with non-fat milk, cornstarch or flour serves as a good binding agent.

Freeze casseroles for later use. Unless it contains raw meat, leave it uncooked, wrap it with heavy-duty aluminum foil, label with cooking instructions and freeze. Use ramekin dishes to make individualized portions. Casseroles carry comfort for everyone!

Crunchy Chicken Casserole

3 cups chopped cooked chicken breasts

1 small onion, diced

1 cup celery, chopped

1 cup red bell pepper, chopped

¾ cup shredded reduced fat sharp cheddar cheese

1 (10 oz.) can reduced fat, reduced sodium cream of chicken soup

1 (6 oz.) carton plain non-fat Greek yogurt

½ teaspoon black pepper

¼ teaspoon garlic powder

¼ cup whole wheat breadcrumbs

¼ cup sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 400 °F. In a large bowl, combine first nine ingredients, ending with garlic powder, and mix well. Spray 2-quart casserole dish with cooking spray and add chicken mixture. Combine breadcrumbs and sliced almonds in a small bowl. Sprinkle evenly over chicken mixture. Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes or until heated throughout. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Yield: 6 (1 cup) servings

 

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 209 calories, 7 grams fat, 342 milligrams sodium, 13 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams dietary fiber, 27 grams protein

 

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Sheri Silver on Unsplash

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jenna Smith is a Nutrition and Wellness Educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving Livingston, McLean, and Woodford Counties. Smith uses her experience as a registered dietitian nutritionist to deliver impactful information and cutting-edge programs to Livingston, McLean, and Woodford Counties and beyond.