Favorite Casserole Recipes Made Lighter

3 new and healthy takes on classic casserole recipes.

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

When the weather cools off, many of us long for comfort foods. And is any food more comforting than a casserole? But all too often, our favorite casserole recipes aren't exactly healthy. They often involve a blanket of cheese, or at least a sprinkle of it. Many also contain the obligatory can of condensed creamy soup. And while hot mayonnaise doesn't float my boat, plenty of casserole recipes call for mayo, too.

So what can we do to make our favorite casseroles lighter and healthier? Well, keep in mind that most casseroles have four predictable parts:

  • Starch (pasta, rice, bread cubes, etc.)
  • Meat, eggs, or plant protein (chicken, beef, sausage, tofu or eggplant)
  • Sauce (gravy, condensed soup, marinara or enchilada sauce, etc.)
  • Cheese (cheddar, mozzarella, parmesan, etc.)

So, to give your favorite casserole recipe a healthy makeover, you have only to look at these four parts. You can:

  • Switch to higher-fiber starch ingredients when possible.
  • Use lean meat and skinless poultry, reduced-fat sausage and bacon, or healthful soy-based meat alternatives.
  • Choose a lighter sauce, like Healthy Choice condensed cream soups, or make your own light sauces using fat-free sour cream or half-and-half.
  • Choose from among the many reduced-fat cheeses on the market or simply use half as much cheese as the recipe calls for.

For these healthy casserole recipe makeovers, I took on a breakfast casserole, a popular vegetarian casserole, and a festive chicken and stuffing casserole. By applying the light cooking tips above, I was able to trim:

  • 120 calories and 14 grams of fat (per serving) from the chicken and stuffing dish.
  • Almost 150 calories and 15 grams of fat (per serving) from the ham and egg casserole.
  • 223 calories and 24 grams of fat (per serving) from the eggplant Parmesan.

For example, the original egg casserole recipe called for pastry, 8 ounces of bacon, four eggs, heavy cream, and 1 1/2 cups of Gruyere cheese. I substituted a whole-wheat pastry crust, 6 ounces of lean Canadian-style bacon, two eggs and some egg substitute, fat-free half and half, and 1 cup of Gruyere.

The original chicken casserole recipe, meanwhile, called for regular Swiss cheese, regular cream of chicken soup, whole milk, and 1/4 cup of butter drizzled over the top of the stuffing. Instead, I used reduced-fat Swiss cheese, light cream of chicken soup, fat-free half-and-half or low-fat milk. And instead of drizzling butter over the top of the stuffing, I used water.

The original eggplant Parmesan recipe called for dipping the eggplant slices in four beaten eggs; I used two eggs and 1/2 cup egg substitute. After being coated with breadcrumbs, the slices were supposed to be fried in a half-inch-deep bath of olive oil. Instead, I coated both sides with olive oil cooking spray and broiled them until golden brown. And instead of using two cups of whole-milk mozzarella for the layers of the eggplant Parmesan, I switched to reduced-fat mozzarella and cut it down to 1 1/3 cups.

And now for those light casserole recipes:

Light Swiss Chicken & Stuffing Casserole

1/2 cup fat-free sour cream
1 box Lower Sodium Chicken Stove Top Stuffing Mix
1 tablespoon fresh chopped chives
6 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
6 slices reduced-fat Swiss cheese, such as Kraft 2% Milk Deli Deluxe Swiss (about 4 1/2 ounces)
10 3/4-ounce can condensed Healthy Request Cream of Chicken soup
1/2 cup fat-free half-and-half or low-fat milk
Canola cooking spray
1/4 cup water

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9 x 13-inch baking dish or 8 x 12-inch baking dish with canola cooking spray. Add sour cream, 1/2 cup of the stuffing mix, and chives to a medium sized bowl; stir to blend.
  • Arrange chicken in the prepared baking dish and spread the sour cream mixture evenly over the top of the chicken breasts (about 2 tablespoons of the mixture per breast). Top each chicken breast with a slice of cheese.
  • Add condensed soup and half-and-half or milk to the bowl with the stuffing mixture in the bowl; stir to blend. Spoon mixture evenly over the cheese covered chicken. Sprinkle the remainder of the stuffing mix evenly over the top of the soup mixture. Spray the tops of the stuffing cubes with canola cooking spray. Drizzle the water over the stuffing.
  • Cover pan well with foil. Bake until chicken is cooked throughout (about 1 hour).

Yield: 6 servings

Per serving: 373 calories, 38 g protein, 32 g carbohydrate, 9 g fat, 3.5 g saturated fat, 87 mg cholesterol, 1 g fiber, 638 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 22%.

Ham & Egg Casserole

Canola cooking spray
A 9-inch whole-wheat pie shell, thawed (like Wholly Wholesome brand from Whole Foods with 0 trans fat)
6 ounces Canadian-style bacon, cut into 1/2-inch by 1-inch strips
1 medium sweet onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 large eggs
1/2 cup egg substitute
1/2 cup fat-free half-and-half or whole or low-fat milk
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese, packed (4 ounces)

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Gently lift thawed pie crust out of the foil plate it comes in and place in an 8 x 8-inch square baking dish. With your fingers, stretch and press the crust to fit nicely in the square baking dish and up the side about 1 inch. Prick bottom of dough with fork several times.
  • Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat with canola cooking spray and add Canadian bacon and onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until both start to brown (about 5 minutes). Let the mixture cool about 5 minutes, then spread into the pie crust.
  • In mixing bowl, whisk eggs, egg substitute, fat-free half-and-half or milk, and salt and pepper until smooth. Pour egg mixture into pie shell with ham and onions. Sprinkle Gruyere over the top and bake until top is golden brown (about 40 minutes). Serve warm or cold.

Yield: 8 servings

Per serving: 228 calories, 14 g protein, 12 g carbohydrate, 14.5 g fat, 7.5 g saturated fat, 80 mg cholesterol, 3 g fiber, 480 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 57%.

Eggplant Parmesan Casserole

1 1/2 cups Italian-style breadcrumbs
1 cup unbleached white flour
2 large eggs (use a higher omega-3 brand, if available)
1/2 cup egg substitute
1/3 cup finely grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
2 medium eggplants, tops and bottoms trimmed off, then sliced widthwise into 1/4-inch thick slices
Olive oil cooking spray (or canola cooking spray)
26-ounce can or bottle marinara or garlic & herb spaghetti sauce
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 1/3 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella, packed

  • Preheat oven broiler. Line two baking sheets with foil and generously coat the foil with cooking spray. Set aside.
  • Add breadcrumbs to medium bowl. Add flour to another medium bowl. Add eggs, egg substitute and 1/2 cup of the Romano cheese to a third medium bowl and whisk together to blend well. Arrange the bowls on your kitchen counter in this order: flour, egg mixture, breadcrumbs, then prepared baking sheets.
  • Dip each eggplant slice into the flour, then dip into the egg mixture to coat both sides. Then dip it into the breadcrumb mixture to lightly coat both sides. Place on prepared baking sheets, and repeat the process with the remaining eggplant slices. When all the eggplant has been dipped, generously coat their top sides with cooking spray.
  • Broil eggplant slices about 6-inches from the heat, watching carefully, until the tops are golden brown (about 3 minutes). Flip slices over, coat with cooking spray, and broil until second side is golden brown (about 2 minutes more). After all the eggplant slices are golden brown, take them out of the oven and turn it down to 375 degrees while you assemble the casserole.
  • In a 9 x 9-inch or 2-quart baking dish, spread 1/2 cup marinara over the bottom. Layer one-fourth of the browned eggplant slices to cover the sauce. Top with 2/3 cup of marinara, 1/4 teaspoon oregano, and 1/3 cup mozzarella. Repeat these layers three more times. (If you only have enough eggplant for two more layers, that's perfectly fine).
  • Spray one side of a sheet of foil with cooking spray, and cover the casserole with the spray-coated side touching the food (this keeps the cheese from sticking to the foil). Bake for 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool a few minutes. Serve hot.

Yield: 6 servings

Per serving: 345 calories, 19 g protein, 35 g carbohydrate, 13 g fat, 4.5 g saturated fat, 93 mg cholesterol, 5 g fiber, 1022 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 35%.

Published October 9, 2007.

©2007 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.


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