A Casserole Connoisseur’s Guide to Healthy Substitutions

I grew up in church, literally. My father, the minister, saw to it that the preacher’s kids never missed a gathering. Even when not a scheduled event, we were still in church cleaning, folding bulletins, or just hanging out. I credit my heritage for my expertise as a connoisseur of the all-American casserole. There’s just nothing quite like a potluck in the basement of a Baptist church to produce the finest, most authentic casserole cuisine.

Piece of tasty hot lasagna with red wine. Small depth of field.

It’s easy to see why casseroles have fallen out of favor with the weight- and health-conscious crowd. One serving of some casseroles can harbor an entire week’s worth of carbs or WW points. Luckily, it’s not difficult to trim the calorie count and step up the nutritional value of almost any casserole recipe around, even those typically laden with high-fat ingredients. You can make healthier versions that taste just as good.

First, change the proportions by using more vegetables, beans, and whole grains. Add fewer sauces, cheeses, and fatty meats. Then, substitute reduced-fat versions of ingredients like sour cream, mayonnaise, cheese, cream cheese, salad dressing, and condensed soups.

Choose the leanest meats, such as skinless chicken breast, pork loin, and beef round. Or use soy-based meat substitutes. Trim all visible fat and skin from the meat you’re using.

The key to a healthy casserole is to choose recipes that call for:

  • lots of vegetables
  • legumes such as beans and lentil
  • whole grain pasta or brown rice
  • chicken, turkey, or fish
  • leaner cuts of beef, pork or lamb
  • lower fat cheeses, such as feta, cottage, light cheddar or skim-milk mozzarella
  • oil instead of butter , no more than 1 teaspoon per serving

Here are two fabulous casseroles that you won’t have to change at all. They’re that nutritious and delicious! Budget-friendly, too.

OK readers, your turn! What do YOU call a casserole? Is it a one-dish meal? Something baked? Something gooey? What substitutions do you make? Add your comments below.

Hearty Vegetable Lasagna

  • 1 (16 oz.) package lasagna noodles
  • 1 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • 3/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
  • 3/4 cup chopped onion
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 (24-oz.) jars pasta sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 (15-oz.) container part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Cook the lasagna noodles in a large pot of boiling water for 10 minutes, or until al dente. Rinse with cold water and drain. In a large saucepan, sauté mushrooms, green pepper, onion, and garlic in oil. Stir in pasta sauce and basil; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

Mix together ricotta, 2 cups mozzarella cheese, and eggs. Preheat oven to 350° F. Spread 1 cup pasta sauce into the bottom of a greased 9×13-inch baking dish. Layer 1/2 each, lasagna noodles, ricotta mix, sauce, and Parmesan cheese. Repeat layering and top with remaining 2 cups mozzarella cheese. Bake, uncovered, for 40 minutes. Let stand 15 minutes before serving. Serves 12.

If you don’t need a large number of servings, you can make the lasagna in two 8×8 baking pans. Enjoy one today and freeze the other for later.

Hearty Vegetable Lasagna

Here's a fabulous casserole that you won't have to change at all. It is that nutritious and delicious!
5 from 3 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Dinner, Entree
Cuisine: Italian
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
Servings: 12
Calories: 177kcal
Cost: $8

Ingredients

  • 1 16-oz pkg lasagna noodles
  • 1 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • ¾ cup chopped green bell pepper
  • ¾ cup chopped onion
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 24-oz jars pasta sauce
  • 1 tspn dried basil
  • 1 15-oz container part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Instructions

  • Cook the lasagna noodles in a large pot of boiling water for 10 minutes, or until al dente. Rinse with cold water and drain.
  • In a large saucepan, sauté mushrooms, green pepper, onion, and garlic in oil. Stir in pasta sauce and basil; bring to a boil. 
  • Reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes.
  • In a medium size bowl, mix together ricotta, 2 cups mozzarella cheese and eggs.
  • Preheat oven to 350 F.
  • Spread 1 cup pasta sauce into the bottom of a greased 9x13 inch baking dish. 
  • Layer 1/2 each, lasagna noodles, ricotta mix, sauce, and Parmesan cheese. Repeat layering and top with remaining 2 cups mozzarella cheese. 
  • Bake, uncovered, for 40 minutes. Let stand 15 minutes before serving. Serves: 12.

Notes

If you don't need a large number of servings, you can make the lasagna in two 8x8 baking pans. Enjoy one today and freeze the other for later.

Nutrition

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 177kcal | Carbohydrates: 4g | Protein: 12g | Fat: 13g | Saturated Fat: 8g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 3g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 60mg | Sodium: 312mg | Potassium: 201mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 364IU | Vitamin C: 9mg | Calcium: 247mg | Iron: 1mg
Tried this recipe?Mention @EverydayCheapskate or tag #EverydayCheapskate!

 

 

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Southwest Casserole

This recipe makes two casseroles—one for dinner and one to freeze to enjoy later.

  • 8 oz. (2 cups) uncooked elbow macaroni
  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cans (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 can (16. oz.) kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can (6 oz.) tomato paste
  • 1 can (4 oz.) chopped green chiles, drained
  • 1 1/2 tspn salt
  • 1 tspn chili powder
  • 1/2 tspn ground cumin
  • 1/2 tspn black ground pepper
  • 2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped (or to taste)
  • 2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese

Cook the macaroni according to instructions on the package.

In the meantime, place beef and onion in a large saucepan over medium heat, breaking up the meat and until the beef is no longer pink.

Add garlic and cook 1 minute longer. Drain.

Stir in diced tomatoes, kidney beans, tomato paste, chiles, salt, chili powder, cumin, black pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and allow to simmer, uncovered for 10 minutes.

Drain macaroni, and add to beef mixture. Stir to incorporate.

Preheat oven to 375° F. Transfer contents of the saucepan to two  2-quart casserole baking dishes.

Top with cheese and jalapenos, dividing accordingly to cover both casseroles.

Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover, continue to bake until bubbly and heated through for about 10 minutes longer or until bubbly and heated through.

Serve 1 casserole. Cool the second; cover and freeze for up to 3 months.

To use frozen casserole: Thaw in refrigerator 8  hours. Preheat oven to 375° F. Remove from refrigerator 3 minutes before baking. Cover and bake, increasing time as necessary to heat through or when a thermometer inserted into the center reads 165° F (about 20 to 25 minutes.)

Tip: Wear disposable gloves when cutting hot peppers; the oils can burn skin. Avoid touching your face.

Southwest Casserole

This yummy family-friendly recipe makes two casseroles—one for dinner and one to freeze to enjoy later.
5 from 3 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Dinner
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
Servings: 12
Calories: 351kcal
Cost: $10

Equipment

  • Two 2-quart casserole baking dishes

Ingredients

  • 8 oz uncooked elbow macaroni 2 cups
  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 14.5 oz cans diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1 16 oz can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 1 4 oz can chopped green chiles, drained
  • 1 ½ tspn salt
  • ½ tspn ground cumin
  • 1 tspn chili powder
  • ½ tspn ground black pepper
  • 2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
  • 2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese

Instructions

  • Cook the macaroni according to instructions on the package.
  • In the meantime, place beef and onion in a large saucepan over medium heat, breaking up the meat and until the beef is no longer pink.
  • Add garlic and cook 1 minute longer. Drain.
  • Stir in diced tomatoes, kidney beans, tomato paste, chiles, salt, chili powder, cumin, black pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and allow to simmer, uncovered for 10 minutes.
  • Drain macaroni, and add to beef mixture. Stir to incorporate.
  • Preheat oven to 375° F. Transfer contents of the saucepan to two  2-quart casserole baking dishes.
  • Top with cheese and jalapenos, dividing accordingly to cover both casseroles.
  • Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover, continue to bake until bubbly and heated through for about 10 minutes longer or until bubbly and heated through.
  • Serve 1 casserole. Cool the second; cover and freeze for up to 3 months.

Notes

To use frozen casserole: Thaw in refrigerator 8 hours. Preheat oven to 375° F. Remove from refrigerator 3 minutes before baking. Cover and bake, increasing time as necessary to heat through or when thermometer inserted into center reads 165° F (about 20 to 25 minutes.)
Tip: Wear disposable gloves when cutting hot peppers; the oils can burn skin. Avoid touching your face.

Nutrition

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 351kcal | Carbohydrates: 19g | Protein: 21g | Fat: 21g | Saturated Fat: 9g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 8g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 70mg | Sodium: 316mg | Potassium: 435mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 412IU | Vitamin C: 7mg | Calcium: 168mg | Iron: 2mg
Tried this recipe?Mention @EverydayCheapskate or tag #EverydayCheapskate!

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6 replies
  1. Judy says:

    Is the carb count for the veggie lasagna correct? I count carbs all the time and never found lasagna noodles to have only 3 carbs? I hope it is true, however I question.

    Reply
    • Mary Hunt says:

      Judy … I use a service that calculates the nutrition information based on the exact ingredients and number of servings of the recipes on this site. Prompted by your comment, I revisited the Lasagna recipe. The carb count is 3.7g … so I have rounded it up to 4 per serving. I’ve double-checked, and find that to be correct. Nice, huh?

      Reply
  2. Wendy Tucker says:

    You can substitute the pasta in both recipes. For the lasagne, take a whole cabbage and remove WHOLE leaves–keep them intact. Steam them until slightly soft (microwave works well–about 2 minutes or blanch in boiling water). Cut into strips and use in place of noodles. There are soy noodles in vegetarian section of most markets — almost zero calories. They have NO flavor, but can be used instead of the macaroni. What gives the flavor is the sauce–not the pasta.

    Reply
  3. Not tried it yet says:

    As a generalisation, fat consumed is not laid down as body fat. Excess carbohydrate over what you use up straight away is stored as body fat. Most low-fat products (mistakenly regarded as ‘healthy’ have replaced the fat with sugar, a carbohydrate. Ask a non-aligned nutritionist or doctor. The sugar industry is mega powerful, and just like the lead industry and the tobacco industry, they won’t give up their mis-information without legal recourse and they can afford the better lobbyists.

    Reply
  4. Betty Thomas says:

    5 stars
    I love this article because I too, grew up eating casseroles. They were filling, cheap and fed a big family in a short amount of time. As adults with grown kids we were always thrilled to be invited for dinner at one of our kids houses. We have one daughter who is very health conscious and eats healthy most every meal. My husband, a meat and potato guy was more than a bit nervous when that healthy daughter invited us for dinner. He pictured us eating spinach salad and Bulgar burgers. Neither would be his choice! Imagine our surprise when she served a casserole that looked and smelled like a delicious lasagne. The healthy trick? She used zucchini planks for the noodles, ground turkey breast for the meat and about 1/3 of the cheese normally used in a lasagne. It was creamy, delicious, filling and best of all, my picky husband asked for 2nds! It was that satisfying and yummy. With a few substitutions and well chosen spices that healthy casserole will still hit all the right spots. Thanks Mary!

    Reply
  5. Jenni says:

    5 stars
    Now I know where you got the gene for helping others: PK!
    I never much cared for casseroles, except for lasagna. It is hard to find Hot Italian Turkey sausage, and that is what I would normally use. I also buy canned spaghetti sauce: it is much cheaper than the bottled. My family, as it turns out, loves casseroles. We had them while the kids were growing up, and a sprinkle of cheese on the top allowed the addition of LOTS of vegetables. We ate a lot of beans.
    Thanks so much for your e mails and website. I truly enjoy them. They’re very helpful.

    Peace,
    Jenni

    Reply

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