I grew up eating casseroles, with four kids in the family it was easier and cheaper to make them. When TF and I got married, he asked me not to go casserole crazy. I wanted to make healthy meals that would not put pounds on this body. Kids came along and the casseroles resurfaced, not a lot but a few here and there. A couple of weeks ago, I read an article in the Houston Chronicle “Flavor” section about healthy casseroles and thought it worthy to write about. Here goes:
Casserole is a broad term that applies to any food baked and served in the same dish. In America, casseroles got a big push when women started working outside the home. Manufacturers of canned foods published recipes that emphasized the convenience of one pot cooking and can openers. How many of you remember the tuna casserole with potato chips on top? My mom was not a good cook, dad did most of the cooking in our house. When mom did cook, it was dishes with tuna and potato chips. Yek! Casseroles were easy to put together and they were economical, stretching meat with the addition of pasta or rice. They can be prepared in advance and they freeze nicely. Depending on the size of your family, a typical 9” x 13” pan in enough for two meals and left-overs are easily reheated in the microwave.
One rap against casseroles over the years has been artery-clogging combinations of ground beef, sour cream, eggs and cheese, lots of cheese. But with a few tweeks, casseroles can be part of a healthy diet.
Reducing is the first line of defense. For example, the amount of butter in a recipe can be cut by one-fourth with no discernible difference in taste, says nutrition and health specialist Susan Mill-Grey of Missouri. And if a casserole recipe calls for salt, it can always be omitted.
Second, learn to substitute for the high-fat, high-sodium offenders. Most of the time, when low-fat or low-sodium substitutes are mixed in among the other ingredients, “No one can tell the difference unless you tell them ahead of time and put it in their mind,” says Shelly Summar, weight management program coordinator at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo.
Among the suitable substitutes are:
Meats: Summer recommends using meat that is at least 90 percent lean. When cooking with turkey, look for packages labeled “breast”. Ground turkey that isn’t breast meat may contain skin and dark meat with more fat and calories, she says.
Starches: You can triple the fiber in a casserole by using whole-wheat pasta in place of egg noodles. “They’re great – non sticky, gummy pasta like they used to be,” Summar says. Use more fibrous brown rice in place of white rice. If family members, particularly children, have issues with the darker-hued whole-grain noodles or rice, start by substituting whole-grain for one-fourth of the regular noodles. Then increase the proportion each time you make the casserole, Summer says.
Vegetables: Colorful vegetables not only boost the nutrition of casseroles but also add visual interest to the typically beige dishes. Cooks can usually get away with including 50 percent more vegetables than a recipe calls for. If a recipe doesn’t call for vegetables, add some. Tough veggies like broccoli and carrots may need to be precooked (cut them in uniform chunks), while corn and peas can be folded into the casserole right before baking, says registered dietitian Suzanne Havala Hobbs.
Sauces: Mainstays include cheese and other dairy products, as well as canned cream soups. Light or reduced- fat sour cream, mayonnaise, milk, cheese and canned soup can be substituted for full-fat products with little difference in taste or texture. Be careful using fat-free products, however. Fat free cheese does not melt well, and fat-free sour cream or skim milk might turn a casserole watery, Havala Hobbs says. One option is to use a full-fat product with a more assertive flavor, but less of it. For example, instead of 2 cups of Cheddar cheese, substitute 1 ½ cups sharp cheddar.
Healthier Tater Tot Casserole:
(Recipe from healthycooking.suite101.com. More casserole recipes at www.chron.com/food.)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 TBL. Olive oil
2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
¾ cup sliced mushrooms
1 pound extra-lean ground turkey
¼ cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 ½ TBL. Onion powder
1 TBL. Paprika
1 (2 pound) bag frozen Tater Tots
2 (10.5 ounce) cans low-sodium cream of mushroom soup
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large skillet over medium heat, cook the onion in olive oil until translucent. Add the garlic, red pepper, carrots and mushrooms and cook until soft. Add the turkey, parsley, onion powder and paprika, and cook until turkey is browned and fully cooked. Evenly distribute meat mixture in a 9”x13” baking dish. In a large bowl, combine frozen tater tots and soup. Top casserole with the potato mixture. If desired, sprinkle with extra parsley and paprika. Bake 55 to 60 minutes.
Makes 8 servings, each 283 calories (36 percent calories from fat), 11 grams fat (3 grams saturated), 28 milligrams cholesterol, 33 gram carbohydrates, 13 grams protein, 471 milligrams sodium and 4 grams fiber.
Note from Lucy: I love tinkering with casserole recipes, to see if I can make it healthier. One of my favorites is the green bean casserole with onion rings on top. What are some of your favorite casseroles? Diane, I know you have some. What about you Jamie Dawn or Rachel. Anyone else?
I've been babysitting the grandkids this weekend. I've got my hands full. Have a great week everyone.