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%.