There’s nothing innately "bad" about the idea of a casserole: a savory one-pot meal that can go directly from the oven to the dinner table. It’s the traditional execution that’s the problem—all that sloppy, gooey cheese and the dense layers of processed carbs. So how do you rescue this retro favorite? We ventured into the kitchen to figure out how to keep the convenience of the casserole while ditching the extraneous fat and refined carbs. The result? A classic favorite—updated for the 21st century.
Step 1. Pack It In
One serious issue with old-fashioned casseroles—fatty meats. You can get just as much flavor and far less saturated fat with 93 to 96 percent lean ground beef, lean cuts of poultry, or canned fish packed in water. (If you’re sautéing meat, don’t forget to drain off any fat before adding the other ingredients.)
Casseroles traditionally combine that ultra-fatty protein with a starch. And not usually a good one. White rice or white noodles are the norm. A simple switch to brown rice can give your dish a major nutritional boost. Or try different kinds of grains, like quinoa, that can really boost the fiber. For your vegetables, the classics work best: mild veggies like green beans, broccoli, peas, onions, and carrots.
Recipe: Chicken Nacho Casserole
Who said you can’t have "nachos" with diabetes? This healthy version that has all the flavor of traditional nachos. Using lean protein, packing in the veggies, and cutting out the white rice you'd typically see in a casserole like this, you get all of the flavor without all of the extra fat and carbs.
Step 2. Sauce It Up
In a traditional casserole, the sauce is what binds the protein and starch together. Usually, that means making a roux—butter and flour cooked with whole milk or cream, which adds a lot of unnecessary fat and refined carb. Instead, you can use just a little fat-free milk or low-fat or fat-free evaporated milk. You can also cut out the flour completely: In the Egg and Veggie Casserole, the eggs act as the binding agent to bring everything together. The other treacherous casserole staple is cheese: plenty of it, and usually the nasty processed variety. Use small amounts of finely grated, lower-fat real cheese to make a sauce that’s just as smooth. A sharper cheese will give you more flavor, as will the addition of herbs and spices.
Recipe: Spaghetti Squash Casserole
This recipe shows that going with lower-fat milk and ditching the flour can still give you great results. It's versatile as well. You can make this a vegetarian dish by omitting the sausage and adding extra vegetables like bell peppers, onions and asparagus.
Step 3. Top It Off
A casserole’s topping is typically made of gobs of cheese (yep, more cheese), with heavily buttered bread crumbs or biscuits, or those infamous canned fried onions. In other words, it’s a horror show for the arteries. Update your topping by moistening a small amount of bread crumbs with just a light amount of olive oil instead of the butter, plus a sprinkling of Parmesan or Romano. Or, like in the Healthy Homemade Green Bean Casserole recipe below, swap out the fried onions for a sprinkling of flavored corn flakes, and you get all of the crispy topping with a lot less saturated fat and carb.
With just a few healthy ingredient swaps and some tweaked techniques, you can create a healthy casserole that's heart and diabetes friendly—and delicious!
Recipe 3. Healthy Homemade Green Bean Casserole
This delicious, lower-calorie and lower-carb version of a holiday and family gathering classic shows just how creative—and healthy—a casserole can get. Replacing the traditional fried onions with flavored corn flakes and going with lower-fat dairy for the sauce means a green bean casserole everyone can enjoy.
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