Crash Course in Making Awesome (and Healthy!) Casseroles

There’s a reason you grew up eating a ton of casseroles as a kid. Lots of reasons, actually. They can feed an army, they make great leftovers, and they freeze like champs. Casseroles are pretty perfect! And I haven’t even gotten to the best part yet, and that’s how completely customizable casserole is. When you’re running low on food and only find eggs and cheese in the fridge, you can still make a casserole. If you’re tight on time (aka if you’re a mom), it’s that casserole you froze last week to the rescue. Last-minute potluck or team dinner pop up? Casserole! Just mix up all the fixings, stick it in the oven and forget about it for an hour. Just don’t forget to set the timer! No, the 50s aren’t back. We’ll pass on the casseroles Mom and Grams used to make over and over and over again. You know the ones I’m talking about … the appetite annihilators, the over-cooked green beans, the goopy gray casseroles. It’s time to give those old-school casseroles a 21st century makeover.

Basic Casserole Recipe

A perfect casserole needs one or more binders: cheese, eggs, condensed soup, Greek yogurt or noodles, for example. Next up are good seasonings; you need herbs and spices to make it all sing. Here is what I like to call Casserole Math 101. Use this formula for good taste and texture every time:
  • 1 greased 2-quart casserole dish
  • 1 hot oven at 350-375 degrees
  • 1 starch or carb (for the base)
  • 1 protein (for that stick-to-your ribs satisfaction)
  • 1 sauce (for creaminess)
  • 1 binder (to keep it together)
  • additional add-ins like veggies (for crunch and plant-based power)
  • toppings (for variety)
Layer or mix all of the above together, and bake for 30-45 minutes or until cooked through. Go longer if your casserole has icy cold or uncooked ingredients, like frozen veggies or dry pasta, in it.

Tips for Making Kid-Friendly Casseroles

When you’ve got picky eaters, even the most delicious casserole might be refused if it contains even one ingredient they despise. For casseroles you know the kids will love, keep these things in mind:
  • Make sure your casserole contains a few ingredients your kids actually like. It’s important to pair old favorites with new foods because kids are more likely to enjoy a new food when it’s paired with one they already love.
  • Keeping your casserole one uniform color, like pairing cheddar cheese with eggs and corn for a yellow casserole, may ease food anxieties. Chop up some fresh herbs for the table so everyone can add extra flavor and color as they please.
  • Have your child help with layering the cheese or sprinkling the herbs. They’re more likely to enjoy eating it if they had fun making it!

7 Casserole Recipe Ideas

Now that you’ve got the right equation, try these simple, delicious remixes on America’s quintessential comfort food. Parents, you’ll love them. And kids? They’ll crave them. No one, adult nor child, will be hiding bites in their napkins!

1. Beans ‘n Things 

Beans, legumes and peas! And don’t forget the lentils! Just one cup packs tons of fiber and lots of protein. Make lentils your casserole foundation. Boil them, then combine them with golden brown chicken strips. Add bell pepper, jalapeño, tomatoes and corn for a southwest fest! Top with low-fat cheddar for extra gooey goodness. If your kids don’t fancy lentils now, they most definitely will after they try this one.

2. Cauliflower Egg Power

Let eggs be the foundation of your casserole; they’re cheap, convenient and so good for us. Combine them with a cancer-fighting cruciferous vegetable like cauliflower for a tasty dish the whole family will devour. Try this winning combo: buy bags of premade cauliflower “rice” and pop it in the microwave for 3-4 minutes – the kids won’t even taste the difference! Next, drain and strain the cauliflower using a fine-mesh sieve to get the excess liquid out. Mix the “rice” with 6 eggs, cheese, chives, onion and a handful of fresh herbs for a refreshing spin on egg casserole. This mix is also great baked in muffin tins, or you can spread it evenly onto a baking sheet and bake it like flatbread.

3. Get Your Grains

Whole grains make wonderful casserole bases. They add texture, bulk and flavor! Mix roasted broccoli with grated cheddar cheese and leftover cooked quinoa for an easy, no-fuss casserole. Craving a breadcrumb topping? Place a slice of toasted whole wheat bread in a blender or food processor, then blend until you see fine crumbs. Sauté the crumbs in a teaspoon of olive oil in a small pan until brown and sprinkle on top of the casserole before baking. 4. Gone Fishing Give that gold-standard (more like old-standard!) tuna noodle casserole recipe a much-needed makeover. For a super simple meal any time, drain canned salmon (or leftovers from the night before) and mix it with cooked wild or short grain brown rice, plain Greek yogurt, baby spinach, peas and fresh herbs. In no time you’ll be digging into a creamy, comforting meal that’s brimming with good-for-you ingredients. What’s not to love?

5. For Meat’s Sake

The lunchmeat you already have in the fridge for lunches can double as dinner! Mix sliced turkey, ham or roast beef with cooked whole wheat pasta or brown rice, creamed corn, roasted potatoes and fresh parsley. Sprinkle with a layer of cheese before baking, and you’ve got dinner on the table with minimal effort and maximum flavor.

6. Tofu for You

You don’t have to be a vegetarian to enjoy tofu! This meatless protein is truly a blank canvas. You can add just about any flavor you want to make a totally original and delish dish. Sneaking it into a casserole is a great way to get your kids to try it. For a low-cal casserole that’s still loaded with flavor, use tofu as the base and add in extras like Canadian bacon for pops of richness. For a lighter take on a Mexican casserole, sauté crumbled tofu for 10 minutes, then add enchilada sauce. Combine with corn tortilla strips and sliced mushrooms before baking and you’ll get a casserole that’s equal parts spice and everything nice.

7. Hello Freezer

Help your frozen veggies escape the cold fate of freezer burn and put them to good use! Take leftover cubed chicken breast and mix in peas, corn, broccoli florets, bell peppers or whatever bags of vegetables may be hiding in the back of your freezer. Chicken + frozen veggies = casserole heaven. Use whatever’s on hand, plus freshly cooked, frozen or canned chopped chicken, to make an extra easy vegetable chicken casserole. You don’t have to be Martha Stewart to come up with a unique and delicious casserole combo. In the world of casserole creation, anything goes!


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