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.
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 Weight Watchers 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 lentils
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 is the recipe for a casserole that you won’t have to change at all. It’s that nutritious and delicious! Budget friendly, too.
HEARTY VEGETABLE LASAGNA
1 16-ounce 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-ounce jars pasta sauce
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 15-ounce container part-skim ricotta cheese
4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
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, saute 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-inch baking pans. Enjoy one today and freeze the other for later.
Mary invites you to visit her at EverydayCheapskate.com, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at https://www.everydaycheapskate.com/contact/, ”Ask Mary.” Tips can be submitted at tips.everydaycheapskate.com/. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book “Debt-Proof Living.”