When most people plan for dinner on these cold and busy days, they tend to think: casserole. I get it, casseroles are hardy, quick to assemble and only dirty one dish!
The problem of casseroles
What I don’t love about casserole is all the condensed soup, flavor packets, and other packaged ingredients (stovetop stuffing, hamburger helper, Ritz crackers, rice-a-roni….) that go in them. Casseroles are not inherently bad for you, and can be done right if you are choosy with your ingredients. The problem is that most recipes call for canned cream soups, boxed ingredients, and seasoning packets which commonly contain ingredients you’d never be adding in your home kitchen; namely MSG, hydrogenated oils, added sugars (disguised under the names: maltodextrin or corn syrup) starches, gums, dyes, and copious amounts of sodium. Many of these ingredients are added to make the product shelf stable and can be avoided when you make your dinners from scratch!
Are you looking for quick, easy family dinner ideas that help you stick to your resolution to eat better? Here are some tips and tricks to help you think creatively and give you some inspiration for healthier, but still convenient and comforting dinners!
Use a slow cooker instead. If convenience is your concern, it doesn’t get easier that throwing a few ingredients into a slow cooker and walking away for 6-8 hours. You can add your ingredients, press start as you leave for work, and come home to a meal ready to eat! Oftentimes slow cooking your food is also a healthier way to go. Meats are juicier when cooked slowly and require less fat to tenderize them as in other cooking methods like baking, pan frying, or marinating before barbequing. The taste is also improved when you allow a lot of time for the flavors to combine and less fat, salt, and sugar is required to make it taste good! Try slow cooking veggies, roast, soups, chili, and stews! Flavor your slow cooked meals with healthful ingredients like garlic, onion, crushed tomatoes, stocks, herbs and spices to impart flavor. Add potatoes, beans, and whole grains like wheat berries, farro, brown rice, or quinoa to make your meals a little hardier. Get creative with ingredients you have on hand, or simply search slow cooker recipes on the internet for some inspiration.
Think outside the box
Literally! If you must make a casserole, try these healthier alternatives. A little whole grain pasta, brown rice, or quinoa taste great in place of more processed ingredients like stovetop stuffing or crushed crackers. If you are looking at the ingredients of a flavor packet and are unimpressed with the amount of chemicals and additives, make your own! Try adding nutritional yeast in place of cheese powder, or a mixture of chives, parsley, dill, and garlic instead of a ranch packet. If you are unsure of good ways to use herbs and spices, check out this link from the University of Delaware, or take a basic culinary class to help you season your food the natural way! There are also many recipes that call for a condensed soup to add creaminess. Skip the gums and stabilizers and instead add a little natural cream at the end of cooking. The flavor is far superior and you’ll save yourself from all the fake ingredients.
Make other quick “one dish” meals such as stir fries, curries, stews, one-pan pastas or try the recipes below! There are many delicious alternatives to the ever-popular casserole. Don’t limit yourself to old family recipes, get online and search different cuisines, flavors, and try your hand and creating culinary masterpieces using whole food ingredients you love.
Do you have any favourite recipes you would like to share? Enter in the comments below!