By Hilary Meyer, Associate Food Editor, EatingWell Magazine
Everyone has a favorite comfort food. Mine is creamy chicken and broccoli casserole. It's a warming dish of ooey-gooey melted cheese, creamy sauce, noodles and chicken, with some broccoli thrown in for good measure. It's simple and delicious, but unfortunately the classic recipe is not very healthy.
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That's why I was thrilled when we got the chance to create a healthier version of this masterpiece in the EatingWell Test Kitchen. Our lighter recipe trimmed 100 calories and 9 grams of fat per serving from the original. And even better, it's super-easy. This recipe is made in one skillet, mostly on the stovetop (with just a few minutes of broiling at the end) and it only takes 25 minutes of prep time.
Here's how the EatingWell Test Kitchen created a lighter, but still delicious stovetop Chicken & Broccoli Casserole:
1. Skip canned soup
The secret ingredient of many comforting creamy casseroles is condensed cream of mushroom soup. It may be convenient to pop open a can but it's not always the healthiest choice. Canned soups are notorious for being loaded with sodium (they can have up to 1,967 mg in just one 10-ounce can!) and fat. We build our sauce using skim milk and reduced-fat mayonnaise. These two ingredients blended together give the sauce the rich, thick consistency you're used to getting with canned soup, but with much less fat and sodium.
2. Bring on the broccoli!
Let's face it: creamy casseroles are about the cream. And cheese. Oftentimes if vegetables are involved they get buried and forgotten about. But not in this chicken and broccoli casserole. We call for nearly a pound of frozen broccoli florets in our recipe. The broccoli bumps up the volume of the dish without adding tons of calories. And using frozen broccoli is extra convenient because chopping is unnecessary.
3. Use whole-wheat pasta
Egg noodles have a unique soft texture and flavor. By choosing whole-wheat egg noodles, you get the same great texture as well as an added boost of fiber. And (for those who may be skeptical), with all the creamy sauce and vegetables, it's hard to detect the nutty flavor of the whole wheat in the pasta.
Here's the recipe for our lightened-up Stovetop Chicken & Broccoli Casserole:
Stovetop Chicken & Broccoli Casserole
Makes: 6 servings
Active time: 25 minutes | Total: 40 minutes
Cost per serving: under $2.50
We trimmed 9 grams of fat and almost 100 calories in this makeover of cheesy chicken-and-broccoli casserole. All the raw ingredients are layered in a skillet, then simmered for a quick weeknight dinner.
8 ounces whole-wheat egg noodles
1 14-ounce can reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1 14- to 16-ounce package frozen broccoli florets, thawed and chopped, if desired
1 1/2 cups skim milk
1/2 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 cups shredded Colby-Jack or Cheddar cheese
1. Place noodles in a large skillet. Pour broth over the noodles. Layer chicken, then broccoli over the noodles.
2. Whisk milk, mayonnaise, flour, dry mustard, garlic powder, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Pour over the broccoli.
3. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer, cover and cook, stirring once or twice, until the noodles and chicken are cooked through, 15 to 18 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, position rack in upper third of oven; preheat broiler.
5. When the casserole is done, sprinkle cheese on top and broil until lightly browned, about 3 minutes.
Per serving: 446 calories; 15 g fat (7 g sat, 4 g mono); 75 mg cholesterol; 41 g carbohydrate; 1 g added sugars; 33 g protein; 6 g fiber; 662 mg sodium; 424 mg potassium. Nutrition bonus: Vitamin C (45% daily value), Calcium (30% dv), Vitamin A (23% dv), Folate (16% dv).
More Healthy Recipes from EatingWell:
Creamy Chicken Potpie & Our Most Popular Casserole Recipes
Chicken Divan & Creamy Chicken Recipes
Chicken Fried Steak with Gravy & Comfort Foods to Put Back in Your Diet
What favorite comfort food do you wish you had a healthier recipe for?
By Hilary Meyer
EatingWell Associate Food Editor Hilary Meyer spends much of her time in the EatingWell Test Kitchen, testing and developing healthy recipes. She is a graduate of New England Culinary Institute.
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