Green Bean Casserole, Lightened Up

by in Healthy Holidays, Meal Makeovers, Thanksgiving, November 16, 2009

Spicy Parmesan Green Beans
With the fried onion topping and heavy cream and cheese mixed in, a typical green bean casserole serves up 550 calories in just one side dish. You can still enjoy the classic flavors while slimming down some of the fatty ingredients. Here’s how.

The Nutrition Lowdown
Green beans provide tons of nutrients, such as fiber, beta-carotene and vitamin C. A cup of fresh, plain beans contains 40 calories and no fat. A traditional Thanksgiving green bean casserole usually includes sticks of butter, cups of heavy cream (or cream of mushroom soup) and either loads of cheese or fried onions on top. All this tallies up to 550 calories and 35 grams of fat in just a single serving.

Many quick casserole recipes use canned soups to add flavor and packaged French fried onions for crunch, but as with most pre-packaged foods, they’re loaded with sodium. Why add all that fat and salt when you can make your own variation from fresh ingredients?

Quick Substitutes
It’s all about substitutions when lightening up this classic dish. The heavy cream packs on 821 calories per cup. Typically a recipe feeds around eight people, so that’s about 100 calories alone from artery-clogging fat. Instead, make your own creamy sauce by combining flour (or cornstarch) and low-fat or skim milk. Or take some plain yogurt and combine it with chicken broth or stock. If you don’t have time to make your own, choose healthy varieties of canned soups or stocks with less sodium and avoid the creamy ones.

Some green bean casserole recipes call for cheese — it tastes unbelievable on green beans, but portion control is the key. Aim for 2 tablespoons of shredded or grated cheese per serving or just halve the amount in the recipe. If possible, choose a low-fat variety of cheese, but steer clear of fat-free cheeses since many don’t melt well and lack flavor. Read more of our tips for selecting healthier cheeses.

Instead of those fried onions, add a few tablespoons of chopped onions for flavor and what about some panko breadcrumbs for the crunch? If you just can’t do without the fried stuff, then add a few tablespoons (2 tablespoons have 45 calories and 3.5 grams of fat).

You can also pick up canned green beans to save time, but they can be chewy and have added sodium. If you’re worried about that, get fresh or frozen ones.

Of course, a casserole isn’t the only way to go. We love our green beans dressed up just a bit with extra flavoring. If you’re looking to make them more of the star of the dish, try these recipes:

TELL US: How do you prepare your green bean casserole?

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Comments (5)

  1. Sarah Schatz says:

    I just made one that is much healthier as well as allergen-friendly. It is gluten-free and dairy free. It does contain almonds and cashews but this is about the only fat in it besides a little olive oil. And it is delicious!

  2. PeterH says:

    Well, if you live near an Asian grocery store, you probably can find fried onions, which our Indian friends use as a garnish. Not totally sin-free – they do have some fat content – but a lot better than those nasty canned things, and they have less salt besides.

    I haven't made the usual "salt-bomb" canned-soup casserole in years. It really isn't hard to make a good white sauce – just fat, flour, and some stock (seasonings as you like), and that, with a can of mushrooms, is every bit as good as canned soup.

    And concerning cheese: You're far better off to use a strong-flavoured NATURAL cheese like Parmesan or Romano, than to use some "processed cheese-food" glop. You can use less – saves $ and reduces fat – and it will taste better besides.

  3. Kate Cowan says:

    Think the comments by Peter H. spot on. Isn’t about time recipes calling for canned mushroom and canned chicken soups – canned whatever – were rewritten so that the sodium health hazard could be greatly reduced.

    • Dee says:

      Oh good grief, there are low sodium soups you can use . Sodium is only a hazard if you overdo it or already have health problems. Save me from the food "nannies'

  4. Awesome recipe! It looks spicy and yummy too. I want to make at this Halloween. Thanks for this recipe.

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