Recipe Rescue: Chicken Casserole with a Healthier Twist

For a few years now, we’ve had our eye on chicken casserole – that quintessential stick-to-your-ribs comfort food made with rich ingredients like cream of chicken soup – longing to give it a healthy makeover.  Why we didn’t get our dietitian paws on this recipe until now is a mystery, but when Jennifer C. a mom of two from Jackson, MI sent us her grandmother’s recipe for Chicken & Almond Casserole and asked us to make it over, we were suddenly motivated into Recipe Rescue action.

Laurie mixing topping

Laurie mixing topping

The original recipe called for chicken, celery, mayonnaise, a can of cream of chicken soup, hard boiled eggs, slivered almonds, minced onions, cracker crumbs, and yes, you guessed it, potato chips.  “I didn’t love the combination of the mayo, soup, eggs, cracker crumbs, and chips,” Jennifer told us.  “And besides, the kids and I don’t like cooked celery.”  What Jennifer did like were the almonds and the fact that this recipe was something she found in her grandmother’s old recipe box.

Jennifer assembling ingredients

Jennifer assembling ingredients

Sean grinding the flaxseeds

Sean grinding the flaxseeds

Jennifer’s New Year’s resolution was to feed her family a healthier diet.  “We’re busy and crazy and I was falling into the pattern of eating out or making convenience foods for the family.  I decided that I had to do better for my kids.”  To help Jennifer meet her goal of eating out less and cooking more budget-minded meals at home, we turned her old-time recipe into a dish any modern-day mom would rave about.

For our Recipe Rescue, we switched from celery to broccoli – definitely more kid friendly, used a light canola mayonnaise for some heart-healthy omega-3 fats, and chose an all-natural cream of chicken soup to cut some of the sodium and fat from the original recipe. We also created a super-yummy topping (we’re not kidding, this topping rocks) with fluffy, flaky Japanese panko breadcrumbs, grated Parmesan cheese, ground flaxseed, and finely chopped almonds. By adding the almonds to the topping vs. mixing in a handful of slivered or sliced, we kept the great nutrition (almonds are rich in cholesterol-lowering monounsaturated fat) without freaking the kids out (let’s face it, some kids can’t handle “lumps”).

Ready to enjoy the Recipe Rescue!

Ready to enjoy the Recipe Rescue!

The entire family loved mom’s dinner.  When Jennifer asked ten-year old Laurie if she liked it, she replied, “Mom, did you think I wouldn’t?!”  Even eight-year old Sean, known to be picky at times, ate it, though he preferred the broccoli and crunchy topping over the actual chicken.  Jennifer told us that she loves to cook and plans on making our Recipe Rescue again and again. Now that’s what we call success!

Chicken & Broccoli Casserole with Crunchy Almond Topping

Makes 5 to 6 Servings

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, baked and cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 2 ½ cups) *
  • 2 ½ to 3 cups small broccoli florets
  • One 14.5-ounce can ready-to-serve all-natural cream of chicken or cream of mushroom soup (we like Health Valley)
  • 1/3 cup light canola mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup almonds, very finely chopped (in a food processor or on a cutting board)
  • 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Place the broccoli florets in a steamer basket and steam until crisp tender, about 3 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the soup and the mayonnaise until well combined.  Add the chicken and broccoli and stir gently to combine.  Place in a 2-quart baking dish and set aside.
  3. To make the topping, mix together the almonds, breadcrumbs, flaxseed and Parmesan cheese.  Spread evenly over the chicken mixture.
  4. Bake until the mixture bubbles and the topping turns golden brown, about 20 minutes.  Serve over rice, pasta, or noodles.

* To cook the chicken, place in a baking dish, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake at 350°F until the meat is cooked through and no longer pink in the center, 35 minutes.

Nutrition Information per Serving:   240 calories, 12g fat (2g saturated, 1.2g omega-3), 430mg sodium, 11g carbohydrate, 3g fiber, 21g protein, 25% vitamin A, 60% vitamin C

5 Responses to “Recipe Rescue: Chicken Casserole with a Healthier Twist”

  1. Ann Says:

    I’ve never heard of all-natural cream of chicken soup. I thought the 98% fat free type ones in the store were better than the original. Can you share what the difference is? Is it the sodium and why is this a big difference?

  2. HBW Says:

    In a perfect world, all natural means no preservatives, no artificial ingredients, no antibiotics, no pesticides, no herbicides, no hormones, and not processed. In our world the term “all natural” isn’t regulated by the USDA so its hard to say if the product is actually natural or not. Its best to just research brands and read ingredients to tell.
    The best way to tell if something is natural is to read the ingredients and if there are things you can’t pronounce, it probably isn’t “all natural”. Much of the time when things are fat free, 98% fat free, etc, the process of which the fat was removed is a chemical process and it alters the genetic make up of the food molecules, which is definitely not natural. If the chicken in cream of chicken soup was raised using hormones and antibiotics and fed conventional food, it it not natural.
    Sodium isn’t a huge deal when talking about ‘natural’ foods. Sodium is a usually natural ingredient when it comes from a good source (not a chemically processed method of extraction or if it is bleached). Sea salt is the least processed type of sodium. Salt is a natural preservative and that is why so many packaged foods are high in Sodium. If watching your sodium intake, many “natural” foods are high in sodium content as well, so you really have to just read ingredients. Hope this helps.

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  4. Jodi Snyder Says:

    You know it’s a beautiful recipe with healthy ingredients, and yet still depend on canned soup – come on people……just make your own for heavens sake!

  5. Katherine Says:

    I second Jodi, when searching all natural casseroles, I was hoping for something that wouldn’t include the unnatural bpa lining in canned products.

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