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.
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’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”).
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
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the broccoli florets in a steamer basket and steam until crisp tender, about 3 minutes.
- 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.
- To make the topping, mix together the almonds, breadcrumbs, flaxseed and Parmesan cheese. Spread evenly over the chicken mixture.
- 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.