Recipe Rescue: Tater Tot Casserole Gets a Healthy Makeover

Tater Tot Casserole: The name alone sounds downright unhealthy.  The words gooey and gloppy come immediately to mind as do mega high in fat.

Recently, our friends Vicky and Jen, hosts of the weekly radio podcast, What Really Matters, featured a Recipe Rescue “contest” on their blog.  They received a bunch of recipes — Creme Brulee French Toast, Bacon Cheeseburger Meatloaf, and Decadent Black Bottom Pie, but the one we ultimately chose for our “rescue” was Tater Tot Casserole.

Michelle, a mom from Cincinnati, Ohio, found the original recipe in her city’s newspaper. The ingredients included such things as Tater Tots, a pound of ground beef or turkey, shredded Cheddar cheese, a can of your favorite cream soup, and a stick of butter (can you believe it?).  The nutritional damage … nearly 450 calories per serving, 32 grams of fat, 15 grams of  saturated fat (that’s almost a day’s worth), and over 1,000 milligrams of sodium.

We had three goals for our makeover:  Lighten things up, add an extra veggie or two, and incorporate a surprising and fun element for Michelle’s daughter.  Here’s what we did:

  • To cut the saturated fat and sodium we used a lower fat/lower sodium cream of mushroom soup, 1% lowfat milk, reduced-fat Cheddar cheese, and lean ground beef (lean turkey or veggie crumbles works great too), and we gave that stick of butter the boot.
  • For our veggie addition, we added coarsely chopped mushrooms and a shredded carrot.
  • To bring a smile to everyone’s face, we switched from Tater Tots to potato Smiles.

Smiley Face Casserole (this recipe appears in our new cookbook, No Whine with Dinner)

Makes 10 Servings

  • One 26-ounce bag frozen smiley-face potato fries
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, coarsely chopped
  • 1 pound lean ground beef (95% lean)
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and shredded (about 1 cup)
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • Kosher salt
  • One 10¾-ounce can lower-fat, lower-sodium cream of mushroom soup
  • One 10¾-ounce can filled with 1% low-fat milk
  • 2 cups shredded reduced-fat Cheddar cheese, divided (8 ounces)

1. Preheat the oven and bake the fries according to package directions.  When done, remove from oven and set aside.

2. While the fries are cooking, heat the oil in a large Dutch oven or saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 5 minutes.

3. Add the meat, carrot, garlic powder, and pepper and cook, breaking up the large pieces, until the meat is no longer pink and the carrot is tender, about 5 minutes. Drain excess fat and season with salt and additional pepper to taste.

4. Stir in the soup, milk, and, 1½ cups of the cheese (the mixture will seem very thin at this point, but don’t worry). Heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture comes to a simmer. Remove from the heat.

5. Set the oven to 425° F.  Arrange half the cooked fries in a 9 x 13-inch baking pan or dish.  Top with the meat mixture, the remaining half cup of cheese, and the remaining potato smiles. Cover loosely with aluminum foil, and bake until the mixture is bubbly, about 10 minutes.

Nutrition Information per Serving:  310 calories, 14g fat (5g saturated), 620mg sodium, 26g carbohydrate, 2g fiber, 20g protein, 40% A, 25% calcium

Print Recipe

Thanks to those cute potato Smiles, we had a blast giving Michelle’s recipe a “rescue.”  If you have an opportunity to try it, please share your feedback right here on the blog.  Also, if you liked this rescue, you may also like some of our other rescues: Ham & Broccoli Hash Brown Casserole, Skinny Fish Chowder, Fudgy Black Bean Brownies, and our Oatmeal Bake made with chopped apples and pecans.

PS: Since this is one of our favorite recipes, we decided to include it in our new cookbook, NO WHINE WITH DINNER: 150 Healthy, Kid Tested Recipes from The Meal Makeover Moms! The book is scheduled for release October, 2010, so stay tuned.

17 Responses to “Recipe Rescue: Tater Tot Casserole Gets a Healthy Makeover”

  1. Vicky Thornton on May 22nd, 2009

    You two always put a smile on my face! It sure was fun doing a rescue with you! You did a fabulous job as always – Vicky

  2. Genie on May 22nd, 2009

    Even though I don’t have kids…I’ve got to say…this is adorable, and sounds delicious!

  3. Ann on May 22nd, 2009

    So glad you picked this recipe to makeover! I have one similiar that is the exact same unhealthy version. Is there anything that can be substitured for mushrooms if your family is not crazy about mushrooms? I remember seeing another make over of it somewhere and they had peas. Any suggestions?

  4. Liz on May 24th, 2009

    Hi Ann,
    You could certainly add peas but that seems a bit starchy to me. You may want to replace the mushrooms with an additional 1/2 cup carrots OR saute up some baby spinach (a small bag) in olive oil, chop it up, and then stir that in. If you make the recipe, let us know what kind of reaction you get from your family.

  5. BostonDad on May 26th, 2009

    This was a fun recipe the kids loved. Keep those makeovers coming?

  6. Karen Burback on May 27th, 2009

    Is this correct in the Smiley Face Casserole? 10.75 ounce (1 can) 1% lowfat milk ?

  7. Janice on May 27th, 2009

    Yes, Karen it is. After you add the 10.75-ounce can of cream of mushroom soup you fill the empty can up with 1% milk and add that to the mixture. It does read a little funny- as if 1% milk comes in cans!

  8. Leslie on July 24th, 2009

    My 2-year-old loved the smiley face potatoes. My husband also thought that this was better than a regular tator tot casserole. I liked that it was healthier too!

  9. elle on August 24th, 2009

    I’ve never made a tater tot casserole with meat before. We have too many vegetarians in the group. Ours is mostly cheddar cheese, sour cream, a creamy soup and french fried onions on the top. It’s definitely a sometimes food, for when we’re feeling especially southern.

  10. Amy on September 10th, 2010

    I was eating my famous tater tot casserole when I found this receipe. I love the smiley potatoes. I use corn and onion for the veggies. I usually serve it with a salad so my kids get enough veggies.

  11. The Meal Makeover Moms on September 11th, 2010

    Glad you found us!

  12. Debbi Does Dinner Healthy on September 13th, 2010

    This looks really good and much healthier! Thanks!

  13. Kristin on October 14th, 2010

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen these smiling potatoes before. They’re so cute! Are they available in CA, do you know?

  14. The Meal Makeover Moms on October 14th, 2010

    Kristin
    We used McCain smile fries in this recipe. Aren’t they cute?!

  15. Melanie on August 5th, 2011

    I didn’t think there was any way to lighten up Tater Tot Hotdish…I guess I was wrong…I’ll have to pass this one along to all the folks back home in Minnesota…:)

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