Yes, it can be done!
I had been craving some sort of rich, decadent, carby, cheesy tater tot casserole. The kind that makes you want to quit your diet and live inside it’s warm, gooey center. Yet, I am still trying to live healthy. I want to get rid of some of the baby weight I’m still carrying around from having Budgie. So how do I reconcile the two?
I compromise. I found a way to make a tater tot casserole that gets substitutes a lot of the unhealthy elements for healthier elements. For example, I use a butternut squash cheese sauce. It’s based on a healthy mac-n-cheese recipe I’ve used before. You still get cheesiness, but you also get sweet squash! And all of the fiber! Instead of using sour cream for added creaminess, I used tangy Greek yogurt. Also, the casserole is loaded with veggies. Yet, it still has enough cheese to taste great.
This particular recipe could even be made healthier! I used ground beef because that’s what we had a home, but you could use ground turkey. Also, you could add about one more cup of veggies without losing it’s slightly-sinful taste. If you’re adding veggies, you can add more of what I added or I suggest a cup of chopped, fresh spinach — no blanching required. Some sweet green peas would be great, too! Either blanch them with the other veggies, or use microwaved steam-in-bag peas.
Best feature of this recipe? My kids loved it. The couldn’t tell there was squash hidden in the sauce, and they love cheesy broccoli. Win-win!
Healthy Cheesy Tater Tot Casserole
A healthy tater tot casserole. No kidding.
- Cheese Sauce Ingredients:
- 1 medium butternut squash
- 3/4 cup whole milk
- 1 1/2 cup grated extra sharp or sharp cheddar cheese
- 1 small container plain Greek yogurt (roughly 5 ounces)
- a couple dashes of garlic salt
- salt and pepper to taste Casserole Ingredients
- 1 lb ground beef or turkey
- 1 bag of frozen tater tots
- 2 crowns of broccoli
- 1 bell pepper (I used half of a red and half of a green)
- 1/2 cup grated extra sharp or sharp cheddar cheese
- Preheat oven to 375. Set the frozen tots out to start thawing. Slice squash in half the long way and scoop out the seeds and gunk. You do not need to peel the squash!
- Place squash on a baking sheet, cut side up. Sprinkle with salt. Pour water into the hole created by removing seeds and add a little water to the cookie sheet. (This will help make a steamy oven to cook the squash better.) Bake for 30-40 minutes until squash is tender.
- While squash is baking, prep the veggies. Set a large pot of heavily salted water out to boil. Cut bell pepper into small pieces (not long strips) and break down the broccoli crowns into bite sized pieces. Once the water is at a rolling boil, quickly blanch the veggies. (Boil peppers for about 3-5 minutes, then boil broccoli about 5-7 minutes, until each are tender.) Hold on to the large pot; discard the water.
- Brown the meat. Drain the fat.
- By now, the squash should be done. Scoop the flesh out of the skin and place in food processor or large blender. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients and blend. (You may want to add the cheese gradually so that it doesn’t all melt on the hot squash right away.) Aggressively salt the cheese sauce; you want it to taste just barely “too salty.” Because of the reduced cheese, there is less saltiness. The casserole will taste bland if you don’t oversalt the sauce.
- Combine veggies, tater tots, meat, and about half of the cheese sauce in the large pot used for blanching the veggies. Use enough cheese sauce so that everything is well coated. If you add extra veggies, you may need extra sauce. (You can use the leftover sauce to make mac-n-cheese tomorrow! Just make sure to add a little extra cheese when you make the mac-n-cheese!) Stir to incorporate all ingredients.
- Spray a large casserole dish with cooking spray and fill with casserole mix. Add a few extra spoonfuls of cheese sauce over the top.
- Bake 25 minutes in 375° oven (still hot from baking squash), covered. Remove cover and sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup of cheese over the top. Bake 10-15 minutes, until cheese is melted and browned.