What would some of our favorite comfort food classics looks like if we asked a nutritionist to give them a makeover? In this series of recipes, you see how smart choices around vegetables, meats, and cheese make for a lighter, more nutritious take on everything from mac and cheese to meatloaf without ever compromising the flavor.
Chicken and rice was made for busy weeknights and picky eaters. I would know all about this because growing up I had about five foods I would actually touch. Casseroles were my mom's expert way of getting me to try more foods without me knowing.
While chicken and rice is traditionally just chicken and rice, this dish boosts up the vegetables but also eliminates the canned cream soups for a quick homemade version.
Giving Chicken & Rice Casserole a Nutritionist's Makeover
The Rice & Veggies
The classic dish relies heavily on white rice, but this makeover recipe replaces the white rice with a combination of brown and cauliflower rice. This not only increases the vegetable servings but also adds in more fiber to help keep you full for longer.
Cauliflower rice mimics the brown rice perfectly in this casserole. It's difficult to even determine where the rice ends and the veggies begin. The kids will never know there are over three cups of vegetables waiting for them in this meal!
Making your own cream-based sauce is actually quite easy, and adding a touch of Greek yogurt at the end instead of heavy cream will save you excess saturated fat and calories. Throwing a handful of sautéed mushrooms into the thickened sauce gives all those familiar cream-of-mushroom vibes without all of the excess sodium and preservatives. The Greek yogurt gives a slight tanginess similar to sour cream and adds yet another great flavor to the dish.
To finish, a generous sprinkle of Parmesan cheese gives this chicken and rice dish a boost of flavor and richness. Do us all a favor and send us an invite when this recipe hits your dinner table.
Healthier Chicken and Rice Casserole
1 1/2 pounds
boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups
cauliflower rice (8 ounces, from 4 cups cauliflower)
medium-grain brown rice
peeled, diced carrots
fresh thyme leaves
freshly ground black pepper
cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 1/2 tablespoons
2 1/2 tablespoons
2 1/2 cups
low-sodium chicken broth
low-fat plain Greek yogurt
freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 400°F. Coat a 9x13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Place the chicken, cauliflower, brown rice, cauliflower, carrots, thyme, salt, and pepper in the baking dish; set aside.
Heat the oil in a medium frying pan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the mushrooms and cook until they release moisture, about 5 minutes; set aside. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until lightly browned and nutty, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the chicken broth, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook until thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the reserved mushrooms and yogurt. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.
Pour the mushroom sauce into the baking dish and stir until everything is well-combined. Cover the baking dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake until most of the liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes more. Sprinkle with the Parmesan and serve.
Storage: Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Carrot alternative: Not a fan of carrots? You can substitute another 1 cup of diced vegetables in their place.