With the temperatures plummeting and hibernation season beginning in Chicago, sitting on the couch with some piping hot comfort food sounds pretty enticing. Winter is the season for mashed potatoes and gravy, casseroles, stews, cookies, and a whole slew of delicious food meant for wrapping up with a blanket and watching movies. If you are okay with gaining a few pounds during the colder months then by all means have at it, but for those who are attempting to lose weight or at least stay in maintenance mode over the holidays, then eating these foods can make those goals tough as they’re generally pretty high in both carbs and fat.
Pasta casseroles tend to be some of the worst caloric offenders of the winter comfort food bunch for a few reasons. Not only is pasta very dense in calories, but the casseroles usually combine the pasta together so you're eating even more pasta volume per bite than you would if it was separated on a plate. Thankfully, there’s a super easy alternative with just a fraction of the calories: spaghetti squash. At our house, we have spaghetti squash casseroles at least once a month as they’re very easy to make and you get to eat a crazy amount of food for relatively low calories. One cooked cup of pasta (usually 1/8 of a box) is generally around 200 calories, where as one cup of spaghetti squash is only 28 calories, so it's literally one seventh as fattening as pasta! On top of being almost void of calories, if you make spaghetti squash casserole in the shell of the squash, you make a smaller portion instead of having a whole baking pan of pasta leftovers.
Spaghetti Squash Casserole
Extra virgin olive oil
Fresh peeled garlic cloves (optional)
A jar of your favorite pasta sauce
Toppings: Use any combination of:
- Lean ground beef
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Heat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Poke a few holes in the squash with a knife on the circumference (from stem to end) and toss it in the microwave for 4-5 minutes to soften it a bit.
3. Slice the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds and pulp. Drizzle olive oil inside the halves and put them face up on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for about 40 minutes. I also like to put some fresh garlic cloves and salt and pepper inside the halves.
4. While the squash is cooking, prepare the toppings. I generally heat up some of my favorite jarred pasta sauce and cook lean ground beef, turkey, chicken, or even chop up some sausages for our meat. Saute any combination of chopped fresh vegetables you like. I typically use peppers, garlic, zucchini, and mushrooms in this dish, but you can add whatever you like!
5. When the squash is done, take it out of the oven and use a fork to pull apart the flesh from the shell. Be careful, as the shell will be piping hot. If you elected to add in garlic cloves you can mash them into the flesh while you break the strings apart.
6. Once the flesh is fully separated from the shell mix in your meats, veggies, and sauce, and then, if you like, top with shredded cheese. A quarter cup of shredded reduced fat cheese is usually only about 90 calories and that will be plenty to cover the top of the squash. Once you’ve got all the toppings mixed, place everything back in the shell and bake until cheese is melted (around 5-10 minutes).
7. Broil on high in the oven for a couple of minutes. Let stand for a little bit and then enjoy!
I just made this last night and took the squash out of the shell after it had baked and mixed some noodled zucchini in as well!
If you are looking for some help in making healthy eating changes in 2018, be sure to attend The Chopping Block's New Year, New You: Healthy Open House on Wednesday, January 10 at the Merchandise Mart. During this free event, we'll showcase our healthy class curriculum for the next year, including Wellness Chef Alia Dalal's clean eating classes and her popular Clean Eating Boot Camp.