10 Great Casseroles on a Budget

By: Julia Layton

Casseroles feed many, clean up quickly and can be made with almost anything. See more comfort foods pictures.
©iStockphoto.com/LauriPatterson

For the time-starved, putting a nutritious, tasty dinner on the table every night has always been a labor of love. For the budget-conscious, it's even more difficult, since in many cases healthy foods tend to cost more than bad-for-you ones.

There are ways around both time and money issues, though; one of them is called the casserole.

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You probably know the most famous casserole of all time, consisting of green beans and cream of mushroom soup, among other ingredients, invented by Campbell's in the 1950s and served in homes throughout the United States to this day. Casseroles don't have to be a side dish, though. You can cook an entire meal in a casserole dish with relatively little effort and money (and fewer dishes once dinner's done).

Here, we've raided TLC's recipe book to bring you 10 of the great casseroles for the budget-conscious cook, including some light and lower-fat ones. A couple could be side dishes, and one could be dessert; but most of them combine everything you need for a nutritious, main-dish meal in one cook-and-serve pot.

First up: Breakfast, of course ...

10. Hash Brown Casserole (Ham)

Yield: 6 servings

This one is an obvious breakfast choice, but it would do just as well for brunch or breakfast-for-dinner. The ingredients are reasonably priced, and most of them will live to see another meal. It's a healthy casserole and, since it relies on frozen hash browns and pre-cooked ham, an especially quick and easy option.

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Get cooking!

Ingredients

  • 3 cups frozen shredded hash-brown potatoes
  • 11/2 cups (6 ounces) finely chopped extra-lean ham
  • 3/4 cup (3 ounces) shredded reduced-fat Cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup sliced green onions
  • 1 can (12 ounces) evaporated fat-free milk
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cholesterol-free egg substitute
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly coat 8-inch square baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Layer potatoes, ham, cheese and onions in dish. Gradually whisk milk into flour in small bowl. Stir in egg substitute and pepper. Pour over all. Cover and refrigerate 4 to 24 hours.
  3. Bake, uncovered, 55 to 60 minutes or until knife inserted into center comes out clean. Remove from oven; let stand 10 minutes before serving.

(For nutritional information, see TLC Cooking.)

Next: an innovative cooking vessel ...

9. Harvest Casserole (Pork)

Acorn squash makes this casserole an elegant but inexpensive dish.
Acorn squash makes this casserole an elegant but inexpensive dish.
©iStockphoto.com/YinYang

Yield: 4 servings

This pork-based dish is not a traditional casserole, but it's one that presents so beautifully you'll want to serve it at a dinner party -- and how many inexpensive casseroles can you say that about?

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Within the usual casserole dish, this one bakes and serves in acorn-squash bowls. It's perfect for a light meal or as one of several dishes at an autumn-time gathering. You probably have about five of the eight required ingredients sitting in your kitchen right now, so you don't need to buy much to get it done.

Get cooking!

Ingredients

  • 1 pound maple-flavored or regular pork sausage
  • 2 acorn squash (about 2 pounds each)
  • 1 cup cooked rice
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 can (10-3/4 ounces) condensed chicken broth, divided

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease 11-by-7-inch casserole; set aside.
  2. Crumble sausage into skillet; cook and stir over medium-high heat until brown. Remove from heat and drain off drippings.
  3. Meanwhile, pierce both squash in several places using sharp knife. Microwave on HIGH 8 minutes, turning over halfway through cooking time.
  4. When cool enough to handle, cut 1/2 inch off top and bottom of each squash. Cut each squash horizontally. Remove seeds and membrane. Place rings into prepared casserole.
  5. Add rice, cranberries, salt, cinnamon and pepper to sausage. Add 1/4 cup chicken broth to sausage to moisten. Spoon sausage mixture into squash rings. Pour remaining broth into casserole around rings.
  6. Cover dish with foil. Bake 15 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 5 to 10 minutes or until squash is tender.

Next, a great vegetarian option ...

8. Spicy Three-bean Casserole (Vegetarian)

Beans provide inexpensive protein in this dish.
Beans provide inexpensive protein in this dish.
©iStockphoto.com/temmuzcan

Yield: 12 servings

Beans are a primary vegetarian protein option, but they're not just for vegetarians. Cost-cutters love beans, too. As far as protein sources go, they're cheap.

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This casserole is about as healthy as it gets: vegetarian protein, lots of dietary fiber and some of the lightest veggies around, so it's low in calories and fat. It's high in flavor, though -- hot and spicy flavor, to be exact.

Get cooking!

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped onions
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can (about 15 ounces) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can (about 15 ounces) kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped tomato
  • 1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 to 2 jalapeño peppers,* minced (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 11/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 21/2 cups (10 ounces) frozen cut green beans
  • Fresh oregano for garnish (optional)

*When handling jalapeño peppers, wear cooking gloves and keep your fingers away from your eyes. For a non-spicy casserole, omit them.

Method

  1. Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat until hot. Add onions, celery and garlic. Cook and stir 5 minutes or until onions are translucent.
  2. Add remaining ingredients except green beans and oregano. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, 20 minutes.
  3. Add green beans. Simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes or until beans are tender. Garnish with fresh oregano.

(For nutritional information, see TLC Cooking.)

Next, for chicken lovers ...

7. Chicken-Asparagus Casserole

Yield: 12 servings

Casseroles that incorporate condensed soups get a ton of flavor out of a pretty cheap ingredient. Cooking the chicken yourself will be less expensive than buying the pre-cooked, pre-chopped stuff, and if you buy the larger value pack and cook several pounds at a time, you can freeze a few servings to use for future dinners.

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Get cooking!

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup seeded and chopped green peppers
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can (10-3/4 ounces) condensed cream of asparagus soup, undiluted
  • 1 container (8 ounces) ricotta cheese
  • 2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Cheddar cheese, divided
  • 2 eggs
  • 11/2 cups chopped cooked chicken
  • 1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped asparagus,* thawed and drained
  • 8 ounces egg noodles, cooked
  • Black pepper (optional)

*Or, substitute 1/2 pound fresh asparagus cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Bring 6 cups water to a boil over high heat in large saucepan. Add fresh asparagus. Reduce heat to medium. Cover and cook 5 to 8 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain.

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease 13-by-9-inch casserole; set aside.
  2. Heat oil in small skillet over medium heat. Add bell peppers, onion and garlic; cook and stir until vegetables are crisp-tender.
  3. Mix soup, ricotta cheese, 1 cup Cheddar cheese and eggs in large bowl until well blended. Add onion mixture, chicken, asparagus and noodles; mix well. Season with pepper, if desired.
  4. Spread mixture evenly in prepared casserole. Top with remaining 1 cup Cheddar cheese.
  5. Bake 30 minutes or until center is set and cheese is bubbly. Let stand 5 minutes before serving. Garnish as desired.

Next up, a true classic ...

6. Enlightened Tuna Casserole

Inexpensive tuna is this casserole's base ingredient.
Inexpensive tuna is this casserole's base ingredient.
©iStockphoto.com/cveltricveltri

Yield: 4 servings

Available for less than 25 cents per ounce, canned tuna is a fantastic protein source that won't break the bank. It's also a really healthy one, low in fat and high in essential fatty acids. If you go the "chunk light" and store-brand route rather than the brand-name, solid-white-Albacore route, you'll be paying even less for this casserole's base ingredient.

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Get cooking!

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces uncooked elbow macaroni
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced celery
  • 1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
  • 2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/8 teaspoon white pepper
  • 11/2 cups heated fat-free reduced-sodium vegetable broth
  • 2 pouches (3 ounces each) albacore tuna
  • 1/2 cup fat-free cottage cheese
  • 1 teaspoon ground paprika
  • Fresh dill sprigs (optional)

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray a 2-inch-deep 8-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Cook macaroni according to package directions until just tender; drain and set aside.
  3. Place oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add onion; cook and stir 3 minutes. Add celery and bell pepper; cook and stir 3 minutes. Sprinkle flour, thyme and pepper over vegetables; cook and stir 1 minute. Gradually stir in hot broth; cook and stir until thickened. Remove from heat.
  4. Add macaroni, tuna and cottage cheese to skillet; stir until macaroni is coated. Scrape tuna mixture into prepared dish; sprinkle with paprika.
  5. Bake, uncovered, 20 to 25 minutes or until hot. Garnish with 4 dill sprigs.

(For nutritional information, see TLC Cooking.)

Next, for those who like it hot ...

5. Spicy Turkey Casserole

Yield: 6 servings

Low-cost and healthy doesn't have to mean "bland." This one has a lot of punch -- and you can use the leftover spicy sausage for a whole lot of breakfasts (or dinners) once the casserole is gone.

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To use up some of those budget-friendly, turkey-dinner leftovers, simply substitute the turkey cutlets with an equal amount of leftover turkey, cut into bite-size pieces.

Get cooking!

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound turkey breast cutlets, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 spicy chicken or turkey sausages (about 3 ounces each), sliced 1/2 inch thick
  • 1 cup diced green bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1/2 cup diced onion
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced (optional)
  • 1/2 cup fat-free reduced-sodium chicken broth or water
  • 1 can (about 14-1/2 ounces) no-salt-added diced tomatoes, un-drained
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 cup cooked yolk-free egg noodles
  • 6 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons coarse bread crumbs

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat oil in large nonstick skillet. Add turkey and sausages; cook and stir over medium heat 2 minutes.
  2. Add bell pepper, mushrooms, onion and jalapeño pepper, if desired; cook and stir 5 minutes.
  3. Add chicken broth; cook 1 minute, scraping up any browned bits from bottom of skillet.
  4. Add tomatoes with juice, seasonings and noodles.
  5. Spoon turkey mixture into shallow 10-inch round casserole. Sprinkle with cheese and bread crumbs. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until mixture is hot and bread crumbs are brown. Garnish as desired.

(For nutritional information, see TLC Cooking.)

Next, going Italian-style ...

4. Penne Pasta Casserole (Beef or Turkey)

Tasty penne pasta helps stretch the more expensive meat in this dish.
Tasty penne pasta helps stretch the more expensive meat in this dish.
©iStockphoto.com/PetegarPetegar

Yield: 6 servings

Ground meat combined with a hearty starch has been used to stretch protein sources since the beginning of time. Or at least the beginning of the casserole. In this Italian-style meal, ground beef or ground turkey mix with penne pasta and cheese for a filling dinner that does just as well (or even better) for lunch the next day.

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Get cooking!

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground sirloin beef or ground turkey
  • 3 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese (3 cups = 12 oz)
  • 1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes with basil, garlic and oregano, un-drained
  • 1 can (6 oz.) tomato paste
  • 1 large onion, chopped (1 large = about 1 cup)
  • Cooking spray
  • 12 ounces dry penne pasta, uncooked (12 oz = 3 cups)
  • 1/2 cup water

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Cook pasta according to package directions.
  2. Brown meat with onions in large skillet; drain. Stir in tomatoes with their liquid, the tomato paste and water; cook until heated through, stirring occasionally. Set aside.
  3. Spray 13-by-9-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Drain pasta; place in large bowl. Add tomato mixture and 2 cups of the cheese; toss to coat. Spoon into prepared dish; sprinkle evenly with remaining 1 cup cheese.
  4. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, or until casserole is heated through and cheese is melted.

(For nutritional information, see TLC Cooking.)

Next, a quick-cooking casserole ...

3. Microwave Beef Casserole Stew

Yield: 8 servings

If you're a fan of beef, you may already know that stew meat is one of the less expensive cuts, and provides a nice textural change from ground beef.

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If you're a fan of quick and easy meals, you may already love your microwave more than life itself.

This microwave casserole mixes stew meat with potatoes and carrots to create a casserole that doubles as a stew. Pair it with homemade (cheap!) corn bread to stretch the servings while still filling up.

Get cooking!

Ingredients

  • Vegetable cooking spray
  • 1 pound beef stew meat, cut into bite size pieces*
  • 11/2 cups baby red or Yukon gold potatoes, quartered (about 6)
  • 1 package (8 ounces) ready-to-use sliced mushrooms
  • 1 cup baby carrots
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 can (14-1/2 ounces) fat-free reduced-sodium beef broth

*Supermarkets carry packages of cut-up beef for stewing. However, it's worth it to ask the butcher to cut up his or her best quality beef for stewing.

Method

  1. Lightly coat 8-by-8-inch square glass microwavable baking dish with cooking spray. Place beef in baking dish. Add potatoes, mushrooms and carrots; distribute evenly.
  2. Stir together salt, pepper, thyme and flour in small bowl. Sprinkle evenly over stew mixture. Pour broth over meat and vegetables. Cover with 9-inch square of waxed paper, and microwave on HIGH for 30 minutes. (If microwave has no turntable, turn baking dish 3 times.)
  3. Remove dish from microwave and let rest, covered, 5 minutes before serving.

(For nutritional information, see TLC Cooking.)

Next, a super-low-fat, vegetable side or main dish ...

2. Festive Corn Casserole (Vegetarian, Light)

Yield: 10 servings

If you're looking for low-fat, low-calorie, low-cholesterol and low-cost, here's your new favorite casserole. Zucchini, corn and bell pepper mixed combine with eggs to provide lots of vegetarian nutrition in a quiche-type dish that works for lunch, dinner or breakfast, and you can use the leftover frozen corn as a side for the next night.

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Get cooking!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups grated zucchini
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 1 cup diced red bell pepper
  • 2 cups cholesterol-free egg substitute
  • 1/2 cup fat-free evaporated milk
  • 2 teaspoons sugar substitute (or standard sugar)
  • 1/4 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Coat 11-by-7-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Mix zucchini, corn and bell pepper in baking dish.
  3. Whisk egg substitute, evaporated milk, sugar substitute, celery seed, salt and red pepper flakes, if desired, in large bowl; pour over vegetables in baking dish.
  4. Bake 45 to 55 minutes or until golden.

(For nutritional information, see TLC Cooking.)

1. Apple Carrot Casserole

Apples and carrots make the healthy, inexpensive base for this sweet casserole.
Apples and carrots make the healthy, inexpensive base for this sweet casserole.
© iStockphoto.com/wholden

Yield: 6 servings

Saving money doesn't mean skipping dessert -- although this sweet casserole could work as a side dish, too. A large bag of carrots will provide low-cost, versatile beta-carotene for many meals to come, and if you make this in the fall you'll be able to get the apples on the extra-cheap.

Get cooking!

Ingredients

  • 6 large carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 4 large apples, peeled, quartered, cored and sliced
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Cook carrots in boiling water in large saucepan 5 minutes; drain. Layer carrots and apples in large casserole.
  2. Combine flour, brown sugar and nutmeg in small bowl; sprinkle over top. Dot with butter; pour orange juice over flour mixture. Sprinkle with salt, if desired. Bake 30 minutes or until carrots are tender.

(For nutritional information, see TLC Cooking.)

You'd be amazed how much a casserole can switch up the taste of a single ingredient, so it's a perfect dinner approach to using up a money-saving bulk purchase. Whether it's veggie or meat, main dish or side, savory or sweet, a casserole is going to stretch your food budget deliciously -- and turn your clean-up into a five-minute ordeal that leaves you lots of extra time for brainstorming new and different ways to stretch a paycheck.

For more information on budgeting and cooking (and even more wallet-friendly recipes), look over the links on the next page.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

More Great Links

  • Casserole. Dictionary.com. (Oct. 10, 2011) http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/casserole
  • Enna, Renee. "A casserole makes history." The Chicago Tribune. Dec. 4, 2002. (Oct. 10, 2011) http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2002-12-04/entertainment/0212040115_1_casserole-potlucks-and-picnics-cream-of-mushroom-soup
  • Casserole. Food Encyclopedia. Kitchen Daily. (Oct. 10, 2011) http://www.kitchendaily.com/encyclopedia/definition/casserole/450/