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A Pretty Healthy (Convenient) Ham & Cheese Casserole


Don’t you get tired of fixing the same old stuff for dinner, or better yet, trying to figure out what to make for dinner? Who has the time to cook from scratch every meal. Few of us, because we are all working just to stay above water, right!! So I was at the store one day and came across a convenient dinner-in-a-box by Banquet called Homestyle Bakes-Cheesy Ham & Hash Browns that looked absolutely scrumptious! And, it was. But OMG the junk that was in it.

Everything was included in the box. It came with a bag of dehydrated potatoes, can of cheese sauce and ham, and a pouch of crumb topping. It was 23% fat for one serving, which is OK if that is your entire meal; serve 1 cup of this casserole and put it with a nice salad and unsweetened tea or water. But, the killer was the 39% sodium in one serving. There were about 6 servings in the final prepared meal. There were so many preservatives, some artificial stuff, and a lot of additives. The potatoes and ham were real at one time, so that was good.


I decided to try and copy the meal and make it a little healthier, BUT keep it convenient. First, I did buy the little packaged ham cubes in the ham and bacon isle. I bought Farmland Diced Ham, 1#, $3.48. Yes it was little high in sodium 30% for a 2 oz svg. But I found that even if I bought a small ham, it was still loaded with sodium. So I opted for the convenience of not having to chop the ham into those nice little pieces.

Next, I bought a package of shredded hash brown potatoes in the egg isle. I chose Crystal Farms, Shredded Hash Brown, Simply Potatoes, $1.96. Actually, they were pretty “clean”. Yes, they still have some preservatives, but overall an acceptable product with only 2% sodium in a 1/2 c svg. No fat of course. I always keep a bag of shredded Mozzarella cheese in the house, but I went ahead and bought a small bag of shredded sharp cheddar cheese.

I usually have a can of Healthy Request Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom and Cream of Chicken Soup on hand, because they work so well in casseroles to add flavor, again, fairly acceptable. The real culprit is sodium–the cheapest preservative. I prefer cream of broccoli soup for this recipe, but can’t find that in Healthy Request. I also keep on hand ground flaxseed and wheat germ (refrigerated after opening). I always have a green pepper, tomato and onion in the house. I always have a bag of frozen vegetables in the freezer.

OVEN PREPARATION

Preheat oven to 425 degrees

Empty (about 1/2 – 3/4 bag or 1/2 – 3/4 lb) potatoes into 8″x 8″ baking dish. (I coated the dish with olive oil).

Add 1/2-3/4 bag of ham and 1 can cream soup + 1 cup HOT water. Stir well until blended. You may need a little more water. The original box meal calls for 2 c HOT water–try for not to dry but not to soupy.

Add 1/3-1/2 cup EACH of fresh chopped green pepper, tomato, onion OR 1 - 1 1/2 c frozen vegetables and mix well.

Add additional seasonings/spices. Ground black pepper, basil, garlic or garlic powder or whatever you like that goes well with ham, potatoes, or vegetables. Note: When adding additional vegetables to dishes, if additional seasonings are not added, it may be too bland. Just depends on your taste buds and preferences. I like lots of flavor myself!

Mix in about 3/4 c mozzarella cheese and 1/4 c cheddar – or a little more if you love it cheesy, or a little less if you like it not so cheesy!

Sprinkle evenly mixture of 2-3 TBS each flaxseed and wheat germ – 1 to 1 for the crumb topping. If you are creative and have nuts on hand, finely chop them and add them to the crumb mixture. You might throw in a little granola if it is a nice clean granola as well. Get creative. It is a crumb mixture, add some crumbs of good stuff!

Bake 30-40 minutes or until golden brown, let stand and bubble about 5 minutes.

11″ x 7″ baking dish 30-40 min; 2 qt casserole dish 40-45 min; 13″ x 9″ baking dish 40-45 min. For stove-top preparation, just put it all in a big skillet (at least 10″), start with soup, water & ham, add cheese, then potatoes, vegetables and spices, mix well, bring to boil, reduce heat and cover, simmer 15 minutes, stir again until well blended and sprinkle crumb topping, let stand 5 minutes.

So you’ve got real potatoes, real ham, real vegetables, we do have a processed soup, but choose Healthy Request, especially low sodium, a variety of spices, and the added benefit of the flaxseed and wheat germ, possibly a bit of nuts and granola – WOW. The only downfall is the sodium. But with all the additions, the sodium in the ham and soup is nicely spread out so that a serving is very acceptable. It is an entire meal with protein, dairy, starch, vegetables. Serve yourself a nice full cup of casserole, add a cup of melon or berries with water or unsweetened tea with lemon, and what a BALANCED, colorful, tasty and quick meal you have!

Now, DIG IN!

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