This Healthy Chicken and Spinach Casserole is a nod to nostalgic casseroles of our midwestern youth, with all the comfort of creamy chicken and noodles made healthier with loads of veggies and a simple homemade sauce.
If you grew up anywhere in the Midwest, or the South, you are no stranger to the casserole era seen at family dinners and church potlucks everywhere. They speak of warmth, love, and community.
Chicken and Noodles was always a favorite. We would battle over the crispy noodle edges crowning the dish. That is still my favorite part! There is just something so warm and homey in a casserole. And a simple one-dish meal is a favorite to make and serve.
You won’t lose any of the comforting qualities of a casserole when you make this simple and healthy version! We added zucchini and spinach, then made our own sauce using mostly stock. These simple changes add vitamins and nutrients, in addition to flavor. A small amount of milk adds the creaminess we crave without overwhelming the dish with dairy.
Making Your Healthy Chicken and Spinach Casserole
We start by cooking the noodles partway (“par-cooking”), then start the sauce by building a base of flavor with aromatics. Here, we are cooking onions, then adding zucchini, garlic, and spinach. We are sauteing in butter for the flavor it provides. We need the fat for the sauce we will make later, too.
Technique: White Sauce
There is no canned soup in sight here! We made this healthier by opting for a homemade sauce. Making a simple white sauce, or bechamel sauce, like this is an easy and endlessly useful technique in the kitchen.
Simply melt some butter, then stir in flour. Cook the flour for one minute, then whisk in liquid to create a smooth sauce. Raise the heat to thicken before adding seasonings. It’s that simple!
The ratio is important here, as that is what gives you a sauce that’s thickened properly. Simply put, for every cup of liquid, you need 1 tablespoon of fat and 1 tablespoon of flour. The fat is always melted first, then combined with the flour to make a roux. You must cook the flour for one minute, but not a lot more than that or you lose some of it’s thickening power.
Next, warmed liquid is whisked in slowly until the mixture is smooth. Honestly, this is the trickiest part. It also helps to pour in the liquid slowly, in a small stream, while whisking constantly to break up any lumps.
Bring the mixture to a boil so the starches can do their thickening work. Add salt and/or other seasonings and you are done!
A Great Addition to Your Cooking Toolbelt
You can make so many things with this basic technique. Pretty much any kind of casserole can be made with versions of this white sauce. Switch up the fat, liquid, and seasoning for an endless array of flavor profiles.
Add cheese for a cheese sauce that is perfect for mac-and-cheese or cheesy potatoes. I, in fact, learned this technique with a recipe for cheesy potatoes. I learned from my mother-in-law back in the days of newly dating my husband. (The potatoes weren’t great, but I walked away with greater cooking knowledge and only a little embarrassment!)
Add Spinach and Seasonings, Then Bake
Finish your pre-bake work by tasting and adjusting your seasonings as necessary. Stir in the noodles so everything is evenly coated with the sauce and the veg is evenly distributed, then pour the mixture into your prepared dish to bake.
Bake for at least half an hour, but ideally for 45 minutes so that the mixture is bubbly and the top is covered with crispy edges. You need your noodles to finish cooking through, the flavors to meld, and the edges to crisp up a bit.
This needs to cool for five minutes to set a bit before serving. Leftovers are amazing and the recipe will double or even triple with no issues.
Serving Your Healthy Chicken and Spinach Casserole
This dish stands on its own at the dinner table. That’s one of the benefits of making a casserole – it’s a perfect one-dish meal!
But it’s also great with a side salad. These are some great salad options:
And don’t forget dessert! Everyone will be happy to have any one of these desserts after this healthy comfort-food dinner!
- Easy Whipped Chocolate Ganache Tart
- Gluten Free Almond Caramel Cookies
- Chocolate Mug Cake
- Dark Chocolate Pecan Cookies
Chicken and Spinach Casserole
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter divided
- 1/2 cup diced yellow onion from 1 small yellow onion
- 1 cup diced zucchini from 1 medium zucchini
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 cup frozen loose leaf spinach
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1-1/2 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
- 1/2 cup milk
- 3 cups cooked and shredded chicken about 1 pound chicken
- 4 cups (8 ounces) egg noodles
- Prep: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Prepare an 8×8-inch or 9×9-inch baking dish with baking spray or by spreading it with a little butter.
- Par-cook Your Noodles: In boiling, salted water, cook your egg noodles for only 5 minutes. They should not be fully cooked. Drain and set aside.
- Cook Your Veg: While your noodles are cooking, heat 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large saute pan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and saute, stirring often, until it is translucent. Add the zucchini and cook for 5 minutes or until it begins to soften. Throw in the garlic and cook for one minute, then stir in the spinach (no need to thaw), breaking it up as it warms. Sprinkle in the thyme, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Continue to cook for 5 minutes.
- Warm the Liquid for Your Sauce: Warm the broth and milk slightly in the microwave (1 minute on high) or in a small pot over low heat.
- Finish Your Sauce: After everything is warmed through, make a space in the center of the pan and , in that space, melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter. Once the butter has melted, add the flour and whisk together trying to keep it in the center of the pan as much as possible. It’s okay if the veggies get pulled in a little bit. Cook for 1 minute, then whisk in the warm broth and milk. Whisk vigorously to break up any lumps of flour.
- Raise the heat to medium and continue stirring until the liquid thickens and coats all of the vegetables. Stir in the chicken and par-cooked egg noodles. Taste and add more salt, pepper, or seasonings as necessary, then pour everything into your prepared baking dish.
- Bake Your Casserole: Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until it is bubbling and the noodles have browned on the edges, so that crispy bits are peaking up everywhere on the surface of the casserole. Cool for 5 minutes to allow it to set a little bit before serving.
- You can use any milk for this. I like whole milk for overall creaminess. You can also use all chicken stock, though it won’t be creamy. It will still be delicious!
- A rotisserie chicken is a great option here. I used the meat from 5-6 chicken legs that I roasted in the oven and removed from the bones the day before.