I definitely need to start eating healthier. I’ve been having a really hard time in that department lately. So, here’s the thing, my Grandparents have been in town visiting, and when they are here I do tend to eat a little… ok, a lot worse. Let’s be honest, it doesn’t take much to bring me over to the food dark side. It’s not that I dislike vegetables, it’s just that I like sugar, simple carbohydrates, and fats so, so much better.
Prior to my Grandparents visit I had the house cleared of candy, popcorn, chips, muffins, scones, cinnamon breads, and other not so calorie friendly items. In fact, I was even working on significantly reducing my sugar intake. I had been approaching a week (SIX DAYS!) with no sugar at all! I know that sounds paltry but, I struggle a lot with this one and it’s a *pretty big deal* to me.
The same day my grandparents got here, they went to the store, and ever since, there has been a package of muffins, croissants, scones, or cinnamon bread on every single available surface in my kitchen. Ironically, neither of them eat a lot of dessert-dessert, just a lot of bread-y stuff. But they manage to take itty bitty portions, where as I eat the entire giant Costco muffin. (By the way, these pumpkin spice muffins are way tastier then Costco muffins.) Those Costco stock ups are rough on the counter space and the waist, you know? Since they’ve arrived we’ve also ordered Chinese, been out to dinner, and picked up burgers for lunch multiple times. All delish, but all also brutal on the waistline.
I’m not so good at doing the itty bitty portion thing either. I only have so much will power. Like, next to none. If it’s in front of me, I’ll eat it. I keep telling myself every night before I go to bed, “Tomorrow I’m going to eat better! No more junk for breakfast. Tomorrow, I’m going to have my Muesli and black coffee.” Every morning I get up bright and *way to early* with one of the kids, and then devour a large muffin, that’s technically big enough to feed a family of four, and a cup of very strong coffee with plenty of sugar and cream. Then to make matters worse, later in the day we end up grabbing a burger for lunch. Add the guac and bacon for me please! Then dinner comes around, possibly at the buffet style Italian joint. At this point I don’t even have to tell you I’m sunk, right?
It finally came to me that I need to compromise. I’m not going to eat light healthy salads and grilled chicken breasts (ugh. diet h-e-l-l) while I have family in town visiting, it’s a special occasion, which demands special food. To me a celebration, a special occasion, or a special visit, just isn’t complete without food. And salads just ain’t it in my world. But, on the other hand special food doesn’t necessarily have to be totally unhealthy either.
I figure could work harder to get in a proper amount of vegetables with each meal. I could probably eat a little bit less carbs, while not cutting them out completely and still do myself a huge favor. Plus, meat and cheese does’t necessarily have to be fatty to be good. Leaner meats are also a great way to select a healthier option without resorting to salad. I said to myself, “I know this stuff. I just have to apply it.” So, with these guiding principals in mind I went to work and developed today’s lighter lasagna recipe.
The classic Lasagna Bolognese we know and love, is a meat laden, cheesy, buttery, tomato filled, way too much pasta, cholesterol/fat/calorie mONsTeR. So wonderful. So unhealthy. Restaurant versions can have upwards of 1,000+ calories per serving. A homemade version isn’t necessarily going to be any better. So, how to lighten up this dish and add extra nutrition without sacrificing on flavor?
- Omit the Béchamel sauce.
- Use leaner beef (but leave the sausage alone!).
- Use low fat cheese.
- Use fewer layers of pasta and add extra veggies between layers.
- Sneak a ton of veggies into the sauce.
1. The traditional Lasagna Bolognese is made not only with tomato sauce, but also with a Béchamel sauce. Béchamel is made of butter, flour, and milk; and as you can imagine adds a significant amount of calories to a lasagna. Omitting it entirely and using all tomato sauce cuts calories and fat in your final dish. Fortunately a good tomato sauce is delicious in it’s own right, so leaving out the Béchamel doesn’t have to ruin the flavor of the dish.
2. I like to make my lasagna with both beef and real Italian sausage. As I noted earlier, leaner meats aren’t necessarily any less tasty then fattier cuts. Especially mixed into a very busy dish like Lasagna Bolognese. Using 93% lean ground beef rather then then the more common 85%, in the Bolognese tomato sauce will cut fat and calories. However, in my opinion there just isn’t a proper substitute for the real deal Italian sausage, and it adds so much flavor to lasagna. So, leave it alone! Get some good spicy or sweet Italian sausage, this isn’t the place to cut calorie corners. You may want to consider scaling back on sausage quantity however. Either way, a little bit of fat here where it counts goes a long way towards keeping big flavor in your final dish.
3. Another place to cut on fat and calories is the cheese. Lasagna generally uses two types of cheese, Ricotta, and mozzarella. There are very good part skim ricottas and mozzarellas. Admittedly, fattier cheese is much richer then part skim versions; and if I was eating the cheese by it’s lonesome I wouldn’t necessarily make the substitute. But, again in the very busy lasagna, I don’t notice the switch.
4. A simple way to cut the carbs is to use less pasta. In my normal lasagna I like to use as many layers of pasta as possible. In this version I cut the layers of pasta in half. I filled the extra space by adding some thin slices of carrot and zucchini. I actually used a potato peeler to shave off very thin slices and they melded right into the rest of the lasagna well. They ended up being very unobtrusive. Less carbs, extra veggies. Obviously, that’s going to be healthier right?
5. My big nutrition addition to this dish was sneaking a ton, and I do mean a ton of veggies into my Bolognese sauce. A traditional Bolognese sauce is pretty much meat, aromatics and tomato. In this version I added carrot, small sweet peppers, zucchini, and yellow squash, in addition to the traditional onion and garlic. I seared the veggies all up, creating some great caramelization and boosting their flavor. I then decided to puree the veggies right into the tomato to keep the traditional consistency of the sauce in tact. This ended up working out so, so well. The added caramelized veggies actually give an intriguing boost to the over all flavor of this dish; but because they are pureed into the sauce they don’t overwhelm the dish.
Nice tricks, am I right?
I admit this lighter lasagna isn’t as low calorie as a salad and grilled chicken breast, but, it also tastes waaay better. The final result is a real deal, decadent lasagna, that does’t do nearly the damage of a traditional Lasagna Bolognese. Yes! Success! Hopefully, if I keep on working with my new strategy that I employed here, I won’t end up gaining a zillion pounds while my Grandparents are here.
Food challenges aside I’m really excited to have my Grandparents here and am really enjoying the visit. Though my they have always lived out of state, I’ve always been incredibly close with them. They have always been very involved in my brother’s and my lives; and they have always tried to visit often. They’ve always made plenty of time for me.
In fact, one of my favorite childhood memories is talking on the phone with my Grandfather for about four hours. I’m not actually exaggerating the amount of time for effect here. We’re talking a literal four hours. That’s some serious patience and love to stay on the phone with a 6 year old for four hours straight. The way my Grandpa tells the story, at one point mid-way through this incredibly long phone call he actually did try to end the conversation. I told him, “No Grandpa, don’t go! Your the only person who will listen to me!” What could he do? He was suckered. We talked for an additional two hours. In defense of the rest of the family, I’m pretty sure everyone listened to me as a child… a lot. Perhaps just not in four hour stretches. (As you might imagine, I have the reputation as the family chatterbox. Probably very appropriate that I became a blogger.) But, seriously how can you not celebrate having family like that around? Am I right? Time with loved ones (especially at the table along with good food) is truly a thing to be cherished. (And hopefully I can cherish without gaining any extra pounds.)
I hope you get a chance to try this recipe out for a family occasion of your own!
- 1 lb. 93% lean ground beef
- 1 lb. spicy or sweet Italian sausage
- 1 small onion diced
- 5-10 small sweet peppers, stems and seeds removed
- 1 zucchini sliced
- 1 yellow squash sliced
- 2 carrots sliced
- 2 large cans (27 oz) pealed plum tomatoes
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 1/2 package lasagna noodles
- 16 oz container part skim ricotta
- 2 cups shredded part skim mozzarella cheese
- 1 carrot whole
- fresh grated parmesan or jared parmesan
- 1. Heat a large pot to medium high heat. Add the ground beef and Italian sausage. Cook until browned, using a spoon to break up into large clumps. When fully cooked transfer meat to a bowl and set aside.
- 2. Add onion, garlic, sweet peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, and carrot to the pot. Cook until the onion becomes translucent, and the other vegetables caramelize lightly.
- 3. Add the canned tomatoes and their juice to the pot. Use an immersion blender to puree the vegetables into the tomatoes. The resulting sauce will be an orange/reddish color.
- 4. Return the meat to the pot and add the chicken broth. Allow everything in the pot to come to a low boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer for at least an hour, but up to 4 hours. The sauce will cook down quite a bit. The final sauce should be very thick.
- 1. Remove the sauce from the heat and allow it to cool slightly to prevent burns during assembly. Cook the lasagna noodles according to the package directions.
- 2. Begin layering by spreading a thin layer of sauce along the bottom of a 9X12 pan.
- 3. Add lasagna noodles on top of the sauce, covering the entire bottom of the pan.
- 4. On top of the noodles spread all of the ricotta cheese. Sprinkle the mozzarella cheese on top of the ricotta, distributing evenly.
- 5. Use a potato peeler to shave thin slices of carrot over the cheese.
- 6. Cover the cheese and vegetable layer with a generous serving of the Bolognese sauce. Distribute evenly.
- 7. Add another layer of lasagna noodles, covering the previous layers completely.
- 8. Cover the lasagna noodles with another generous serving of the Bolognese sauce. Spread to ensure the lasagna noodles are all covered by sauce.
- 9. Sprinkle with parmesan. Bake covered with foil at 350* for an hour or until the cheese entirely melted. Remove the foil for the last 15 minutes of baking for color. Allow the lasagna to rest for 10 minutes before serving to set.