NUTRITION: Tricks for keeping hotdish heart-healthy

Hotdish, the unofficial state cuisine of Minnesota, is a staple in households across the Upper Midwest. Other places may call this a casserole. Some would say hotdish is not a specific food but a memory. The basic formula for this comfort food is...

Bonnie Brost


Hotdish, the unofficial state cuisine of Minnesota, is a staple in households across the Upper Midwest. Other places may call this a casserole. Some would say hotdish is not a specific food but a memory.

The basic formula for this comfort food is a protein, vegetable and starch pulled together with a sauce. Sometimes it's topped with something crunchy. All components of a meal are mixed together, heated and then served from one dish. This makes hotdish the perfect food to bring to family gatherings, church events and celebrations.

Hotdish's history goes back to early 1900s, when budget-minded wives wanted to stretch the meat they had. A hotdish also was an easy way to throw foods together quickly.

The first known hotdish recipe came in 1930 and was published in the Grace Lutheran Ladies Aid cookbook in Mankato, Minn. The recipe from Mrs. C. W. Anderson included ground beef, onion, macaroni, celery, canned peas, a can of tomato soup and one quart of canned tomatoes. These items were readily available in many homes.


Campbell's Soup Company came out with creamed condensed soups in 1934, and that pushed the hotdish to first place in meal planning. Canned creamed soups were an easy way to add a creamy sauce to other staples produced by a growing industrialized food supply.

In 1953, Ore-Ida potato company created the tater tot. Ore-Ida used surplus scraps from frozen French fries, ground them up, added spices and formed nuggets that were deep-fried. Cooks soon discovered these tots made a great casserole topping.

Using processed foods to create a hotdish often means too much sodium and saturated fat. For example, the tater tot hotdish recipe on the Minnesota's tourism website ( uses ground beef, a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup, a can of condensed cream of chicken soup, milk, frozen mixed vegetables, one pound of tater tots and 1½ cups of cheddar cheese. That adds up to 420 calories, 10 grams of saturated fat, 1,075 milligrams of sodium, 30 grams of carbohydrate and 19 grams of protein in a 1½ cup serving. This is half the sodium and two-thirds of the saturated fat we should have all day. See the adapted tater tot hotdish recipe below that has fewer calories and less sodium and saturated fat.

We can create one-dish meals that provide great nutrients with a modest amount of sodium and saturated fat. Try these tips and recipes to make healthier fare when you share your Minnesota nice hospitality.

Here are some tips to keep one-pot meals heart healthy:

• Use frozen vegetables that are low in sodium. Add in more vegetables.

• Avoid broasted chicken or frozen chicken or turkey that has been injected with sodium.

• Use unsalted broth or stocks.


• Compare brands for sodium. Some potato puff products are much higher in sodium than others.

• Use no-salt-added tomato products.

• Limit the cheese.

• Use beans as a source of protein.

• Make your own cream sauce using low-fat milk or milk alternative instead of canned creamed soup.

• Choose whole grains, such as brown rice or quinoa, as the starch instead of white rice.

Ground Meat Zucchini Skillet

1 pound diet lean (90 percent) ground beef or ground turkey


¼ cup onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced (1 teaspoon)

15-ounce can no-salt-added diced tomatoes, undrained

1 medium zucchini, shredded

1 cup frozen corn

1 teaspoon fennel seed

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon dried oregano


¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

2 cups cooked brown rice or 1 package of Uncle Ben's Ready Rice Whole Grain Brown (15 milligrams sodium per cup)

¼ cup grated parmesan cheese


In skillet, cook beef, onion and garlic over medium heat until meat is no longer pink. Stir in corn, tomatoes, zucchini, basil, oregano, fennel seed and black pepper. Cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until heated through and zucchini is tender. Add cooked rice to meat and zucchini. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese.


Nutrition facts: Servings, 8; serving size, 1 cup; calories, 260; total fat, 7.5 grams; saturated fat, 2.5 grams; cholesterol, 50 milligrams; sodium, 120 milligrams; carbohydrates, 28 grams; fiber, 2.5 grams; protein. 20 grams.

Turkey Wild Rice Hot Dish


½ cup onion, chopped

½ cup celery, chopped

½ cup green pepper, chopped

8 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1½ cups fat-free half & half or 12-ounce can fat-free evaporated milk

½ cup unsalted chicken stock (200 milligrams sodium per cup or less)


4 cups cooked wild rice or 2 cups each wild rice and brown rice

4 cups diced, cooked fresh turkey or chicken breast meat

¼ cup red bell pepper, diced

1 teaspoon hot sauce

1 teaspoon basil

½ teaspoon thyme

½ teaspoon sage

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

⅓ cup unsalted slivered almonds


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large saucepan, stir-fry onion, celery, green pepper and mushrooms in oil until tender. Mix cornstarch into the chicken broth, add half & half or evaporated milk; mix till blended. Gradually add to vegetable mixture, stirring constantly until mixture starts to bubble. Cook and stir one minute longer until thickened. Add rice, turkey, red pepper, hot sauce and spices. At this point you could add up to ⅓ cup water or unsalted chicken broth if mixture seems too dry. Pour into greased 2½- or 3-quart baking dish. Sprinkle with almonds. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until bubbling.

Nutrition Facts: Servings, 10; serving size, 1 cup; calories, 220; total fat, 6 grams; saturated fat, 0.5 grams; cholesterol, 20 milligrams; sodium, 80 milligrams; carbohydrates, 26 grams; fiber, 2.5 grams; protein, 15 grams.

Healthier Tater Tot Hotdish

1 pound ground beef, 93 percent lean

1 medium onion, chopped

10 ¾-ounce can Healthy Request cream of mushroom soup

10¾ ounce can Healthy Request cream of chicken soup

½ cup skim or 2 percent milk

16-ounce package frozen mixed vegetables

16-ounce package frozen tater tots


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Brown ground beef with the onion; drain off any fat. Stir in soups, milk and vegetables. Transfer mixture to a 9x13-inch baking dish. Arrange tater tots on top. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the mixture is bubbly and the tater tots are brown and crisp.


Nutrition facts: Servings, 8; serving size, 1 ½ cups; calories, 270; total fat, 11 grams; saturated fat, 3 grams; cholesterol, 40 milligrams; sodium, 525 milligrams; carbohydrates, 27 grams; fiber 4 grams; protein, 16 grams.

Bonnie Brost is a licensed and registered dietitian in the Wellness Program at the Essentia Health St. Mary’s Heart & Vascular Center in Duluth. Contact her at .

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