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Smiley Face Casserole

Smiley Face Casserole
Smiley Face Casserole
This image courtesy of The Meal Makeover Moms

Tater Tots® Casserole. The name alone sounds like every bite is drenched in fat and calories. The original recipe, sent to us by a blog reader, called for Tater Tots®, a pound of ground meat, lots of cheese, a can of cream-of-something soup, and a stick of butter. The nutritional damage: 15 grams of saturated fat (nearly a day’s worth) and over 1,000 milligrams of sodium in each serving. For our easy makeover, we switch to 90% (or higher) lean ground meat, a lower-sodium soup, add a few nutritious veggies, and top it off with playful smiley-face baked fries. We figure that even the most fickle kids out there will smile right back.

Makes10 servings

CostInexpensive

Easy

Total Timeunder 1 hour

Kid FriendlyYes

One Pot MealYes

Recipe CourseMain Course

Dietary ConsiderationPeanut Free, Soy Free, Tree Nut Free

MealDinner

MoodBlue

Type of DishCasserole

Ingredients

  • 1 26-ounce bag frozen smiley-face potato fries
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, coarsely chopped
  • 1 pound lean ground beef or turkey (90% or higher)
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and shredded (1 cup)
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • Kosher salt
  • 10¾-ounce can condensed lower-fat, lower-sodium cream of mushroom soup
  • 10¾-ounce can filled with 1% low-fat milk
  • 2 cups shredded reduced-fat Cheddar cheese, divided

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven and bake the fries according to package directions. Remove from the oven and set aside.

  2. While the fries are cooking, heat the oil in a large Dutch oven or saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 5 minutes.

  3. Add the meat, carrot, garlic powder, and pepper and cook, breaking up the large pieces, until the meat is no longer pink and the carrot is tender, about 5 minutes. Drain excess fat and season with salt and additional pepper to taste.

  4. Stir in the soup, milk, and 1½, cups of the cheese (the mixture will seem very thin at this point, but don’t worry). Heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture comes to a simmer. Remove from the heat.

  5. Set the oven to 425°F. Arrange half the cooked fries in a 9 x 13-inch baking pan or dish. Top with the meat mixture, the remaining ½, cup of cheese, and the remaining potato smiles. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and bake until the mixture is bubbly, about 10 minutes.

Notes:

  1. If you can’t find smiley-face potato fries, use waffle, alphabet or another fun-shaped fry.

  2. Mom’s Feedback: "My middle child loved the potatoes the most, but he ate the whole thing... and there were no complaints about the added veggies." -Karen, mother of Steven, age 7, Michael, age 11 and Rebecca, age 15. Dublin, CA

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My entire family loves this and that says a lot! I have "texture challenged" 6year old, a husband who doesn't care for casseroles and 2 other children who "won't eat" mushrooms but we all agree this is a keeper! Despite our differences we all agree this a winner, and my 3 kids ask this recipe almost weekly. I have substituted some veggie ingredients and they still love it...a must try in my opinion!

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