A trim yet tasty chicken-and-ham casserole is easier on the waistline―and conscience―of a Maine reader.
Credit: Randy Mayor


THE READER: Courtney A. Sparks, 29, graduate student and office manager for a real estate and construction company, Casco, Maine

THE RECIPE:  Chicken-Ham Lasagna

THE STORY: Sparks first tried the lasagna recipe at work, when a coworker brought in leftovers. The rich and creamy dish was a hit, so she asked for the recipe and prepared it at home for her husband, Travis, a lasagna enthusiast. They both liked the results, which had lots of cream, cheese, and noodles. But Sparks, who tries to prepare healthful recipes and reasonable portions, knew it could be lighter. That way, she says, this casserole would be the type of dish she would take to a potluck or make for an everyday family dinner.

THE DILEMMA: With more than a cup of butter and a pint of half-and-half, plenty of whole milk, and a half-pound of cheese, Sparks says a serving "almost sank into your stomach, it was so heavy." Along with a hefty calorie and fat count, each portion weighed in at 199 milligrams cholesterol and 1,600 milligrams sodium-more than half the recommended daily amount. Sparks tried reducing the Parmesan cheese and using fat-free half-and-half, but she asked for our help to create a more healthful version.

THE SOLUTION: Of concern to us was the abundance of heavy cream sauce coating the noodles, the use of full-fat dairy products, and two tablespoons of butter per serving. Since the original recipe made more sauce than needed, we cut back on those ingredients and still kept the lasagna moist and flavorful. Eliminating the half-and-half and butter shaved 315 calories, nearly 32 grams of fat (almost half of which contributed artery-clogging saturated fats), and 101 milligrams cholesterol per serving. Since skim milk would be too watery, we used 1% milk for a richer taste and a little creaminess. Stirring in some pungent Parmesan cheese thickened the milk sauce while boosting its flavor. The casserole's sodium content was also a problem. We were able to trim an impressive 546 milligrams sodium per portion by omitting the butter and salt from the original recipe. Substituting fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth for regular chicken broth and reducing the amount of cheese saved another 360 milligrams sodium per serving. Freshly ground black pepper lent a little bite to the lower-salt broth.

THE FEEDBACK: "Overall, I thought it came out great-much lighter in calories and fat," Sparks says. She adds that the leftovers were even better, and her husband agreed that the lightened version could easily replace the original casserole. "This lasagna has all the comfort food qualities without the guilt," Sparks says.

Before | After

Serving size 1 piece

Calories per serving
735 | 260

47.1g | 7g

Percent of total calories
58 percent | 24 percent

To the Rescue. Do you have a favorite recipe that needs a healthy makeover? Maybe we can lighten it up. Send it to us, along with your reasons for wanting a healthier version and any interesting stories or traditions about the recipe. Include your name, address, and daytime phone number with the recipe, and send it to CL_Web@timeinc.com with "Lighten Up" in the subject line. We can't lighten every recipe we receive, but if we adapt yours, we'll send you a Cooking Light cookbook. We reserve the right to edit all recipes. All recipes submitted become the property of Cooking Light and may be republished and used for any purpose.