Monday, June 2, 2014

Healthy Three Cheese Pasta Bake

You know your kids (no, wait...not your kids, YOU) are having a bad day when not one, but two people offer to buy your kid something at the grocery store to stop them from screaming. My incredibly adorable, but feisty, little (almost) 2 year old yells at the top of her lungs every.single.time we go to the store. 

If I put her in the cool/annoyingly huge grocery cart with a car attached, my two kids will poke each other and fight until one of them ends up in tears. If I let her out of the cart, she runs wild throughout the aisles, pulling stuff off the shelves. So I'm left with only one option...put her in the top of the cart (where kids are supposed to go) and strap her down. If I don't strap her down, she tries to climb out. 

2 year old seat belted in a shopping cart = a screaming, crying, flailing wild animal. 

It's not pretty. But the grocery shopping needs to get done. And I can't wait until my husband gets home. That's dinner cooking/eating/family time. Speaking of cooking and eating, this three cheese pasta bake should be at the top of your weeknight dinner list. It's easy, healthy, and delicious! 

My kids are pretty good about eating vegetables, but they aren't always the best at eating peppers and spinach. This was an easy way to get them to eat those veggies. My kids didn't even question the "green stuff" or notice the bits of red pepper, and I added an entire 9 oz. bag of fresh spinach! 

I used gluten-free pasta and light cheeses, but use whatever you have on hand. This recipe is so versatile. I think I might even try sneaking carrots and extra peppers into it next time. 

Healthy Three Cheese Pasta Bake
Servings: 4-5

1 1/2 cups dry pasta (regular, whole-wheat, or gluten-free)
1 lb. lean ground beef, turkey, or chicken (or cubed boneless skinless chicken breast)
1/2 red bell pepper, finely chopped
9 oz. package fresh baby spinach, roughly chopped
1/4 - 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (to taste)
Salt and pepper
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tsp. dried basil
1 (24 oz.) jar spaghetti sauce
2 oz. cream cheese, cubed (regular or reduced-fat)
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (part-skim or 2%), divided
2 tbsp. parmesan cheese, grated or finely shredded
Fresh basil for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350°. Cook the pasta according to the package directions until al dente. Drain.

While the pasta is cooking, in a large skillet (I used cast iron because it can go directly in the oven), brown the meat over med-high heat until cooked through. Drain off excess fat if necessary. Add the bell pepper and cook until softened. Add the spinach and crushed red pepper flakes. Season with a little salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the spinach has wilted. Drain off excess moisture if necessary. 

Add the garlic and dried basil; cook for 1 more minute. Stir in the spaghetti sauce. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Stir in the cream cheese, 1/2 cup mozzarella, and parmesan. Add the cooked pasta and toss to coat. Transfer to a 2 quart or 8x8 baking dish (not necessary if using cast iron). 

Bake for 15-20 minutes. Top with remaining 1/2 cup mozzarella and bake for another 5 minutes. Garnish with chopped fresh basil.

Source: adapted from The Girl Who Ate Everything, originally from Kraft

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