Healthy Cheesy Chicken Broccoli Rice Casserole
This Healthy Cheesy Chicken Broccoli Rice Casserole is one of the oldest, best-loved recipes on my site. As the comments section will attest, it’s received rave reviews from picky husbands, fussy toddlers, and new moms in search of freezer meals.
Growing up, my own mom was the Queen of Casseroles. She wore a crown of Pyrex and carried a scepter of non-stick baking spray. Those last two things are a fib, but she really could rock a 9×13 pan.
Any leftovers in our home were destined to be transformed into a baked dish of creamy, cheesy of “Don’t ask me what it’s called—I made it up.” My childhood brain immediately translated less-than-specific title to mean, “You won’t like it.” I assumed (unfairly) that, beneath that tantalizing top layer of melty cheese, my mom was hiding all manners of unsavory ingredients. Anchovies? Lima beans? Chicken livers? Anything was possible.
To this day, the word “casserole” still makes me a bit uncomfortable, to the extent that I originally titled this recipe “Healthy Cheesy Chicken Broccoli Rice Bake.” It’s unfair to my mom—she’s a good cook—and it’s also rather illogical. After all, “casserole” is basically an abbreviated way of saying, “giant pan of cheesy, gooey goodness, baked until hot and bubbly.” When put this way, the mis-maligned casserole belongs on all of our lists of favorite foods.
I think part the reason the word “casserole” makes me want to run and hide my fork is that stereotypical casseroles are used to disguise, rather than celebrate, ingredients—Tuna Surprise, I am looking at you. I assume casseroles to be heavy, bland, and laden with cream of XYZ soup, but it need not be this way.
Although casserole condemnations have some foundation in reality (many of the casseroles out there are far from nourishing), when made properly, they can be an excellent, healthy choice for dinner. I joke about my mom being able to transform any leftover in our fridge into a casserole, but it is true. Casseroles are a fantastic way to use up the extra veggies, meats, and grains that accumulate throughout the week.
Casseroles can incorporate all of the food groups, produce a large amount of food for the same amount of effort, and make for tasty leftovers that are easy to pack for lunch, reheat for dinner, or turn into a freezer meal.
Casseroles, I have judged you too harshly.
In rethinking my approach to the traditional chicken broccoli rice casserole, I knew I wanted to use simple, natural ingredients, include lots of veggies and whole grains, and keep things creamy and comforting—all while being reasonably healthy. Today’s Healthy Cheesy Chicken Broccoli Rice Casserole is my reinvention of a popular classic.
A mix of brown rice, quickly sautéed chicken, and fresh broccoli, this Healthy Cheesy Chicken Broccoli Rice Casserole offers every food group in a single meal. The creamy, bubbly cheese sauce is made with Greek yogurt and cheddar—no canned soup to be found.
Could I be dubbed “Queen of Casseroles” one day? Aside from the weird premonitions of becoming my mother, I’ll take the casserole-queen title with compliments. Please pass me my Pyrex crown.
Tools I used to make this recipe:
Healthy Cheesy Chicken Broccoli Rice Casserole
Yield: 1 2-quart casserole, Serves 6
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour, 5 minutes
- 1 3/4 cups low sodium chicken stock
- 2 cups instant brown rice (if you use white rice or non-instant rice, the cooking time and amount of liquid needed may differ)
- 1 pound broccoli florets, chopped into bite-sized pieces
- 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, chopped into bite-sized pieces
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
- 3/4 teaspoon garlic powder, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, divided
- 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
- 2 cups milk, divided (I used skim)
- 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1/3 cup non-fat plain Greek yogurt
- 1 1/2 cups reduced-fat shredded cheddar cheese, divided (about 6 ounces)
- Place rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease a deep, 9-inch square baking dish or a 3-quart casserole dish.
- Bring chicken stock to a boil in a large pot, then add the rice. Return to a boil, add broccoli to the top of the pot, then cover, reduce heat to low, and let cook 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit, covered, for an additional 5 minutes. Most of the rice liquid should be absorbed.
- Meanwhile, heat the extra virgin olive oil in a Dutch oven or large deep pot over medium-high. Add the chicken, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Sauté until cooked through and no longer pink in the center, about 4 to 6 minutes, then remove to a plate. Being careful not to burn yourself, wipe the pot clean with a paper towel.
- Reduce heat to medium. In a small bowl or large measuring cup, whisk together the flour and 1/2 cup milk. Pour the mixture into the pot, then add remaining 11/2 cups milk. Cook, stirring constantly until thickened, 7-10 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the Dijon, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Stir in the Greek yogurt and 1 cup of the shredded cheese until smooth.
- Add the rice and broccoli mixture and the reserved chicken to the cheese sauce, stirring gently to coat. Spoon the mixture into the prepared dish and top with remaining 1/2 cup cheese. Bake 25 minutes until hot and bubbly. Let stand 10 minutes, then serve.
- This dish is easily customizable to your tastes and the season. Feel free to swap the rice for prepared farro, quinoa, or another whole grain (adjust the quantity and cooking time accordingly), the chicken for white beans, or the broccoli for any sautéed vegetable of your choice.
- The entire dish can be prepared up to the point of baking two days in advance. Let dish stand at room temperature for 30 minutes, then bake as directed.
- To freeze ahead: transfer the filling to a freezer-safe dish, then cover tightly and freeze for up to 2 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then bake directly from the refrigerator (you will need to add onto the baking time by 10 minutes or so), or let the dish come to room temperature prior to baking, then bake as directed.
Serving Size: 1 (of 6)
- Amount Per Serving:
- Calories: 321
- Total Fat: 4g
- Saturated Fat: 0g
- Cholesterol: 32mg
- Sodium: 544mg
- Carbohydrates: 11g
- Fiber: 4g
- Sugar: 9g
- Protein: 24g
More casseroles to crave: