Vanilla Bean Healthy Sweet Potato Casserole with Crunchy Pecan Oat Topping

I was not in the market for another sweet potato casserole recipe. For this Vanilla Bean Healthy Sweet Potato Casserole, I blame Wisconsin Public Television.

Vanilla beans are the secret ingredient that makes this Healthy Sweet Potato Casserole irresistible! It’s vegan, gluten free, and dairy free, but all of your guests will want second helpings.

Of course, by “blame,” I mean, “thank profusely,” “add to my Christmas card list,” and “forever in debt.” This healthy sweet potato casserole recipe is one of the best things I’ve made in a long, long time. I wasn’t expecting to fall in love with it the way I did, but the contrast of the ultra creamy, vanilla bean-specked sweet potatoes with the savory, crunchy, nutty pecan topping stole all of my affection, right along with my appetite.

You will never believe this healthy sweet potato casserole is vegan, dairy free and gluten free! Made with coconut oil, maple syrup and vanilla beans with an irresistible pecan oat topping.


Prior to this healthy sweet potato casserole recipe’s cosmic disruption of my sweet potato casserole preferences, I was already in a happily committed relationship with our current family favorite, Glazed Sweet Potatoes with Whiskey Pecans. It and Rosemary Bacon Mushroom Stuffing are my two favorite Thanksgiving side dishes, to the extent that, after the meal, I hide a personal container of them both from the rest of my family in an undisclosed location.

And then…this Vanilla Bean Healthy Sweet Potato Casserole with Crunchy Oat Topping happened, thanks to a live show I attended in Milwaukee.

Creamy Sweet Potato Casserole with Crunchy Oat Pecan Topping, made with vanilla beans, coconut oil, and maple syrup. This healthy casserole is naturally sweetened, vegan, gluten free, and dairy free, but tastes so decadent, you'll never know!

America’s Test Kitchen, the folks who publish Cook’s Illustrated and a host a program on Wisconsin Public Television came to town on tour, and Alice scored me a ticket. At the end of the show, the host, Cook’s Illustrated’s editor-in-chief Christopher Kimball, took questions, one of which went noticeably unanswered. A woman raised her hand and bemoaned the fact that her daughter had recently become a vegan and asked, “what on earth can I make that my daughter would eat?”

Vanilla Bean Sweet Potato Casserole made with coconut oil and vanilla beans. Everyone will flip for this recipe, and it’s vegan, gluten free and dairy free too!

To be honest, the hosts didn’t have a good answer. So much of Thanksgiving revolves around the glory that is butter, that the idea of making a vegan, dairy-free Thanksgiving recipe sounds at once impossible and disrespectful. While I don’t have any ideas for the turkey, this challenge prompted me to consider different dietary restrictions, and how difficult it would be to prepare a Thanksgiving meal taking these limitations into account. I decided to see if I could make a vegan Thanksgiving recipe that would be just as good as a non-vegan version. Oh my, did I succeed!

Forget the out-of-place marshmallows (sorry, not in my sweet potato casserole) and gobs of butter—you don’t need them to make a stellar sweet potato casserole. This healthy sweet potato casserole is vegan (and therefore dairy-free), gluten free, and naturally sweetened, and it is also one of the best Thanksgiving sides I’ve ever tried.

For this healthy sweet potato casserole, instead of using butter and heavy cream, I used unsweetened vanilla almond milk and coconut oil. For an extra flavor dimension, I added two vanilla beans, which tasted lovely paired with the sweet potatoes. The final healthy sweet potato casserole filling was so creamy, flavorful, and decadent, I honestly wouldn’t have believed no butter was involved.

A holiday recipe that everyone can eat! Healthy Sweet Potato Casserole. Vegan, gluten free, dairy free and it tastes amazing!

We could stop here and have a killer bowl of mashed sweet potatoes that is Thanksgiving-ready, but as texture devotee, I couldn’t resist the urge to add a little crunch. I updated my all-time favorite fruit crisp topping to a more savory version, then sprinkled it over the healthy sweet potato casserole filling and baked until golden.

Oh. My. Word. The savory crunch of the oats and pecans proved to be the ideal counterpoint to the velvety vanilla sweet potatoes and vaulted this healthy sweet potato casserole straight into the holiday side dish stratosphere. I ate an enormous serving for lunch, a second at dinner, and a third for breakfast with a dollop of Greek yogurt on top. In a final act of self preservation, I moved what few leftovers remained to the garage refrigerator, hoping the distance would encourage me to eat something besides healthy sweet potato casserole for a meal. It didn’t work.

Just in time for Thanksgiving, a healthy sweet potato casserole that's vegan, dairy free, and gluten free. Perfect for guests with dietary restrictions, and you'll never believe it's good for you!

Although I intended this healthy sweet potato casserole recipe to be a side that could accommodate a variety of dietary needs so that more guests can partake, no matter what eating regimen you do (or do not) follow, this Vanilla Bean Healthy Sweet Potato Casserole will have you scraping your plate clean!

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Healthy Sweet Potato Casserole with Crunchy Oat Topping

A healthy sweet potato casserole made with coconut oil, maple syrup and vanilla beans. Tastes as decadent as the original but is vegan and gluten free!

Yield: Serves 8 (1 9x13-inch casserole)

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes


For the Sweet Potatoes:

For the Pecan Oat Topping:

  • 1 1/3 cups old fashioned rolled oats (gluten free if necessary)
  • 1 cup roughly chopped pecans (untoasted)
  • 1/2 cup almond meal**
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 5 tablespoons melted coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup


  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a 9×13-inch casserole dish or other 3 quart casserole dish and set aside.
  2. Prick the sweet potatoes all over with a fork, then place them on a baking sheet lined with foil or a silpat mat. Bake until the potatoes are fork tender, about 1 hour or so, depending upon the size of your potatoes. Remove from the oven and let sit until cool enough to handle, about 5 minutes. Peel and discard the skins (they should come off easily with your fingers), break the potatoes in large chunks with a fork, then place the chunks into the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a large mixing bowl.
  3. While the potatoes bake, pour the almond milk in a small saucepan. Split the vanilla beans, scrape the seeds into the pan, then add the empty pods to the pan too. Bring to a very gentle simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Do not let the almond milk boil. Remove from heat and let the vanilla steep while the potatoes continue baking.
  4. Remove the vanilla bean pods from the saucepan, then pour the almond milk and vanilla bean specs into the bowl with the sweet potato chunks. Add the melted coconut oil, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, and white pepper.
  5. Mash the potatoes together with the milk and spices (or beat gently with a mixer or your paddle attachment or run though a food mill) until fairly smooth with some texture remaining. Taste and add additional salt/pepper as desired. Transfer to the prepared baking dish. With the back of a rubber spatula, press and smooth into a single layer.
  6. In a separate bowl, combine the topping ingredients: oats, pecans, almond meal, cinnamon, salt, coconut oil, and maple syrup until moist and evenly mixed. Sprinkle over the sweet potatoes.
  7. Bake until the topping is toasted and fragrant and casserole is warmed through, about 20 minutes. Serve warm.
*You can substitute 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract for the vanilla beans, but the flavor will not be as rich and you lose the pretty specs.
**To make your own almond meal, pulse whole, raw almonds in the food processor until they form fine crumbs. Do not over process, or you will have almond butter instead.
Make it ahead: Casserole can be prepared up through Step 5 one day in advance. Store refrigerated with plastic wrap over the top of the dish. Let come to room temperature prior to baking.

Pecan oat topping adapted from my Cherry Blackberry Crisp

// All images and text ©Erin Clarke/Well Plated.

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About Erin Clarke

I’m fearlessly dedicated to making healthy food taste incredible. Wearer of plaid, travel enthusiast, and firmly convinced that sweets and veggies both deserve a place at the table. MORE ABOUT ERIN…


  1. Dear Erin,
    I think you are mistaken – this casserole sounds delicious, but it is not gluten-free!
    Oats are full of gluten. I don’t want to come across as a know-it-all, I just thought I should point this out.

  2. I can’t say I’ve ever had a sweet potato casserole. This one definitely intrigues me. I need to do more with sweet potatoes… I haven’t had any yet this fall if you can believe it! Lovely photos as always, Erin :)

  3. Seriously. Photos killing it recently. I can’t get over it! Loving the marble backdrop :)

  4. I am DROOLING over this Erin! I am usually not too big on sweet potato casserole (they can be overly sweet and rich in my opinion). But your recipe hits the spot! :)

  5. I had just saved a different recipe for sweet potato casserole, but I’m afraid it’s about to be replaced with this one.  It will go perfectly with your cranberry chicken, which I plan to make for Thanksgiving dinner.  I’ll be going with the vanilla extract, perhaps combined in part with vanilla bean powder.  I really like that this one is not real sweet.  Happy Thanksgiving to you and Ben.  Your recipes will make mine happy!  :-D

  6. This looks absolutely delicious, and I’m excited to see a sweet potato casserole recipe without the heavy cream! Can’t wait to give this recipe a try!

  7. Yummy!! This sounds really good!

  8. Holy yum!  Way to take sweet potato casserole to a whole other tasty level!! Literally drooling over the pics!

  9. Holy YUM! Thank you Wisconsin for public television, this dish, AND the Packers (big fan over here). This is a perfect, sweet side to bring to our turkey day gathering! 

  10. This looks so good and since I’m sugar free, it will be perfect for Thanksgiving.  I like the idea that Susan had to pair it with your cranberry chicken.  I may be doing the same for Thanksgiving.  YUM!

  11. Looks amazing–light but loaded with flavor. I’m also in love with these pictures. The marble background is stunning!

  12. I can’t wait to make this for my family’s Thanksgiving dinner! Trader Joe’s sells a 2-lb bag of pre-cut sweet potatoes….could I use 2 bags of those instead of roasting whole potatoes for an hour? Would I need to microwave or boil them a bit to soften?

    • Hi Liz! Before you can use the sweet potatoes for the filling, you need to  cook them to  make them soft enough to mash for the filling. You could use about 4.5 pounds of the precut, but you would still need to cook them. You could do this by drizzling them with olive oil or melted coconut oil and roasting to soften them (you could also boil them, but that would have less flavor). Honestly, since the part of the recipe where you bake the potatoes to soften them is totally hands off (and doesn’t require using olive oil), I don’t think you’d be saving much time using the precut. Does that make sense? It is an option though if that’s what you want to do. Hope you love the recipe!

  13. Do you have any idea how long they’ll need to bake if I do the make ahead option?

  14. I just made this today. It looks and smells fantastic! 

  15. Made these for Thanksgiving today!  They were amazing.  I messed up and made large cubes out of the potatoes and it made mashing them pretty tough because of the skin that forms on them.  Would recommend keeping them while.  Also I used equal vanilla extract and thought it was great.  

    As for the topping, I will hold most of the salt, but I think that’s because we’ve been consciously limiting it and this tasted almost like a salted caramel-ish granola topping. This recipe is going in the “keep” file for sure!

  16. Sheesh, I should proofread better!!  I meant “recommend keeping them “WHOLE” (not while) and baking them, not using precut cubes. Also, the tipping was still great as is!!!  I ate it just fine. Haha. Forgot to add I didn’t have coconut oil on hand so I searched online and found I could sub with avocado oil, which I had.  Would have used a mild olive oil otherwise. 

  17. Thank you so much for this amazing recipe!  It was my favorite dish of the day. I’ll be making this year round!  

    • Marci, I am so overjoyed to hear this! I can’t say enough how much it means that my recipe was a part of your Thanksgiving meal. I hope you love the leftovers, and continue to enjoy the recipe long into the future!

  18. I had another sweet potato casserole in mind when you posted this, but this sounded exactly like what I wanted in the way of flavor.  It turned out sooooo good!  This recipe is a definite keeper.  

  19. Hope you are enjoying a terrific Thanksgiving weekend. My family definitely enjoyed this delicious dish at our dinner table yesterday. 

  20. Had a family cookout today, and my youngest daughter made this. It was amazing! I’ll be having some for breakfast! This is Not just for Thanksgiving. 

    • Carla, I am sooooo happy to hear that you all enjoyed this recipe so much. I love sweet potatoes  year-round too. Thanks so much for sharing this kind review!

  21. melissa taylor Reply

    This recipe is exactly what i was looking for! Thank you.

  22. I make this for breakfast!

    I only change the recipe slightly. I make a smaller portion and do about half sweet potato filling and half topping. My husband is allergic to almond so we use cashew or regular milk. I add Brown sugar (and sometimes a small bit of butter) to the topping. I leave out the nutmeg so my birds can eat it (toxic to cockatiels), and today I added an egg to the filling for extra protein and fluff! No sugar in the filling, but if we need it sweeter we add honey after (and it’s pretty!).

    Delicious recipe!!

    • Eowyn, what a wonderful way to start your day! Thanks so much for trying the recipe and taking time to leave your review. It really means a lot, and I’m so glad you enjoyed the recipe so much.

  23. I just made this tonight for dinner and it was amazing! I paired it with pumpkin soup and toasted green beans, it went so well together! The only thing I changed was adding some brown sugar, but it doesn’t need it at all, I just wanted extra sweetness (; ! Thank you so much for sharing this recipe!

  24. Can this be adapted to a crockpot? I lack oven space on Thanksgiving!

  25. This looks so yummy! I’m going to make this for Thanksgiving Dinner. Do you think coconut milk would work instead of the vanilla almond milk?

  26. If I use vanilla bean powder would I still use 2 Tablespoons of it? Also, can I reduce the coconut oil in the topping and increase the maple syrup for the topping?

    • Hi Ariana, I’m not too familiar with vanilla bean powder, but from a quick internet search, it looks like you should use half the amount when substituting. I wouldn’t recommend decreasing the amount of oil in the topping because it won’t brown properly. If you prefer the topping to be more sweet, I think it would be fine to add additional maple syrup to taste. I hope you enjoy the recipe!

  27. I’m making this today for Thanksgiving tomorrow. I planned to make the sweet potato part and the topping part separately and then sprinkle on the topping tomorrow and bake it then. Do you think the topping can sit overnight with the coconut oil & syrup in it and not be soggy when I put it on the dish tomorrow? Thanks!

    • Monica, I’m honestly not sure, as I have never tried. I think I’d try to wait until the day of just to be safe (a few hours ahead should be fine), but if you do decide to try it ahead, I’d store it in the refrigerator.

  28. I just wanted to let you know I made this last year and it was everyones favorite- even my 2 year old! I swore I would make it again, but that never did happen. I made it today, through step 5, and am sooooooo excited to have it tomorrow! I have also given it to a few friends who plan to make it. Thank you for a great recipe! 

    Rating: 5
  29. This looks delicious. Do you have the nutritional information for this recipe?

    • Great question Donna! Regarding nutritional info, this is something that I’ve actually started adding to all of my new recipes, effective January 2016 (you’ll see it in the recipe box at the bottom). Unfortunately, it’s pretty time consuming, so I’m unable to go back and add it to past recipes. If you’d like the nutritional info for any of my older recipes (or really any other recipe or food), you can actually calculate it yourself for free at (this is how I calculate the new recipes on my blog). I’m sorry I can’t give you the information for this exact recipe, but I hope that My Fitness Pal will be a helpful resource for you.

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