A Lightened-Up, Healthy Quinoa Casserole Recipe

If you’re wondering what type of cuisine is my absolute favorite, it’s always and forever Mexican. The flavors of the spices are something that I crave on a daily basis.

Vertical image of a printed plate with a large scoopful of a grain and cheese bake.

Whether it’s fish tacos, a giant burrito, or a baking dish full of enchiladas, I’m the happiest gal in the entire world no matter what delicacy is set before me.

But if you find that you are constantly inhaling burritos, tacos, and chimichangas, this is not exactly the best thing for your waistline, am I right?

As much as I wish I could eat them every day, rolling into my 30’s has made me realize really quickly that it’s not possible. Not. Even. A. Little.

So, I am therefore declaring a challenge with myself to start incorporating the flavors that I love into healthier dishes.

Vertical top-down image of two black and white plates with a cheesy beef and vegetable dish.

That’s exactly where this healthy quinoa casserole recipe comes in.

Talk about a dish that doesn’t bring the guilt, but packs in the flavor!

This is a lightened up version of a Tex-Mex-style casserole that hits you with all those warm and fuzzy, comforting feelings.

You actually will be impressed by the fact that this recipe is on the lighter side. When you taste it, you’ll get that flavorful heartiness that you’re looking for, with less of those ingredients that tend to add on the calories.

By using quinoa in this dish, the healthy plant-based protein and fiber means you’ll feel nice and full when you gobble up every bite on your plate. It tastes so good, without being an excessive indulgence.

Vertical image of two plates with a cheese and quinoa bake, with the main casserole dish in the background on a blue napkin.

This recipe is so stinking simple to make, so you can whip it up in under an hour on a busy weeknight.

All you have to do is cook up a few ingredients in a skillet, then combine everything  in a casserole dish.

After you bake it up with a layer of cheese on top, dinner is served!

I like to enjoy this dish on its own, but if you have any leftovers, it works great in several different ways that I will outline for you at the end of this article. Keep reading to get my suggestions!

And trust me when I say that the leftovers are just as tasty as when the casserole comes straight out of the oven.

Vertical image of a spoon holding a large scoopful of a cheesy baked dinner in a glass dish.

I also love to make this dish with turkey instead of beef, because it’s a little lighter. The cheesiness of the casserole works well to make the turkey stay nice and juicy.

If you’re opting for beef, be sure to use a leaner meat so that it doesn’t make the dish too fatty.

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Horizontal image of a black and white plate with a large scoop of a healthy casserole dish.

Healthy Quinoa Casserole


  • Author: Meghan Yager
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 40 minutes
  • Total Time: 50 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings 1x

Description

For a guilt-free meal that you can enjoy anytime, this healthy quinoa casserole satisfies on all fronts. The gooey dish is filled with flavor.


Scale

Ingredients

For the Homemade Taco Seasoning:

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

For the Casserole:

  • 1 pound lean ground beef (80 to 93% lean) or ground turkey
  • 1 tablespoon coconut or olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups lightly packed baby spinach
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, divided
  • 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese, divided
  • 2 cups tomato sauce or salsa
  • 2 cups cooked quinoa

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350˚F. 
  2. In a small bowl, stir together ingredients for the taco seasoning. Set aside.
  3. Place a large skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add ground beef or turkey. Cook, stirring occasionally to break up the big pieces, until the meat is cooked through. This will take about 5 minutes for ground beef and 6 minutes for ground turkey.
  4. Transfer meat to a large bowl and drain any fat from the pan. 
  5. Place the same pan back over medium heat and add the oil. Once it’s melted, add the onion and jalapeno. Saute until soft, stirring occasionally, about 5-10 minutes. 
  6. Stir in garlic and spinach, and cook until the spinach is wilted, stirring occasionally for about 2-3 minutes.
  7. Add cooked vegetables to the meat and stir to combine. Stir in cooked quinoa, spice mixture, salsa, ½ cup cheddar cheese, and ½ cup Monterey Jack cheese until combined.
  8. Pour mixture into an 8-by-8-inch casserole dish (glass, ceramic, or metal). Sprinkle evenly with remaining cheese. 
  9. Bake for 20 minutes, until cheese is melted.

  • Category: Casserole
  • Method: Oven
  • Cuisine: Tex-Mex

Keywords: quinoa, casserole, Tex-Mex, cheese, taco seasoning

Cooking By the Numbers…

Step 1 – Chop Vegetables and Measure Remaining Ingredients

Horizontal image of assorted vegetables, spices, cooked quinoa, cheese, and raw meat in bowls.

Peel and chop one small onion. You should have about 1/2 cup total.

Not a fan of this kitchen task? Check out our tips to say goodbye to those tears!

Seed and finely chop one jalapeno pepper.

Peel and mince two cloves of garlic, or use a garlic press.

Measure out all remaining ingredients as listed on the ingredients list.

Preheat your oven to 350˚F.

Step 2 – Make Taco Seasoning

Horizontal image of a glass bowl with spices organized in mounds.

Add all of the ingredients for the taco seasoning to a small bowl.

Whisk to combine well, and set aside.

Horizontal image of a glass bowl with a blend of spices.

Step 3 – Cook Ground Beef or Turkey

Horizontal image of a skillet with cooked ground beef.

In a large skillet over medium heat, cook the ground beef or turkey for 5-6 minutes or until cooked through, stirring occasionally.

Be sure to break up the meat into small pieces as you cook it, so it will cook thoroughly and evenly.

Drain fat from the pan. Transfer the meat to a large bowl.

Step 4 – Cook Vegetables

Horizontal image of a skillet with spinach and other vegetables.

Place that same pan back over medium heat and add the coconut or olive oil. Once it is hot, add the onion and jalapeno.

Saute until soft, stirring occasionally, about 5-10 minutes.

Stir in the garlic and spinach, and saute until the spinach is wilted. Stir occasionally while you’re cooking, for about 2-3 minutes.

Step 5 – Assemble and Bake

Horizontal image of a grain, meat, and vegetable mixture in a metal bowl.

Add the vegetables to the bowl with the meat, and stir to combine.

Horizontal image of a glass dish with an unbaked, cheese-topped recipe.

Stir in the cooked quinoa, taco seasoning, 1/2 cup of shredded cheddar cheese, and 1/2 cup of Monterey jack cheese. Mix until combined.

Horizontal image of a cheese-topped glass dish.

Add the mixture to an 8-by-8-inch casserole dish. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top, in an even layer.

Bake for 20 minutes, until cheese is melted and edges are browned.

Horizontal image of a scoop of a very cheesy beef and vegetable dish.

How Can I Use the Leftovers?

The leftovers for this dish are just as tasty, but instead of simply piling it on a plate, there are lots of other ways you can enjoy this casserole if you are going to serve it again.

Horizontal image of a black and white plate with a large scoop of a healthy casserole dish.

One of my favorites it to pile up some greens inside a taco shell, and top it with a big spoonful of this quinoa recipe.

Another option is to pack the leftovers in a tortilla and roll it up like a burrito.

It also makes a delicious filling for cheesy enchiladas, with some extra enchilada sauce on top.

Okay, I know – the idea was to keep things light, and now I’m throwing a bunch of carbs back into the mix. But I love them so much!

For some more recipes to get your quinoa fix, give these a try:

Have you ever tried quinoa in a dish with Tex-Mex or classic Mexican flavors? Tell us about it in the comments below. And be sure to give this rating after you try it!

Photos by Meghan Yager, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published by Ashley Martell on March 5, 2015. Last updated: October 16, 2019 at 18:27 pm.

Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.

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About Meghan Yager

Meghan Yager is a food addict turned food and travel writer with a love for creating uncomplicated, gourmet recipes and devouring anything the world serves up. As the author of the food and travel blog Cake 'n Knife, Meghan focuses on unique foodie experiences from around the world to right at home in your own kitchen.

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