Healthy Eating - Zucchini Lasagna

A healthy outside starts from the inside.
— Robert Urich

Today I want to share a new healthy recipe that I tried for the first time last week - zucchini lasagna. This recipe combines two of my favorite cooking tips, cooking in bulk and healthy substitutions, which you can read more about in my previous blog post

It was also the motivation for starting my blog when I did. This was almost my first post, but I decided it was better to start with an introduction to my overarching reason for starting a blog, and then when I sat down to write this it was too long and needed to be split into two posts. 

Lasagna recipes naturally tend to produce a large amount of food, so we are all set on the "cooking in bulk" front. To really make your lasagna go the distance, freeze some so that it lasts longer. This also helps split up the monotony of eating nothing but lasagna for a week straight as you try to finish it off before it goes bad. I tend to split my lasagna in thirds - one third goes in the fridge to be eaten that same week, and the other two thirds get frozen. It's better to split it before you freeze it because it can be rather difficult to cut while frozen, and this avoids thawing and then refreezing the final third. 

Unfortunately, as easy as it is to make in bulk, lasagna isn't the healthiest meal option. That's where the second tip comes into play. Instead of using lasagna noodles, I decided to substitute in sliced zucchini as the "pasta" layer. I'd been wanting to try out this healthy substitution for a while, and since zucchini is in season it seemed like a good time to finally try.  

  Slicing zucchini to use in place of the lasagna noodles. 

Slicing zucchini to use in place of the lasagna noodles. 

Here's the recipe that I based my dish off of, but you can swap out the noodles for zucchini in just about any lasagna recipe if you have a personal favorite. One thing I really like about this recipe is all of the vegetables that go into the dish - zucchini obviously, but the lasagna is also layered with onions, mushrooms, and spinach (I left out the peppers, just a personal preference). 

This does make it a little trickier if you are time limited, as you'll end up needing to prep the meat sauce, vegetables, and cheese all at once. If you have more time, you can prep each of these one at a time - I'd recommend starting with the meat sauce since you'll have natural time to work on the other prep while the sauce simmers. 

  Letting the sauce (ground beef, onions, oregano, tomato sauce, tomato paste, and red wine) simmer.

Letting the sauce (ground beef, onions, oregano, tomato sauce, tomato paste, and red wine) simmer.

You'll definitely want to buy a mandolin if you don't already have one. It takes the daunting task of trying to slice your zucchini and turns it into the easiest part of the whole dish. I'd recommend one with a hand guard. Injuring yourself while cooking is never fun (speaking from experience here, having been to the ER once for a cooking induced burn). 

When prepping the cheese, I added in some cottage cheese to the mix. My mom always uses this when she makes lasagna, and any time I forget to add it to the recipes I find that they taste a little off to me. I also added some of the Parmesan and mozzarella cheese that the recipe only had going on top of the lasagna. Once again, this probably comes down more to personal preference than anything else, but feel free to try it and decide for yourself what cheese mix you prefer. 

  Cheese mixture - ricotta, Parmesan, mozzarella, and cottage cheese (plus one egg)

Cheese mixture - ricotta, Parmesan, mozzarella, and cottage cheese (plus one egg)

I'll admit that all of the cheese keeps this recipe from topping the list from a health perspective, even though I try to use the low-fat or fat free variants. When you compare this to your traditional meat, cheese, and pasta variant, however, you are clearly coming out ahead by using this recipe. As I've said before, healthy eating is all about small changes that add up over time, and this is a perfect example of that. 

Once you get everything prepped and have it layered in the dish, you'll have the luxury of being able to do anything else on your to do list while the lasagna bakes away. This is a great time to do the bulk of your clean up so that there's less to do after dinner. (It also turns out to be the perfect amount of time to write a blog post). Alternatively, you can prep the dish ahead of time, put it in the fridge, and just bake it the first night you want to eat it.

  Layered and waiting to be baked.

Layered and waiting to be baked.

I was pleasantly surprised with how good this dish tasted and how smoothly everything went considering it was my first time making this. The one complaint I have was that it came out a bit runny. This is likely due to some combination of me not cooking down the sauce enough, draining the spinach enough, or letting the lasagna sit long enough. But it's also possible that the extra water from the zucchini (compared with dry lasagna noodles) played a role in this. 

Let me know if you've had any similar experiences, or if you have any advice on how to get the final product to be a little thicker. The next time I make this, I'll update this post if I manage to fix the problem. In the meantime, stay tuned for my next blog post. At the time of writing this, I just touched down in San Diego, so the next post will probably be a break from the healthy eating blogs to talk about my trip. 

  The finished product.

The finished product.