Inside a Dietitian’s Kitchen: Lessons from Tater Tot Casserole

Posted On Jul 8, 2014 By Erin Kuh, MBA, RD

Tater tot casserole

Do you often find yourself at social gatherings, office events or family outings with very few or no healthy options to choose from? How do you proceed? Eat a small amount, make the best choices possible, throw in the towel, or look like a crazy health fanatic and pull out your own meal you’ve packed just in case?

A few nights ago I walked in the door after three hours at the gym: two with clients plus my own one-hour workout. Something smelled good. I was hungry, and my husband had been tasked with dinner duty. He opened the oven door with his oven mitt-covered hands, beaming with pride and a hint of mischievousness. What lay before me was not something that had ever been inside my kitchen or passed my lips despite its popularity: Tater Tot Casserole.

My first reaction to my husband's concoction was: OMG. Tater Tot Casserole — really!? Part of me was tempted to fix something else for myself. You’ve probably faced similar dilemmas in situations where you’re at the home of a friend or family member who isn’t quite so health conscious.

But then I took a step back after he eloquently and fairly accurately broke down the calorie content of the entire dish and my portion, pointing out that he included veggies, extremely lean ground bison (it’s so lean that even with an egg, burgers fall apart due to lack of fat), and cut the cream of mushroom soup by at least half. Before sitting down to eat, he said, “We should probably have a salad too.” Music to my ears!

I'll confess, the Tater Tots tasted pretty good – crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. And I gave him permission to make it again (Am I really saying this?).

Take-home lessons:

  • One single meal isn’t going to make or break your diet or health.
  • A few simple changes can greatly cut down on fat/calories in recipes, such as cutting fat or sugar in half. Try this with some of your favorites, even with baked goods, and you might be surprised that you don’t miss the fat or sugar
  • Be extra mindful of portions if your only option is high-calorie or it’s difficult to estimate calories.
  • Balance out your plate with plenty of veggies or volunteer to bring a healthy side like a salad or veggie dish if you know heavy dishes are on the menu.
  • Pay close attention to your hunger levels and eat SLOWLY
  • Remember this quote: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” In other words, make the best possible choices given your options.
  • And lastly, be grateful for spouses that cook (even if it is Tater Tot casserole)!