5 Secrets to Making Green Bean Casserole Healthier

By: Jessie Price, EatingWell Editor-in-Chief

Learn how to make this Thanksgiving side dish classic from scratch—no cans required!—for a more delicious, lightened-up creamy casserole. Plus, find swaps and recipes to make it gluten-free and vegan.

skillet green bean casserole

Pictured recipe: Skillet Green Bean Casserole

Traditionally made with butter, canned soup, canned green beans and canned French-fried onions, green bean casserole—a classic Thanksgiving side dish since its invention more than 55 years ago—is high in calories, sodium and saturated fat. When you make your own healthier version from scratch using the following tips, you'll agree this is one culinary icon that was ready for a re-invention. We bet you will never go back to the from-the-can version again.

Here are our 5 secrets for making classic green bean casserole healthier, and arguably more delicious:

1. Make Your Own Sauce

vegan green bean casserole

Pictured Recipe: Vegan Green Bean Casserole

While condensed cream of mushroom soup is classic in a traditional green bean casserole, it is seriously high in sodium. Making your own mushroom cream sauce, using fresh mushrooms, lessens the sodium and bumps up the fresh flavor. Plus, if you have dietary restrictions you can control the ingredients to make your own gluten-free or dairy-free cream of mushroom.

Related: How to Make Perfect Gravy

2. Use Fresh or Frozen Green Beans

instant pot green bean casserole

Pictured Recipe: Instant Pot Green Bean Casserole

Take a healthier shortcut than canned green beans by using frozen green beans instead. Frozen green beans are a great quick-cooking item to have on hand, and are frozen at the peak of ripeness so they maintain their fresh flavor and vital nutrients. If you have a little more time, buy fresh green beans, they take a little bit longer to prep and cook but the fresh flavor and crisp texture is worth it!

Related: How to Cook Fresh Green Beans

3. Use Low-Fat Dairy

gluten-free green bean casserole

Pictured Recipe: Gluten-Free Green Bean Casserole

The traditional recipe for green bean casserole calls for butter, full-fat milk and sour cream, which, while adding richness, seriously bump up the saturated fat. We reach for ingredients like low-fat milk, reduced-fat sour cream and even unsweetened almond milk (which has less sugar and calories than dairy milk) for a vegan version. We also use tangy buttermilk powder to add depth of flavor but not a lot of calories or fat (look for it in the baking section of your supermarket). You get tons of flavor and 8 grams less saturated fat than traditional versions.

4. Add Flavor with Sherry

Slow-Cooker Green Bean Casserole with Crispy Onions

Pictured Recipe: Slow-Cooker Green Bean Casserole with Crispy Onions

Sherry adds great depth of flavor to homemade green bean casserole. Be careful when shopping, though: don't use the high-sodium "cooking sherry" sold in many supermarkets and instead look for dry sherry, sold with other fortified wines.

5. Skip the Canned Onions

Slow-Cooker Green Bean Casserole with Crispy Onions

Pictured Recipe: French-Fried Onions

Cut calories by skipping the canned fried onions and sautéing your own. Tossing fresh onion slices with flour (or even gluten-free flour!) and pan-frying or oven-frying them in just a small amount of oil gives you the texture and flavor of the canned version without all the calories. Plus, they're so easy to make!

Try These: Vegan French-Fried Onions

Watch: How to Make Gluten-Free Green Bean Casserole

More Must-Try Thanksgiving Recipes:
How to Roast a Turkey
How to Spatchcock a Turkey for the Fastest-Cooking, Juiciest Turkey Ever
Secrets for How to Make Mashed Potatoes Perfectly Every Time
4 Mistakes That Ruin Stuffing (and How to Fix Them)