I’m not sure if it’s a midwestern thing, or maybe just a convenience food thing, but there is a classic cheesy broccoli rice casserole involving a certain processed cheese food that has definitely made the rounds in our area throughout my childhood.  Even as a child who had no qualms about artificial foods, that fake cheese freaked me out a little bit.  However, I did enjoy the final casserole as long as I didn’t think too much about what went into it.  As we continue to pay more attention to where our food comes from and what exactly goes into it, this sort of thing has gone completely out the window and I haven’t made it in over five years.

Recently it occurred to me that I could resurrect that dish with a healthier, whole food spin.  I swapped out the white rice for quinoa and used a delicious homemade cheese sauce in place of the questionable ingredient.  I have to say, I was thrilled with the results.  The dish had the same familiar flavors that reminded me of childhood but I knew that we were actually getting some nutritional value out of it.  Our whole family loved this meal and it made for great leftovers as well.  If your family ever rocked the old version of this casserole, I’d love to hear what you think of this new and improved version.

Note: This recipe was developed as part of my ongoing contribution to the Go Bold with Butter blog.  Head over to see my posts as well as more great recipes from the other awesome bloggers involved with the project!

  • Yield about 8-10 servings


1½ cups quinoa
1 head broccoli, cut into small florets
3 tbsp. unsalted butter
3 tbsp. all-purpose flour
2 shallots, diced
2 cups milk (low-fat is fine)
¼ tsp. garlic powder
¼ tsp. dry mustard
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper, to taste
8 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded*
2 cups shredded cooked chicken


  • 01

    Cook the quinoa according to the package directions.  Meanwhile, place the broccoli in a saucepan and add a couple inches of water.  Cover and bring to a boil over high heat.  Let boil just 1-2 minutes more, until the broccoli is crisp-tender.  Drain immediately and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking.  Set aside.

  • 02

    Preheat the oven to 400˚ F.  To make the cheese sauce, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Whisk in the flour, shallots, garlic powder, dry mustard and cayenne.  Continue whisking the mixture until it is light golden, about 1-2 minutes.  Slowly whisk in the milk.  Allow the sauce to simmer, stirring frequently, until the mixture bubbles and thickens, about 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat.  Whisk in the cheddar until melted and smooth.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  In a large bowl, combine the cooked quinoa, broccoli florets, shredded cooked chicken and the cheese sauce.  Fold together gently until evenly combined.

  • 03

    Transfer the mixture to a lightly greased casserole dish.  Bake until the top is lightly browned, about 20-25 minutes.  Serve warm.

  • 04

    *For best results, always use freshly shredded cheese.  Pre-shredded cheese comes coated in things such as flour, cornstarch to prevent clumping and results in an unpleasant, gritty texture when melted.