The Core Diet Blog

The following content was provided by Registered Dietitian, Rachel Gargano.

As the colder months roll in and slowly envelop us in frigid air, our food choices start to change.  Our penchant for salad goes by the wayside and we start craving more comforting foods: warm, creamy soups; toasty, gooey casseroles; and oodles of noodles.  All the delicious foods that, if eaten with abandon, help create the lovely padding around our midsection– a thermal layer that keeps up warm through these chilly months.

But as an athlete, training and performance are always in the back of your mind.  And though your season is just over, you’ll soon start building back up.  Your A Race is waiting.  The New Year brings with it new challenges, new training blocks, new goal times.  So stuffing ourselves with all these delicious foods may not be moving us towards these aspirations. 

I would be remiss in telling you that you should not eat these foods, after all they are mighty delicious and we only live once.  I will say, however, that there is a way to have the best of both worlds; a way of ‘healthifying’ these foods to keep their delectable flavor and yet offer better nutrition in preparation for your season.  Healthy food doesn’t have to taste bad (I promise!).

Below is a recipe for a healthier version of stuffed shells using blended reduced fat cottage cheese instead of full fat ricotta.   If you’re really adventurous, you could try replacing the cottage cheese with 1 block of firm tofu plus 2 Tablespoons of nutritional yeast (which imparts a great cheesy flavor!).  I know, it sounds strange… but don’t knock it ‘til you try it!

Creamy Stuffed Shells with Spinach –Healthified!


  • 12oz box jumbo shells
  • 2 cups 2% cottage cheese
  • 4oz (1/3 less fat) cream cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup Panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 2 packages (9-10oz) fresh baby spinach (or 1 box frozen, defrosted and drained)
  • 3 cups spaghetti sauce
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 1/3 tsp nutmeg
  • ½ tsp salt


{Makes about 30 stuffed shells}

  1. Preheat oven to 350F
  2. Bring a large pot of water to boil and cook shells according to the package.  Cook until al dente, not fully done (about 10 minutes).   Gently drain and set on a plate in a single layer to prevent them from sticking together.
  3. In a food processor, blend together cottage cheese, cream cheese, egg, and spices. Set aside.
  4. In a large sauté pan, sauté onions, garlic, and olive oil over medium heat.  Cook until translucent and tender, about 5 minutes. Add the spinach, stir and let wilt – about 3 minutes.  Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
  5. Stir together the cottage cheese and spinach mixture, adding the panko crumbs until combined.
  6. Spray a large rectangular casserole dish with olive oil, then spread 1 cup spaghetti sauce on the bottom.  Spoon about 1.5 to 2 Tablespoons of the filing into each shell and place them in a single layer in the casserole dish. 
  7. Once all are filled, drizzle the remaining 2 cups of spaghetti sauce on top and then sprinkle with parmesan cheese.
  8. Bake for 30 minutes – or until sauce is bubbling.


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