Ground Turkey Pasta Bake is a healthy casserole made with ground turkey meat, whole wheat pasta, kale, and a light sprinkling of bubbly melty cheese. This is an easy restaurant-quality dinner made with kitchen staples!
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Ground Turkey Casserole
This ground turkey pasta bake is an updated version of my tried and true, kid-friendly recipe. Just a few tweaks and this comfort meal dish has become even more amazing! If your house is anything like mine, everyone loves pasta with cheese. So sneaking in a bit of kale to healthy pasta recipes is no big deal!
This complete quick and easy, weeknight meal is made with pasta, ground turkey, loads of seasoning and baked until bubbly and golden brown. Layers of flavors that pair so well with a healthy salad recipe and a glass of red wine!
We also love this 10 minute easy spaghetti recipe!
Why Make This Turkey Pasta Recipe?
- A quick weeknight meal. This ground turkey casserole comes together in under 1 hour, smells amazing, and will have everyone running to the table.
- Healthy and delicious. Hearty, wholesome, homemade, and SO GOOD!
- It’s freezer-friendly. This means you can make an entire casserole and freeze it for later or share it with a neighbour!
- Kids love it. I mean, who wouldn’t love pasta baked in all of that meaty, cheesy, saucy, goodness? Another must-try is this Tuscan chicken pasta.
- Flexible recipe. Swap out ingredients or omit some completely. Make this dish suitable to your tastes and adjust any seasonings.
- Cost-effective. It’s a great way to serve your family on a budget! It’s casual enough for a weeknight meal but also great for serving guests without breaking the bank.
Ingredients for Pasta Bake with Ground Turkey
- Pasta: White, whole wheat, or gluten-free pasta works. Use whichever pasta shapes you like, but medium-sized pasta works best like fusilli, rotini, or penne. Spaghetti won’t work as well. Whole grain pasta is a healthier choice as it has more fiber and nutrients than white pasta does.
- Ground turkey: Ground turkey meat, chicken, beef, or pork would be OK. I prefer to use lean ground turkey in a way that even meatballs and healthy turkey burgers come out juicy. Check out 45 of my favorite ground turkey recipes for more inspiration.
- Greens: I use Kale which is a nutritional powerhouse full of fiber, iron, and antioxidants. I can see how this casserole would be a perfect candidate for adding in that spinach that’s on the verge of going bad in your fridge (or use that for hot spinach artichoke dip)! Frozen is fine too. I always add either of these greens to soup, quiche, or stuffed chicken recipe.
- Tomato sauce: I am using plain low sodium tomato sauce from a can. If yours is not low sodium, add less salt.
- Cheese: Mozzarella cheese is what I use, but you can go ahead and use your favorite. I recommend shredding your own as it melts better than the pre-shredded packaged stuff.
Freshly grated cheese is highly recommended! If you’ve ever wondered why packaged shredded cheese is never clumpy and pours out of the bag without issue it’s because there are additives in there used as anti-clumping agents. This stops it from clumping, but also from melting nicely.
- Onion, garlic, dried herbs – Aromatics and herbs add flavour without adding too many calories. Oregano, rosemary, basil, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper is all you need. See FAQs on how to substitute fresh herbs.
- Sweetener: Any natural sweetener will work. Honey or maple syrup are my go-to, along with balsamic vinegar. It helps to reduce the acidity of the tomatoes.
How to Make Ground Turkey Pasta Casserole
- Cook pasta to al dente in a pot as per package directions, but undercooking by 4 minutes. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water.
Why undercook pasta? This is an important step to remember. The pasta will continue to cook while it’s baking in the oven, so undercooking it a bit will help to avoid overcooked, mushy pasta. This is also important if you are planning to use this as a freezer meal.
- Prep: Spray a 9×13 baking dish, preheat oven to 350 F degrees and find a large skillet for sauteing.
- Cook veggies and turkey: Saute the onion and garlic for 2 – 3 minutes. Add oregano, rosemary, basil, a pinch of red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Cook for 30 seconds, stirring a few times. Add the ground turkey and cook for another 5-7 minutes, breaking meat into pieces and stirring occasionally.
- Make meat sauce: Add the tomato sauce, honey, balsamic vinegar, and pasta water. Stir, bring to a boil, and simmer for 2 minutes. Add kale and stir to combine. Now, add cooked pasta and stir to combine even more.
Leafy greens like kale, spinach, collard greens, and swiss chard wilt in residual heat. They don’t need much time to cook which is why they tend to be added in last in recipes.
- Combine pasta with meat sauce: This is why cooking everything in a large skillet makes life easier. It’s a lot! Transfer half of the mixture to the baking dish, sprinkle with 3/4 cup cheese, add remaining mixture and sprinkle with remaining 1 1/4 cups cheese.
- Bake: Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes.
Serve this ground turkey pasta recipe warm with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese and some fresh parsley and prepare for second helpings!
Optional Add-In’s and Variations
- Ground turkey meat substitutes like ground beef, ground chicken, shredded chicken, ground sausage, bacon crumbles, meatballs, you name it.
- Jarred marinara sauce with its own seasonings allow for a bit more convenience and aid in cutting down on the ingredients list.
- Leftover sauce: Homemade meat sauce could be used instead!
- Swap the mozzarella for a sharp cheddar or use a bit of both.
- Omit red pepper flakes to reduce heat.
- Add more veggies like broccoli, zucchini, bell peppers, mushrooms, or carrots – just like healthy pasta salad, swap the vegetables to adapt to your families taste!
Tips for Best Results
- Use a pasta that has crevices that can hold the sauce. It’s so good when you bite into that!
- To make this a one-pot dish, use a cast-iron skillet that can be transferred directly into the oven from the stove.
- Skip the oven if you’re not interested in the baked part of it, and would like to keep it a traditional pasta dish. Cook pasta to al dente and combine on the stovetop.
- Don’t forget to spray the casserole dish before transferring pasta in there. It can stick to the bottom otherwise.
- Allow it to rest before serving. Allow the flavors to meld together and the juices settle a bit so it’s not a sloppy mess when serving.
You can make this turkey pasta bake gluten-free easily! Simply swap the regular whole wheat pasta for your favorite gluten-free pasta. Just keep in mind you want to use one that will hold up to the meat and sauce and not become mushy by the end.
Kale is my favorite to use for this recipe, but by all means use spinach if you prefer. You could opt for collard greens, or swiss chard if you’d like. Keep in mind they are slightly more bitter, but loaded with nutrients.
Using leftover holiday turkey roast would be a great idea! Whether it’s traditionally oven-roasted, or smoked, it would be great in this dish. The same goes for any leftover healthy chicken breast recipes.
Swap out ground turkey for ground chicken or ground beef. There are no major changes to the recipe, except to consider that beef will have more fat which you may want to drain. The dish will also have a different flavor but each one is just as good!
You could – the general rule is one tablespoon of fresh herbs to one teaspoon of dried herbs, i.e. for 1 tsp of dried basil you would need 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs. You may desire less or more fresh herbs based on your preference. For convenience, especially during cooler months when fresh herbs are not as abundant, I love to use dried herbs in the ‘baked’ part of this pasta dish and sprinkle with fresh herbs at the end to add a ‘punch’ of fresh flavor.
Got any homemade? If not, your next best plan would be to make sure to read the labels. Look for a low sodium sauce with no added sugar in the ingredient list. Many marinara sauces don’t use added sugar and pure tomato sauces also don’t. For this recipe, because it has so many herbs, spices, and flavors to it, it’s in your best interest to find one with as few ingredients on its list as possible. Not only because it’s healthier but also so that you don’t have to adjust the recipe too much.
For sure you can use other shapes. The only two things I recommend when looking for different shapes is that it’s a small to medium size and the more crevices the better! Other than that, go nuts. Fusilli, elbow, penne rigate, bow tie, pasta shells, etc.
In this case, you don’t want your pasta to be cooked before it’s in the oven. You want it to be al dente minus 4 minutes that way it continues baking in the oven. If you want to check it, you’ll have to bite into it to test it. Careful, it’s hot! It will have a bite to it, and be noticeably undercooked. Once it’s been baked, you’ll know your pasta is cooked because it will be tender but not mushy.
Serving: Let the casserole sit covered for about 10 minutes after baking. It is a general rule with all bakes, to allow flavors to marry each other. Serve hot garnished with parsley if desired. It serves 6 people very generously and 8 people with a side of a healthy Caesar salad tossed with healthy croutons.
Here are simple and quick side dishes that will go well with this ground turkey pasta:
Making This Turkey Meat Recipe in Advance
Freeze leftovers: Bake first, allow it to cool and then transfer it to a plastic or glass airtight container. Freeze for up to 3 months.
Freeze unbaked: Assemble the casserole, wrap it tightly with a layer of plastic, and then a layer of aluminum foil on top. When you’re ready to eat, allow it to thaw on a counter for 30 minutes to prevent the dish from shattering in the oven. Bake from frozen, increasing the baking time by 15 – 20 minutes.
So convenient! I remember when I was pregnant, I stocked my freezer with healthy freezer meals, and they helped a lot once the baby arrived. This is the genius about freezer-friendly casseroles. They also come in handy for preparing to help sick loved ones, an elderly neighbour, or a last-minute dish for a potluck!
Make ahead: If you don’t want to freeze the casserole you can assemble and refrigerate it for up to 24 hours before baking. Don’t forget to cover it with plastic wrap while it’s in the fridge. Remove the wrap and then bake as per recipe.
Reheating: Best would be in a microwave to prevent casserole from drying out.
I hope your family enjoys it as much as we do!
More Healthy Casserole Recipes
Ground Turkey Pasta Bake (Healthy Casserole)
- 1 lb ground turkey extra lean
- 3 cups (10 oz) whole wheat penne/fusilli pasta uncooked
- 4 – 5 cups kale stems removed & chopped
- 1 large onion finely chopped
- 4 large garlic cloves minced
- 1 tbsp olive oil extra virgin
- 1 tbsp oregano dried
- 1 tsp rosemary dried
- 1 tsp basil dried
- Pinch of red pepper flakes
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Ground black pepper to taste
- 28 oz tomato sauce low sodium
- 1 tbsp honey or maple syrup
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 cup pasta water
- 2 cups 6 oz mozzarella cheese shredded & divided
- 1/3 cup Italian parsley chopped
- Cooking spray I use Misto
- Cook pasta al dente as per package instructions, undercooking by 4 minutes. Drain, reserving 1 cup of pasta water, and set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and spray 9 x 13 baking dish with cooking spray.
- In the meanwhile, preheat large skillet on medium heat and add olive oil. Add onion and garlic, sauté for 2 – 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add oregano, rosemary, basil, pinch of red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Cook for 30 seconds, stirring a few times. Add ground turkey and cook for another 5-7 minutes, breaking meat into pieces and stirring occasionally.
- Add tomato sauce, honey, balsamic vinegar and pasta water. Stir, bring to a boil and simmer for 2 minutes. Add kale and stir to combine.
- Now add cooked pasta and stir to combine more.
- Transfer half of the mixture in previously prepared baking dish and sprinkle with 1 cup cheese. Add remaining pasta meat mixture and sprinkle with remaining 1 cup cheese. Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes.
- Remove from the oven, let stand for 10 minutes, garnish with parsley and serve hot. With a glass of red wine. OMG, so good!
- Store: Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Reheat in microwave.
- Make ahead: If you don’t want to freeze, assemble and refrigerate casserole for up to 24 hours. Don’t forget to cover with plastic wrap and then bake as per recipe.
- Freeze leftovers: Bake, cool and transfer to plastic or glass airtight containers. Freeze for up to 3 months.
- Freeze unbaked: Assemble the casserole, wrap tightly with plastic and aluminum foil on top. When ready to eat, warm up on a counter for 30 minutes to prevent dish from shattering in the oven. Bake from frozen increasing baking time by 15 – 20 minutes.
- More protein: You can use 2 lbs of ground turkey to up the protein. Also ground chicken works or ground beef.
- Greens: Spinach can be substituted for kale.
- Pasta: White, whole wheat or gluten free pasta works. You want pasta to be short and with crevices to scoop up the sauce.
- Sodium content: Reduce sodium if using regular and not low sodium tomato sauce.
- Swap the mozzarella for a sharp cheddar or use a bit of both.
- Jarred marinara could be used to save even more time, skip adding additional spices.