Healthy Stuffed Shells with Spinach
Trust me, you’re going to want to hold onto this recipe for healthy Stuffed Shells with Spinach, because when you try it, and you proceed to watch your family devour the entire pan, you’ll want to make it over and over again.
The shells are made with vegetarian filling with onions, spinach, ricotta and a secret healthy ingredient nobody will even know is there! It is such an easy win! Plus it can be prepped ahead so it works for entertaining or you can meal prep it (or freeze it) and have it on a weeknight too!
Table of contents
Why We Love These Healthy Stuffed Shells with Spinach
I cannot believe that I have never made stuffed shells in my entire life until these Healthy Stuffed Shells came along. I think I had always assumed that a) they were too labor intensive and b) too unhealthy.
Well, let me tell you dear reader, these Stuffed Shells with Spinach are neither! I cannot wait to share them with you so you can join me in making stuffed shells on repeat from now on!
I decided I wanted to try making them for you this month because I thought they would make a good make-ahead recipe. So when I started out on the task of developing the recipe I actually built the make-ahead right into the recipe.
And the good news is that it just lends itself to prepping ahead! Not only can you prep it the day before, but you can actually freeze it too!
So if you have guests coming, or you find yourself on a Sunday with some extra time on your hands, make a batch of these shells and you can thank me later.
Let’s get into the deets about the shells because I am bursting at the seams to tell you about the SECRET INGREDIENT!!!
Key Ingredients for This Recipe
Since I was new to shells, I was not aware of the fact that there is such a thing as Jumbo Shells. And that is exactly what you need for this recipe.
I tested this with Prince and Barilla, and they both worked well. I found the Prince ones were slightly easier to fill because the Barilla ones curled up on themselves a bit too much, so it was hard to get the spoon of filling into the shell without making a mess.
Either way, you don’t need a whole box. I am not sure why they sell them in such large boxes, because you can’t possibly fit an entire box, filled, into a 9 by 13 casserole dish. I found that 9 ounces was plenty with a couple of extras for those that break or tear in the boiling process.
Ricotta and Additional Fillings
When you think about it, ricotta doesn’t have much flavor on its own, so the key to making a delicious stuffed shell is to amp up the flavor as much as possible. Note, I use part-skim ricotta. This is much lower in fat than whole-milk ricotta, but because we add in so much flavor, you won’t miss the extra fat, and it will save tons of calories! I use a whole 15 (or 16) ounce container of ricotta.
Here’s where the secret ingredient comes in! That’s right, there’s tofu in these shells! You would never know by tasting them because it crumbles right into the ricotta filling and you can’t taste it at all, and the texture really blends in entirely. Nobody in my family even noticed at all. Even my 11-year-old who has some “texture issues” loved it!
By using the tofu instead of an additional cup of ricotta, you’ll save about 9 grams of saturated fat and it’s still high in protein and calcium.
If you read this far but still need a little convincing, listen… I googled “stealthy tofu ricotta”, and they even make lasagna with it over on the Kitchn, so apparently I am not the only person with the idea! If you swear you hate tofu, give this a try.
If you’re new to tofu here’s what you need to know.
- Buy Extra Firm Tofu. Not baked (which is too hard and dry) and not silken (which is very soft and pudding-like.)
- Look for tofu packed in water, often sold in the produce department.
- I like to buy the mini packets of organic Nasoya Extra-firm tofu, if you can find them. They’re just the right size for this recipe. If not, you can buy the full-size block, and cut it in half. Make sure to store the leftover tofu in water.
- Because the tofu is packed in water, you’ll need to take a moment to dry it off. I like to pat it dry before crumbling it, and then after. I use dry paper towels to do so.
- Once the tofu is patted dry, you can literally crush the tofu in your hands, and it will break apart into crumbles that mimic ricotta cheese. (See video!) I crumble it right onto a plate lined with more paper towels.
Part Skim Mozzarella Cheese
I buy the pre-shredded part-skim mozzarella because it’s so easy. I know it’s not the greatest melting cheese on the planet, but it helps keep the calories and fat in check. I use 6 ounces for the whole casserole.
Step By Step Instructions For Spinach Stuffed Shells
Step 1: Boil Shells
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat and add shells to cook for 2 minutes less than the package instructions. Cooking them 2 minutes less will yield shells that are soft enough to work with and fill, but not so soft that they become mushy once filled and baked. Drain shells well and rinse with cold water.
Step 2: Sauteé Spinach, Onion & Garlic
Meanwhile, heat oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat and add garlic and onion to cook, stirring often until softened and browned, which should take 3 to 5 minutes.
Add in dry Italian seasoning. I always keep Italian Seasoning on hand because it’s like using three or four herbs in one. I also use it in my beef lasagna, chicken cacciatore, and minestrone too. Stir it into the hot vegetables right when you remove it from the heat so the heat will help to activate the seasoning a bit.
Set the skillet aside to let the veggies cool a bit. You’ll be mixing them with the rest of the filling mixture, including the eggs, so you want the veggies to be cool.
Step 3: Crumble Tofu and Pat Dry
Drain the tofu and pat dry with paper towels. Crush the tofu into crumbles over more paper towels into small chunks and pat dry again. Then, transfer the mixture to a large bowl.
Step 4: Combine Spinach Mixture with Ricotta
Add ricotta, egg, Parmesan, salt, and pepper to the tofu and stir to combine. Add the spinach mixture and stir again.
Step 5: Prep Dish and Spread Tomato Sauce
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a 9 by 13-inch casserole dish with cooking spray and spread ½ cup tomato sauce over the bottom of the casserole dish.
Step 6: Fill Shells and Assemble
Taking one shell at a time into your hand, spoon spinach filling into the shell (about 2 tablespoons per shell.) Set the shell into the casserole. Continue stuffing shells using all of the filling, and arrange them filling side up. Pour the remaining 1 ½ cups of sauce over the shells and top with basil and then mozzarella.
Step 7: Bake and Serve
Bake until the sauce is bubbling, the shells are hot all the way through, and the cheese is melted, which should take about 25 minutes. Remove the dish from the oven, and let it cool for about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with additional basil and Parmesan if desired, and serve.
FAQs and Expert Tips
I am pleased to report that these stuffed shells can be frozen and then baked (directly from the freezer) and the results are AMAZING!
To do so, first, make sure you have a casserole dish that allows you to go from the freezer to the oven. Then prepare the shells through step 6. Wrap the entire casserole dish twice with plastic wrap. Then wrap on top with foil. Freeze for up to one month. To reheat this dish, remove the plastic wrap and then cover the casserole dish with foil. Transfer directly to the oven and bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes.
I like to make a salad with Lemon Vinaigrette to serve with them. You could also make these Green Beans with Walnuts and Balsamic. If you’re serving this to guests, for dessert, serve either my Apple Cake or the Gingerbread Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting.
Tips For Making This Recipe in Advance
If you are meal prepping this Stuffed Shells recipe, after you fill the shells, and assemble the casserole, you can refrigerate them for a day before baking them. Just cover the casserole dish with aluminum foil and pop it into the fridge.
Then preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and set the casserole into the oven with the foil on it. The foil will help trap in the steam as it comes up to temp. Then you can remove the foil and bake it for 15 or so minutes longer, just look for the sauce to bubble and the cheese to melt.
Tips for Assembling Your Shells
- Start out with clean hands. This is kind of a messy process, so you’ll want to try to start as clean as you can.
- Coat the casserole dish with cooking spray and then spread some of the tomato basil sauce in the bottom of the casserole dish. The sauce will prevent the shells from sticking.
- Working one at a time, pick up a shell with your non-dominant hand, and a spoon with the other. Scoop filling (about 2 tablespoons) into the shell. Set the shell down into the prepared pan, filling side up. Repeat with all the shells and filling, arranging them into rows in the casserole dish.
- Pour the rest of the tomato basil sauce over the top of the shells.
- Next, add more flavor in the form of freshly chopped basil. This is such a yummy addition, and it really takes the flavors to the next level! Don’t skip it! I put it under the cheese so that the basil doesn’t turn black and burn when it bakes.
Additional Recipes To Try
- This Vegetable Pasta Bake is loaded with delicious veggies and has a flexitarian option!
- Stuffed Spaghetti Squash is the ultimate comfort food that you can enjoy within 45 minutes for a cozy weeknight dinner.
- You’re going to love this Ground Turkey Lasagna – you can make it ahead and it’s totally foolproof!
- Baked Vegetarian Lasagna is light and healthy, but with the satisfaction and heft of a comfort meal.
Thanks so much for reading! If you are new here, you may want to sign up for my email newsletter to get a free weekly menu plan and the latest recipes right to your inbox. If you make this recipe, please come back and leave a star rating and review. I would love to hear what you thought!
Happy Cooking! ~KatiePrint
Healthy Stuffed Shells with Spinach
- Total Time: 55 minutes
- Yield: 6 servings 1x
These Stuffed Shells with Spinach are a healthy vegetarian make-ahead casserole for meal-prep or to serve to company.
9 ounces jumbo shells pasta
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chopped red onion
1 5-ounce box baby spinach
2 teaspoons Italian Seasoning
7 ounces extra-firm tofu (not silken)
1 15-ounce container part-skim ricotta cheese
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese plus more for serving
1 large egg
1 ½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2 cups tomato basil sauce, divided
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, plus more for serving
1 ½ cup shredded part skim mozzarella cheese (6 oz)
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add shells and cook for 2 minutes less than package instructions. Drain well and rinse with cold water.
- Meanwhile, heat oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and onion and cook, stirring often until softened and browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in spinach and Italian seasoning until the spinach is wilted and remove from the heat.
- Drain tofu and pat dry with paper towels. Crush tofu into crumbles over more paper towels into small chunks and pat dry again. Transfer to a large bowl.
- Add ricotta, egg, Parmesan, salt and pepper to the tofu and stir to combine. Add the spinach mixture and stir again.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a 9 by 13 inch casserole dish with cooking spray. Spread ½ cup tomato sauce over the bottom of the casserole dish.
- Taking one shell at a time into hand, spoon spinach filling into the shell (about 2 tablespoons per shell.) Set the shell into the casserole. Continue stuffing shells using all of the filling, and arranging them, filling side up. Pour the remaining 1 ½ cups sauce over the shells. Top with basil and then mozzarella.
- Bake until the sauce is bubbling, the shells are hot all the way through and the cheese is melted, about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven, and let cool about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with additional basil and Parmesan if desired, and serve.
Make Ahead: Do not preheat oven in step 5. Assemble the shells as directed. Cover and refrigerate up to 24 hours in advance. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake covered until hot all the way through, about 35 minutes. Then remove foil and continue baking as directed until the shells are steaming hot, the sauce is bubbling and the cheese is melted, about 15 minutes longer.
To Freeze Ahead: To do so, first make sure you have a casserole dish that allows you to go from freezer to oven. Then prepare the shells through step 6. Wrap the entire casserole dish twice with plastic wrap. Then wrap on top with foil. Freeze for up to one month. To reheat: remove the plastic wrap and then cover the casserole dish with foil. Transfer directly to the oven and bake for 1 hour 10 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes.
- Prep Time: 30
- Cook Time: 25
- Category: Main Course
- Method: Oven
- Cuisine: Italian
- Serving Size: 1/6 casserole (about 3 to 4 shells)
- Calories: 446
- Fat: 18 grams
- Saturated Fat: 8 grams
- Carbohydrates: 49 grams
- Fiber: 7 grams
- Protein: 28 grams
Keywords: stuffed shells, stuffed shells with spinach, vegetarian stuffed shells, healthy stuffed shells, Spinach Stuffed Shells, Vegetarian Stuffed Shells with Tofu and Spinach
This Recipe is Part of A Meal Prep Menu
This stuffed shells recipe is part of my Meal Prep Menu which also includes four more make-ahead dinners. In this plan, I give you the prep list, shopping list, and plan to prep on the weekend, so you can have all your weeknight meals ready to go with 20 minutes (or less) of time in the kitchen!
Here’s the complete menu:
- Monday: Stuffed Shells with Spinach and salad with Lemon Dressing
- Tuesday: Cod Fish Tacos with refried black beans
- Wednesday: Sloppy Joes and Roasted Broccoli and Cauliflower with Cheese
- Thursday: Chicken and Wild Rice Soup
- Friday: Greek Pizza and lemony green beans
You may also love these Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers with Italian Flavors. Feel free to swap them in for any of the meals on this menu. To get the full details, print your shopping list, and get started, head over to the Meal Prep Menu to check it out!
Just one tiny gentle comment about hidden ingredients – Being allergic to soy – it’s a fairly common allergen – this secret tofu would make me sick for days. Just a thought in case you want to make it for a dinner party!!
Other than that, I would devour the whole pan!! 🙂
I love this recipe and all the flavors. My family members are not fans of the texture of ricotta. I wonder what a substitute might be.
I hope you are well. That’s a tough one since this is kinda all about the ricotta filling so it is tricky if they don’t like the texture of ricotta. Generally, cottage cheese (or Farmer’s Cheese) is the best sub, but my guess is they don’t like the texture of that either. I had stuffed shells on my trip to France last week and they were stuffed with finely chopped veggies that had been sauteed. Maybe try that? You could do onions, carrots, mushrooms, zucchini etc. Chop them as fine as possible.
I don’t see where tomatoes are added
In step 5 and 6.
Thank you for a great recipe! This was part of Thanksgiving dinner(we are vegetarians) and it turned out great! My very taste sensitive son loved it as did the rest of the family. I used frozen spinach, microwaved for two minutes, and squeezed the water. Since our family likes a little zing, I added red chili (paprika) powder to my sauce. And you were right, no one knew there was tofu in the filling! Thank you again!
Thanks for the comment and rating Jay! I’m so glad it worked so well for your family, and that your son even loved it. Love your additions- it sounds great!
These were delicious! I spaced out on buying jumbo shells but had whole wheat lasagne noodles on hand so made the recipe as is but turned them into lasagne roll ups. Fantastic and the family loved! Also equally delicious the next day as leftovers!
This looks delicious! When freezing ahead, do I add the basil and cheese topping before freezing?
Yes you can add them both. The basil will darken but it will taste just fine. If you want to you can wait and add the basil afterwards.
Loved these. Tofu and all!
That’s great! I am so happy to hear it!
Made this on my own and family ate it up. Then meal prepped with my daughter for her freezer. Delicious and easy!
That’s awesome. So glad you like the recipe Diane!
We loved this meal. I meal prepped this dish on Sunday and was ready to put in the oven on Monday. Will definitely make this again.
I am so happy to hear it Nancy. Thank you!
I loved the convenience of this recipe and was able to make it ahead and freeze it for a busy time of entertaining. When i make it again, I would add more herbs and cheese as I found it a little bland.
Hi Karen. Thank you so much for letting me know. Have a great day!
This dish is genius! Love stuffed shells but haven’t made them in so long because of all the cheese. The tofu/ricotta blend is so deliciously creamy, no one will ever know. I followed the recipe for this but made 2 smaller trays instead of one big one. I cooked one, which my family devoured, then put the other in the fridge for a few days. Popping it in the oven on a Sunday night was such a treat. I plan to use the cheese/tofu mixture to make a lasagna soon. Thank you for the this!!
Hi Shannon. I am so happy you liked the tofu filling and that you agree it’s totally masked! I love the idea of using it for lasagna. Please let me know if you do! Thank for rating today!
This looks perfectly comforting, and I love a good meatless meal, especially during the holidays!
Hi Kari. So glad you like the recipe! Have a great holiday season.
looks really healthy and good
These look awesome. My husband bugs me to make stuffed shells every year around the holidays and frankly I haven’t had much success even though I’m generally a good cook. I’m definitely going to give this one a try! Tofu, what a great addition and I love the tips & steps. Thank you.
Hey Buffy! Thank you so much for coming by and I am so psyched to hear you’ll be making it. Please come back and report on how everyone liked it once you do. Happy holidays to you and the family!