A satisfying & healthier rendition of classic comfort food, this Taco Tater Tot Casserole is an easy one-pot recipe the whole family will love!
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This Taco Tater Tot Casserole is the best of both worlds: perfectly spicy and homey while being a healthier version of the more classic casserole. It's also a one-pot dinner recipe, making it low on fuss and clean-up. Kids and adults alike love this casserole. Add it to your menu this week!
What do tater tots remind you of or make you think of?
For me, they throw me back to elementary school cafeteria days. Simple and satisfying food that I would get so excited about being on the menu as I pulled through the line with my lunch tray.
Crunchy on the outside, warm and steamy on the inside and full of that savory flavor, they always hit the spot.
But as some things tend to do as we get older, I lost site of these crunchy little guys as I passed through high school and onto the real world.
And then, a few months ago, left to my devices and checking out online grocery ordering for the first time and feeling indulgent due to the new mandates to stay inside, I somehow stumbled on tater tots again and figured "why not?"
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Within a few nights we roasted them up with our dinner. At first bites, both Chris and I were immediately reunited with our childhood memories.
We crushed through a small pan of them before the rest of our food was even off the stovetop. But what else does a hungry sane person do when there's a tray of fresh tater tots in front of you?
The tots immediately went back on our online ordering list and before you know it, a love was reborn.
Side note: to my surprise, tater tots actually aren't that unhealthy, either! When baked, they're usually decently low in fat, gluten-free, and don't contain any weird chemicals.
I started thinking of all the different ways I could make those little puppies and one of the first things to come to mind was - somehow - on a taco casserole.
I played around quite a few times developing the specifics of this recipe, but I always knew a few things would be for sure: an easy homemade taco seasoning, juicy ground turkey, beans, melted cheese and -- of course -- crunchy tots!
What I settled on is this cast-iron skillet casserole. It's an easy one-pot dinner that can be served on its own or topped with classic taco toppings, filling but not enough to send you into a food coma, and -- thanks to lean ground meat, lighter cheese, and lower sodium taco seasoning -- a healthier comfort food option!
Most importantly, it's the kind of good that I'm sure I'll be craving 20 years from now. I'm thinking that's due to the legacy of taco Tuesday or the tater tot, but I'll leave it up for you to decide!
This Taco Tater Tot Casserole Is...
- But not food coma inducing
- A one-pot recipe
- Perfect year-round
- Great for dinner parties
- Healthier comfort food
When the best of two worlds combine to form a powerhouse of a delicious recipe, how do you really ever say no?!
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- Homemade taco seasoning -- I know it made sound intimidating, but trust me, it's not! Taco seasoning is actually pretty simple to make and made with common pantry spices. To make it, just measure out the ingredients, stir, and you're ready to go!
- Ground turkey -- a breast and leg meat ground turkey combo is best as it adds the most flavor and moisture.
- Yellow or white onion
- Sweet pepper -- red, yellow, or orange are great.
- Salsa -- your favorite bottled salsa is perfect for this casserole! Choose the heat and spiciness that you and your family prefer. We'll need 1 cup of it.
- Canned beans -- black beans and pinto beans are my favorite, but this recipe can handle almost any type of bean you have on hand. Kidney beans and garbanzo beans would also be delicious. You'll want to drain and rinse your beans before using.
- Shredded Mexican cheese blend -- the standard shredded Mexican cheese blend in the grocery store works perfectly here. I like to choose the reduced-fat cheese blend, but you can also go full-fat; whichever you prefer!
- Your favorite taco toppings -- top your casserole with your favorite taco toppings. You can offer your toppings as a taco bar, so everyone in your dinner crew can dress their serving up as they like, or you can top the casserole with toppings after it comes out of the oven.
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Cheese - you can also use regular or reduced fat cheddar cheese or queso Chihuahua cheese in place of the shredded Mexican cheese blend.
Ground meat - ground beef can work in place of the ground turkey, as does a ground beef meat substitute!
Salsa -- enchilada sauce can step in for the salsa in a pinch, but I prefer the salsa in this recipe because it keeps the tomato and spicy flavors while still being lower in sodium and heaviness.
Are hashbrowns and tater tots the same?
Hash browns and tater tots are not the same, but they are similar.
Hash browned potatoes are shredded potatoes with nothing else added to them. Hash brown patties are more similar to tater tots because they're pressed together and lightly seasoned.
I don't recommend using either form of hash browns, as they'll either lack the flavor of the tater tots or not cook as evenly as the tater tots will.
How do you make homemade taco seasoning?
We'll be using a super easy homemade taco seasoning in this recipe. I love homemade seasoning because you have more control over the ingredients and you know there are no weird chemicals in it (always a win)! It doesn't hurt that the seasoning is pretty simple to make!
Just mix together all the seasonings (chili powder, cumin, dried oregano, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and smoked paprika) together in a small bowl and you're ready to go!
Make the most of your time as well and make a double or triple batch of this seasoning so you have it ready to go the next time you make this recipe or any other recipe calling for taco seasoning!
Can you use premade taco seasoning instead of homemade?
Yes, you certainly can use premade taco seasoning instead of homemade in this recipe, but I do recommend making the easy homemade seasoning if you have the ingredients on hand. I mean, I'm biased, but isn't homemade usually the best?! 😉
I won't judge or be upset if you want to use the premade though -- for any reason! -- this organic taco seasoning is delicious and has no weird chemicals or hard to pronounce ingredients in it so it's a good premade pick!
Just use 1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons of the premade taco seasoning in place of the homemade seasoning and you will be set.
Can you use beef instead of turkey?
Yes, you most definitely can use beef instead of turkey in this recipe. I recommend a leaner beef like 85% of 93% lean for this recipe.
What salsa is best for this casserole?
You can use whichever salsa you and your family like best. If you like your Mexican food spicy, grab your favorite spicy salsa. Classic tomato salsa works perfectly, or you can also use a salsa verde.
If you like it fruitier or more mild like I do, you can also use a pineapple or peach salsa. Have fun with it -- this recipe is flexible like that! 😉
What toppings are best for taco tater tot casserole?
Top your casserole with your favorite taco toppings -- shredded lettuce, sour cream, more cheese, sliced black olives, diced onions, cilantro -- you name it! Have fun customizing this casserole to your and your family's taste buds and preferences.
Are tater tots gluten-free and is this tater tot casserole gluten-free?
Most tater tots are gluten-free, though you will want to double check the ingredient label to double check before using if you are avoiding gluten.
If you want to keep it simple or don't know what gluten ingredients to look for on a label, just grab Ore-Ida's tater tots with the "gluten-free" label on them.
Can you use sweet potato tater tots in this recipe?
Yes, you most definitely can use sweet potato tater tots in this recipe. I love sweet potatoes with Mexican seasonings so the flavor combo will be delicious!
How do you make this taco casserole?
First: Preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix up all the seasonings in a small bowl to create your taco seasoning.
Second: Heat up the olive oil in a cast iron skillet or large non-stick skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Once it's hot enough to sputter when flicked with water, add the onions and peppers.
Third: Saute the onions and peppers for 4-5 minutes, or until the onions are translucent and the peppers are softening.
Fourth: Add the turkey and seasonings to the onions and peppers and cook for 4-5 more minutes, stirring and crumbling the turkey as you cook, or until the turkey is cooked through and crumbled.
Fifth: Add the drained beans and the salsa and bring the mixture to a simmer. Continue simmering, stirring occasionally, for 5-7 minutes, or until the liquid has evaporated and the mixture has thickened.
Sixth: remove the skillet from the heat. If using a cast-iron skillet, sprinkle the cheese over the turkey and bean base. Then scatter hash browns on top (they won't be touching).
If you're not using a cast-iron or oven-safe pan, pour the turkey into a greased non-stick 8 x 13" cake pan and then scatter with cheese and hashbrowns.
Seventh: Bake the casserole for 22-25 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and starting to turn golden around the edges and the hash browns are crisp. Remove the casserole from the oven and serve hot with your favorite taco toppings!
Tools needed for this recipe:
- Cutting board
- Chef Knife (seriously, such an amazing deal for a great knife!)
- Small mixing bowl
- Measuring spoons & cups
- 12" cast-iron skillet
- Heat-safe spatula or turner
What if you don't have a cast-iron skillet?
A cast-iron skillet makes this recipe super easy, but no fear if you don't have one. Just cook up the turkey and beans in a large non-stick skillet and then pour them into a greased 8 x 13" pan before layering the cheese and tater tots on top.
Bake the casserole according to the recipe directions, or until the cheese is melted and turning golden brown around the edges and the tater tots are crispy!
What do you serve with tater tot casserole?
This casserole is very filling on its own. It can be nice to round your meal out with a few lighter sides, however. Here are some of my favorites!
- A light green salad with ranch or chipotle ranch dressing
- Air fried green beans
- Grilled asparagus
- Roasted broccoli
- A glass of sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio
- A bottle of Mexican lager beer (like Dos Equis, Pacifico, or Corona)
Other Mexican inspired recipes you might like:
- Taco Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
- Healthier Taco Mac and Cheese
- Mexican Chicken Marinade
- Black Bean Breakfast Enchiladas
- Sheet Pan Chicken Fajitas
- Peach Avocado Salsa
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This Taco Tater Tot Casserole is the best of both worlds: perfectly spicy and homey while being a healthier version of the more classic casserole.
Make it in a cast-iron skillet to make this casserole a one-pot recipe, or pour your taco filling in a greased 8x13" pan before topping with cheese and tater tots and baking.
This casserole cooks quickly so measure out all your ingredients ahead of time for best recipe success.
- Homemade Taco Seasoning:
- 1 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
- 3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/8-1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Tater Tot Casserole:
- 1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 large white or yellow onion, diced
- 1 large sweet pepper (red, orange, or yellow), seeded and diced
- 1 pound ground turkey (or ground beef)
- 1 cup salsa
- 1, 15 oz. can black beans or pinto beans, drained and rinsed
- 2 cups reduced-fat shredded Mexican cheese blend
- 2 1/2 cups frozen tater tots
- Your favorite taco toppings: sour cream, extra cheese, cilantro, black olives, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, etc.
1. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. In a small bowl combine the chili powder, garlic powder, salt, onion powder, cumin, paprika, oregano, and cayenne pepper.
3. Heat the olive oil in a 12" cast iron or another non-stick skillet over medium or medium-high heat, or until the oil sputters when flicked with water.
4. Add the onion and sweet pepper to the skillet and saute for 4 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds or so, or until the onions are translucent and the peppers are softening.
5. Add the turkey and bowl of seasonings to the onions and peppers and saute for 4-5 minutes, stirring and breaking up the turkey as you cook, or until the turkey is crumbled and cooked through and the mixture is fragrant.
6. Add the salsa and drained beans to the turkey mixture and stir until combined. Bring the ingredients to a boil and cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring every 1-2 minutes, or until the liquid has evaporated and the mixture is thickened.
7. Remove the pan from the heat. If using a cast-iron skillet, sprinkle the cheese evenly over the turkey and then scatter the tater tots evenly on top (there should be about 1" gaps between them). If using a non-stick or non-oven safe skillet, pour the turkey into a greased 8 x 13" baking dish and sprinkle evenly with cheese and then tater tots.
8. Bake the casserole for 22-25 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the tater tots are crispy. Remove from the oven and serve hot with your favorite taco toppings!
1. Mexican dried oregano is best for this recipe, but Mediterranean oregano (most commonly found here in the states) also works just fine.
2. If you're using a premade taco seasoning instead of the homemade, substitute 1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons of the premade seasoning in place of the homemade spice blend.
3. Use your favorite flavor of tomato salsa. I love pineapple salsa in this recipe, but classic tomato salsa, tomatillo salsa, or even peach salsa would be delicious in this recipe.
4. If you don't have Mexican cheese blend, you can also use cheddar cheese or queso chihuahua, a classic Mexican white cheese that melts well.
5. Leftovers of this recipe last for 4-5 days covered int the refrigerator. For best results, reheat individual servings of the casserole in a toaster oven on low for 2-3 minutes or the oven at 300 for 5-6 minutes, or until warmed through and the tater tots re-crisp a bit.
Serving Size1/8 of casserole without any extra taco toppings
Amount Per Serving Calories 454Total Fat 25gSaturated Fat 8gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 14gCholesterol 87mgSodium 979mgCarbohydrates 32gFiber 6gSugar 3gProtein 28g
This nutrition breakdown is just an estimate of the nutritional value of this recipe and cannot be taken as facts. The owners of Mae's Menu are not nutritionists or dieticians and therefore cannot be held accountable for this nutrition estimate. Please contact your nutritionist or medical professional for a nutritional breakdown of this food. Furthermore, this food is not intended to prevent, diagnose, cure, or treat any disease.