Planning meals ahead of time is a good way to watch what you eat, according to Food Columnist Judi Leaming, who shares recipes for Chicken and Celery Casserole, Pecan Rice, and Shrimp and Wild Rice Casserole.

It isn’t always easy to stick with our low cholesterol diet … especially when I need to prepare a quick supper. Back in my Weight Watchers days I quickly discovered that the best way to stick to a diet was to have meals planned — and supplies purchased in advance — so as to avoid the temptation of quick meals loaded with fat, calories and cholesterol.

I regularly substitute low-fat cream cheese and sour cream for the whole product. After all, I do want meals to have plenty of flavor so I choose to make cuts and substitutions when I can. Because we’ve almost eliminated beef from our diet, I find it necessary but challenging to prepare chicken in a lot of different ways. I found the recipe for this Chicken and Celery Casserole, and I was astounded that something so easily prepared could be so flavorful. The Pecan Rice is a wonderful accompaniment for this that is enhanced by the sauce from the chicken.

This Paula Deen recipe for Shrimp and Wild Rice Casserole came into our household when I was trying to use just what was available in our freezer and pantry. We had frozen chicken breasts and frozen shrimp in the freezer so using Google as a search engine, I quickly discovered this Paula recipe that calls for using a mere 2 tablespoons of butter. This also has earned a grandchild’s seal of approval.

Chicken and Celery Casserole
(recipe adapted from six ingredients or less)
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Salt and pepper (optional)
4-ounces cream cheese, softened
1 (10.75-ounce) can cream of celery soup
1/2 teaspoon celery salt

Rinse chicken and pat dry. Place in lightly greased shallow baking dish and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place softened cream cheese in a small mixer bowl and blend; mix in soup and celery salt until smooth. Evenly spread over the chicken breast halves. Sprinkle generously with paprika. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 40 to 45 minutes until tender. Serve chicken and sauce over Pecan Rice.

Pecan Rice
(recipe adapted from
1 cup brown rice or mixed whole grain rice (not instant!)
2 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup finely chopped sweet onion
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
2 tablespoons minced parsley
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt

In a saucepan, bring broth to a boil and stir in rice. Reduce heat to low and stir. Cover and simmer for 40 to 45 minutes until broth is absorbed. Prepare seasoning by combining remaining ingredients in a small skillet. Sauté until the onions are tender and stir into cooked rice. Serves 4 to 6.

Shrimp and Wild Rice Casserole
(recipe courtesy of Paula Deen)
1 (8-ounce) package wild rice
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined (or frozen and quickly thawed)
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped (optional)
1/2 of a sweet onion, chopped
1 (10 3/4-ounce can) condensed cream of mushroom soup
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese

Prepare the rice according to the package directions minus 1/4 cup of the water that is called for. Drain and cool. To cook shrimp: Bring 2 cups of water and 1/2 tablespoon of salt to a boil in a medium saucepan and cook the shrimp for just 1 minute. Drain immediately and set aside. Heat the butter in a saucepan and sauté the pepper (if using) and onion until soft — about 5 minutes. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl combine the prepared rice, soup, 1 1/2 cups of the cheese, shrimp and sautéed vegetables. If desired, add salt and pepper to taste. Gently mix ingredients together. Spray a 9-inch baking dish or an 11-x-7-inch baking dish casserole with vegetable spray. Spoon the prepared mixture into the pan and top with remaining 1/2 cup of cheese. Bake for 30 minutes until bubbly. Serves 6 to 8.