This Healthy Baked Ziti is a hearty pasta dish with meat sauce and gooey cheese baked on top. Your family is going to obsess over this Italian-American comfort food made in just 35 minutes.
Table of Contents
About this Pasta
This baked pasta dish is full of lasagna flavors, but frankly way easier. Less time consuming and less labor intensive. Perfect for an easy weeknight dinner and a definite win in my book.
I’m calling it “healthy” as it’s made with low fat beef, less cheese and added veggies as compared to the classic dish. This doesn’t mean it’s not delicious though. Your family won’t be able to tell the difference and likely will be asking for more.
This recipe is also easily customizable to fit all your wants and needs. More veggies? Different meat? No meat? Dairy free? Keep reading to learn how you can make this Healthy Baked Ziti your own. And if you’re looking for more delicious weeknight pasta dishes, also try this Chicken Goulash, this Pizza Gnocchi Bake, or this One Pot Alfredo that I think you’ll love, too!
- Ziti Noodles: This pasta is tube shaped, cut with flat ends. I recommend using regular pasta noodles as plant based options did not hold up as well in recipe testing.
- Ground Beef: There is plenty of flavor in this dish, so I opted for lean beef (96% lean) to keep the dish on the healthier side.
- Veggies: We will sauté spinach (fresh or frozen!) and white onions into the meat sauce.
- Sauce: Use your tomato sauce of choice here. I chose vodka sauce because it's my fav.
See the recipe card below for a full list of ingredients and measurements.
Substitutions and Variations
Noodles: This is a ZITI dish and I used Barilla noodles, but penne, cavatappi, bowtie, or fusilli are also good options. Your favorite pasta variety will work here, just be sure to cook it first.
Meat: I used lean ground beef. Ground turkey or ground chicken will also work You can also leave out the meat to make this a vegetarian dish or add a can of drained and rinsed chickpeas to up the protein a bit more.
Veggies: I included onions and spinach in my dish. Mushrooms, diced bell pepper, diced zucchini or diced eggplant I think would also be tasty options.
Pasta Sauce: Use your favorite sauce. I used Vodka sauce because I love it and it’s what I had on hand, but any jarred tomato sauce will do. Rao’s Roasted Garlic Tomato Sauce is also so delicious in this dish.
Cheese: Choose a cheese that melts well. Shredded provolone, gruyère, or a mild cheddar could work in place of mozzarella.
How to Make This Recipe
1. Start by preparing the noodles. Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook ziti pasta according to boxed instructions. Once cooked, strain and set aside.
2. Heat a large skillet to medium heat. Add oil and minced garlic to the skillet and sauté until fragrant. Add the ground beef and allow to brown. Break up the meat as it cooks.
3. Add in the Italian seasoning, diced white onions, and chopped spinach. Stir together. Cook until onions are translucent and beef is fully cooked.
4. Add pasta sauce to the meat mixture and mix together. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
5. Spray a 3 quart dish with cooking spray. Add cooked ziti noodles into the casserole dish. Pour the meat/sauce mixture over the noodles. Stir.
6. Top with both cheeses and cover with tinfoil. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the cheese is melted. If desired remove foil and broil the dish for 1-2 minutes until golden and bubble. Enjoy!
Do not skip the tin foil on top. Adding a piece of foil ensures the dish does not dry out during the baking process.
Cook your noodles al dente. This will help avoid the pasta from becoming too mushy once you bake the dish.
If your skillet is large enough and oven safe, you can add the noodles right to the skillet, top it with cheese and bake the entire thing without having to dirty another pan.
Store this dish in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Reheat in the microwave (covered to avoid splattering!) for 60-90 seconds before enjoying.
You can also freeze an already baked ziti for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight and reheat individual portions in the microwave or thaw in the oven directly from frozen for ~30 minutes at 350°F.
You can assemble this ziti up to a day ahead of time and store the unbaked, assembled dish in the refrigerator. Bake the dish straight from the fridge and add ~10 minutes of baking time.
Both ziti and penne are tube shaped. The difference between them is that penne has diagonally cut ends, whereas ziti is cut flat.
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Healthy Baked Ziti
- Sauce pot
- Cutting Board
- Baking Dish
- Meat spatula
- cheese grater if cheese not already shredded
- 9x12 casserole dish
- Tin foil
- 8 oz box ziti pasta, see note below if box is 12 oz
- 1 lbs lean ground beef, 96% lean
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ tbsp oil
- ½ tbsp Italian seasoning
- pinch red pepper flakes, optional
- ½ cup white onion, diced
- 1 cup spinach, fresh or frozen
- 26 oz pasta sauce of choice, I used vodka sauce
- ⅔ cup low fat shredded mozzarella
- ½ cup shredded parmesan
- Start by preparing the noodles. Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook ziti pasta according to boxed instructions. Once cooked, strain and set aside.
- Heat a large skillet to medium heat. Add oil and minced garlic to the skillet and sauté until fragrant. Add the ground beef and allow to brown. Break up the meat as it cooks.
- Add in the Italian seasoning, diced white onions, and chopped spinach. Stir together. Cook until onions are translucent and beef is fully cooked.
- Add pasta sauce to the meat mixture and mix together. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Spray a 3 quart dish with cooking spray. Add cooked ziti noodles into the casserole dish.
- Pour the meat sauce over the noodles. Stir.
- Top with both cheeses and cover with tinfoil. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the cheese is melted. If desired remove foil and broil the dish for 1-2 minutes until golden and bubble. Enjoy!
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