Lightened-Up Shepherd’s Pie

This lightened-up shepherd’s pie is made with lean ground turkey and cauliflower mash but still serves up all the cozy comfort that you get with a traditional shepherd’s pie. 

overhead photo of a bowl of shepherd's pie

Lightened-Up Shepherd’s Pie

A few years ago I visited a grass-fed beef farm, got some ground beef and then proceeded to make a decadent shepherd’s pie with a rich and savory filling topped with creamy mashed potatoes. It’s since become one of the most popular recipes on the blog, especially this time of year when it’s cold and warm and cozy dinners are top of mind. And they’re top of mind for me, but I also sit here post-holiday feeling a little heavier and sluggish than I did before all the twinkle lights came out last month. So, I played around with my shepherd’s pie recipe and gave it a little-healthified spin.

If you’ve been following along for a while you already know I’m not exactly known for healthy or otherwise “lightened-up” recipes. I’m not also one to jump on trendy food wagons like cauliflower rice or other kitchen trickery that magically turns veggies into dishes that look like their more carb-laden counterparts. But, in the last year, I’ve dabbled a bit with healthy sorcery going as far as to include a cauliflower mash recipe in my cookbook and with the New Year upon us, I figured there’s no time like the present to find a balance.

How to Make Cauliflower Mash

So, I’ll start with the biggest change in the original recipe: replacing mashed potatoes with cauliflower mash. And while I changed out the veggies I didn’t change out much else because I believe you can still have a little decadence with your cauliflower, so you’ll note that there’s not a whole lot of fat-free dairy in this recipe. We still get real butter, milk, and sour cream but without all the starchy potatoes.

photo collage showing steps for making the cauliflower mash

  • I recommend making the cauliflower mash first and setting aside while you make the filling. This is what I did because I didn’t want the stress of managing multiple pans and steps at the same time.
  • I used two medium heads of cauliflower, which is a lot of cauliflower. Once the mash is made it makes a thick topping for the filling, which I enjoyed, but you can cut the cauliflower mash part in half if you want to go lighter on the topping.
  • Start by boiling the florets until they are fork tender. Mine took about 15ish minutes.
  • Drain them and then put them back in the same pot. I like to give them a good mash before adding the other ingredients. Once they’re broken down add the butter, sour cream, and 2% milk and mash them until they resemble mashed potatoes. Mine still had quite a bit of texture and weren’t completely smooth. Season them with salt and pepper and then set the pot aside while you make the filling.

How to Make the Filling

And the filling is a similar song with just a couple ingredient changes and it all comes together in one pan.

photo collage showing steps in how to make the filling

  • It starts with some butter. Add chopped onions, garlic, carrots and dried rosemary and cook them until they start to soften.
  • Sprinkle some flour over the top, stir it all together and then add some vegetable stock. The flour will help thicken the stock a bit as it simmers.
  • I used lean ground turkey instead of beef and added it to the veggies along with salt and pepper. Cook the turkey until it’s no longer pink.
  • Add frozen peas, give it all a good stir and transfer it to a baking dish.
  • Spoon the cauliflower mash over the top, pop it in a 375°F oven and bake it until it’s bubbly hot around the edges. I like to move it under the broiler for a few minutes at the end to toast the cauliflower on top, but this is totally optional.

photo of a shepherds pie in a baking dish

In the end, this lightened-up shepherd’s pie is about 200ish calories less than the original. Will I still make the original? Of course, but this version with a few healthy substitutions is one to indulge in a little more often, plus the leftovers keep well so it’s good if you’re into the whole meal prepping thing.

I think it’s a great balance – cozy and comforting like the original with a dose of good-for-you substitutions.

Happy cauliflower-mashing!

overhead photo of shepherd's pie

More Lightened-Up Dinner Recipes

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Orange Chicken

Zucchini Turkey Meatballs with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce


Lightened-Up Shepherd’s Pie

lightened-up shepherd's pie

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This lightened-up shepherd’s pie has cauliflower mash instead of potatoes and lean ground turkey instead of beef, but still serves up all the cozy comfort on a cold night.

  • Author: April @ Girl Gone Gourmet
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 50 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings 1x
  • Category: Dinner
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American



For the Cauliflower Mash

  • 2 heads cauliflower, cut into florets (see note)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup 2% milk
  • 1 1/4 cups grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

For the Filling

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 large carrots, diced
  • 4 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup vegetable stock
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup frozen peas


How to Make the Cauliflower Mash

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Boil the cauliflower florets for 10 to 15 minutes or until the are fork tender. Drain the florets and place them back in the same pot. Lower the heat to medium-low heat and, using a potato masher, mash the florets until they have broken down.
  2. Add the butter, sour cream and milk. Continue mashing the cauliflower until the butter is melted and the milk and sour cream are combined. Add 1 cup of grated Parmesan cheese and mash again until it’s melted into the cauliflower. Give it a good stir and remove the pot from the heat and set it aside while you make the filling.

How to Make the Filling

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  2. In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions, carrots, garlic and rosemary and cook them in the butter until they start to soften about five minutes.
  3. Add the turkey, salt and pepper. Cook the turkey, breaking it up with your spatula, until it’s no longer pink, about five minutes or so.
  4. Sprinkle the flour over the top of the turkey and vegetables. Add the vegetable stock and Worcestershire sauce. Stir and bring it all to a simmer until the vegetable stock starts to thicken a bit, about five minutes. Add the frozen peas and stir to combine.
  5. Transfer the filling to a baking dish. Spoon the cauliflower mash over the top and smooth it into an even layer. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese over the top. Bake the shepherd’s pie for 15 to 20 minutes or until it’s bubbling around the edges. If you want to toast the top turn the oven to broil and place the baking dish under it. Broil it for a few minutes or until the cauliflower mash turns golden in spots.


  • This recipe is heavy on the cauliflower mash, so if you want a little less I recommend cutting the cauliflower mash part of the recipe in half. This will yield enough mash to top your shepherd’s pie with a thin layer.


  • Calories: 556
  • Sugar: 13.5g
  • Fat: 31.2g
  • Carbohydrates: 32.1g
  • Fiber: 9g
  • Protein: 41.4g

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