Healthier-for-You Mac and Cheese Recipe (& 3 Ways to Customize!)
Mac and cheese is often high in fat and refined carbs, meaning ample calories with little nutrition. Prep our healthy recipe for more of the good, less of the bad, and all of the flavor you love!
For many, Macaroni and Cheese is a classic, all-American dish that evokes childhood nostalgia. However, this savory delight often poses unsavory consequences for dieters, as it is traditionally high in fat and refined carbohydrates that confer calories with little nutritional value.
Use the following healthy mac and cheese recipe as an alternative to the tried and true preparation method. To customize your recipe further based on your dietary preferences, choose from one of the additional variants for creamy comfort food that is sure to satisfy your appetite and your nutritional needs!
Light Mac and Cheese Recipe
In this healthy mac and cheese recipe, white pasta is replaced with whole wheat pasta for a nutrient boost. Hypercaloric cream, butter, and full-fat cheese are replaced with reduced-fat cheddar and zesty, nonfat Greek yogurt.
Yield: 6 servings
Nutrition per serving: 130 calories, 2 g fat, 11 g protein, 18 g total carb, 2 g fiber
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes
• 4 oz whole wheat macaroni
• 1/2 cup onion-garlic puree
• 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
• Cayenne pepper to taste
• 1 cup shredded, reduced-fat cheddar
• 1/3 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
• 1/4 cup whole wheat panko bread crumbs
• 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1. Preheat your oven to 425°F. Coat an 8x8" baking dish with cooking spray.
2. Boil a large pot of salted water. Add in macaroni and cook according to package directions; drain.
3. In a small saucepan over medium heat, simmer the onion-garlic puree, mustard, and cayenne. Add in cheddar and whisk until melted. Remove from heat and add in yogurt.
4. In a medium bowl, combine the macaroni with the cheese sauce and sprinkle with salt to taste. Add the mixture to the baking dish. Sprinkle panko crumbs on the top and finish with a garnish of Parmesan cheese.
5. Bake the macaroni for approximately 10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the macaroni is heated through.
Mac and Cheese Variations
Whether looking for a gluten-free option or one packed with veggies, these variations have mac and cheese preferences covered!
Low Carb, High Protein Option
Replacing whole wheat macaroni with tenderized cauliflower florets and adding chopped chicken breast affords low-carb dieters a healthy mac and cheese recipe that is also protein-packed.
To prepare cauliflower mac and cheese, follow the light mac and cheese recipe above, but forego the macaroni and the panko bread crumbs. Instead, tenderize one head of cauliflower (chopped in florets) in boiling water for five minutes. Then, transfer the cauliflower to the baking dish along with chopped, cooked chicken and the cheese sauce. Combine the ingredients in the baking dish and bake until the cauliflower is cooked through.
By swapping macaroni with gluten-free pasta, and replacing panko with gluten-free puffed rice cereal, gluten-sensitive dieters can enjoy this classic dish without compromising their diet principles.
To prepare gluten-free mac and cheese, follow the light mac and cheese recipe above, but replace the whole wheat macaroni with gluten-free penne pasta that is cooked until al dente. Replace the panko bread crumbs with crushed gluten-free puffed rice cereal for a crisp and crunchy bite. Bake until the penne is hot throughout. Ensure that any other ingredients used in the recipe are gluten-free and were not cross-contaminated with gluten-filled ingredients.
Veggie Lover's Option
To infuse your healthy mac and cheese with zest, spice, and aroma, add vibrant, roasted vegetables and red pepper flakes into your dish. Add cut-up chicken, steak, or shrimp to further elevate its nutritional profile.
To prepare a hearty macaroni and cheese with vegetables, follow the light mac and cheese recipe above. In addition, bake an assortment of colorful vegetables like broccoli florets, diced red pepper, diced yellow squash, and baby carrots in a foil-coated baking dish for 20 minutes at 400°F. Combine the vegetables with the pasta and cheese mixture, along with the crushed red pepper flakes. Bake until the macaroni is heated throughout.