Healthy Macaroni and Cheese: Recipe Makeover

by Anjali @ The Picky Eater on August 27, 2013

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I LOVE Macaroni and Cheese.

The husband reallllly loves Macaroni and Cheese.

And don’t get me wrong, it’s a great once-in-a-while-guilty-pleasure sort of dish. There’s just something so comforting about that cheesy, warm, gooey, starchy goodness that just makes you happy.

But I was tired of only having Mac & Cheese in moderation. I wanted to make it a full dinner, but without the extra fat and calories of the original. (Oh and let me be clear, when I’m talking about Mac & Cheese I’m talking about homemade / from scratch – not the boxed versions which don’t count as real Mac & Cheese :) )

So I scoured the web for recipes to see if I could find some inspiration. I came across this recipe on CookingLight and thought it was the perfect starting point. I made a few modifications (my modified recipe is below), and it turned out just like the original – super cheesy and flavorful!

Most Mac & Cheese recipes use the following ingredients:

ingredients

I lightened up this recipe by using less of the higher-fat ingredients, and substituting in whole grains and vegetables.

My Ingredient List

  • 8 ounces whole-wheat elbow noodles, (2 cups)
  • 1 10-ounce package frozen chopped broccoli (or fresh broccoli florets – cut small)
  • 1 10oz bag of baby spinach or baby kale (optional)
  • 2-3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 1 3/4 cups 1% milk, divided
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3/4 cup shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard (omit if you don’t like the flavor of mustard)
  • Optional: 1/8-1/4 tsp crushed red pepper (to give it some kick!)

The Directions

Step 1: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions.

Step 2: Add frozen (or fresh) broccoli to a pan over medium heat, saute with minced garlic, crushed red pepper, and a pinch of salt until slightly tender. Add kale/spinach towards the end and cook until the greens are wilted.

Step 3: Meanwhile, heat 1 1/2 cups milk in another large pot over medium-high heat until just simmering. Whisk the remaining 1/4 cup milk, flour, garlic powder, salt and pepper in a small bowl until combined. Add the flour mixture to the simmering milk; return to a simmer and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture is thickened, 2 to 3 minutes.

Step 4: Remove from the heat and whisk in Cheddar, Parmesan and mustard until the cheese is melted.

Step 5: Drain the pasta and add to the cheese sauce. Add your veggies into the pasta mixture, and heat through (on low heat) until everything is combined.

Optional: Sprinkle some black pepper on top before serving. 

This recipe makes 6 huge servings, and each serving has only ~250 calories, ~8g fat, ~7g fiber and ~14g protein!

Now that’s a Mac & Cheese recipe I can get behind! Oh and did I mention, the husband loved it too :)

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Healthy Mac & Cheese Makeover

Total Time: 40 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Serving Size: 1.5 cups

Calories per serving: 252

Fat per serving: 8.2g

Nutritional Info Per Serving: 252 Calories, 8.2g Fat, 536mg Sodium, 30.9g Carbs, 7g Fiber, 5g Sugars, 14.5g Protein

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces whole-wheat elbow noodles, (2 cups)
  • 1 10-ounce package frozen chopped broccoli (or fresh broccoli florets - cut small)
  • 1 10oz bag of baby spinach or baby kale (optional)
  • 2-3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 1 3/4 cups 1% milk, divided
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3/4 cup shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard (omit if you don't like the flavor of mustard)
  • Optional: 1/8-1/4 tsp crushed red pepper (to give it some kick!)

Directions

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions.
  2. Add frozen (or fresh) broccoli to a pan over medium heat, saute with minced garlic, crushed red pepper, and a pinch of salt until slightly tender. Add kale/spinach towards the end and cook until the greens are wilted.
  3. Meanwhile, heat 1 1/2 cups milk in another large pot over medium-high heat until just simmering. Whisk the remaining 1/4 cup milk, flour, garlic powder, salt and pepper in a small bowl until combined. Add the flour mixture to the simmering milk; return to a simmer and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture is thickened, 2 to 3 minutes.
  4. Remove from the heat and whisk in Cheddar, Parmesan and mustard until the cheese is melted.
  5. Drain the pasta and add to the cheese sauce. Add your veggies into the pasta mixture, and heat through (on low heat) until everything is combined.
  6. Optional: Sprinkle some black pepper on top before serving.

Notes

Adapted from CookingLight

http://pickyeaterblog.com/healthy-macaroni-and-cheese-recipe-makeover/

 

{ 50 comments… read them below or add one }

eatlivetravelwrite September 28, 2009 at 3:46 am

Oh I love M+C but also rarely eat it. This version looks not only easy to make but healthy enough to indulge!

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Anjali @ The Picky Eater September 30, 2009 at 9:29 pm

It totally is!! I’m just like you – I love M&C but I rarely eat it because it’s so unhealthy for you. This one is delicious and tastes just as good as the original. Enjoy!

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Nat August 26, 2012 at 4:41 pm

My daughter is a very un-healthy eater, she does not like sauce or dip, are there any alternatives for musterd? or can I make it without?

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Anjali @ The Picky Eater August 26, 2012 at 9:29 pm

Hi Nat! I think you can actually leave the mustard out and it will probably taste just as good. Maybe add a bit of extra pepper so you get some more flavor in, if you leave the mustard out. Let me know how it turns out for you, I’d love to know if your daughter likes it!

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Nat August 27, 2012 at 7:28 am

Thank you, she will be relieved that she does not have to have mustard. I would be more than happy to tell you if she likes.

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Anjali @ The Picky Eater August 27, 2012 at 9:37 pm

Awesome – looking forward to it!

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Nat August 29, 2012 at 4:40 pm

She LOVED the mac & cheese! She not only had fun helping me make it, but she can not wait to have it again! Thank you! (:

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Anjali @ The Picky Eater August 30, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Oh hooray!! That’s great news :) So happy to hear that Nat!

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Tracey January 2, 2013 at 2:52 pm

I just made this and it’s delicious!! Thanks a lot! Great source of protein and fibre :)

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Anjali @ The Picky Eater January 7, 2013 at 8:07 am

Awesome!! So glad you liked this recipe Tracey!

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Brittney July 28, 2013 at 4:53 pm

My wife and I made this for dinner tonight. I used 14 oz of frozen broccoli instead of 10 oz and did frozen spinach instead of fresh. It was delicious and so satisfying! My wife (who is very much like your husband) LOVED IT! yay, so happy! Thank you so much for this recipe!

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Anjali @ The Picky Eater August 1, 2013 at 8:17 pm

Yayyy!! That is so great! Really happy to hear that Brittney! :)

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Maria Tadic August 27, 2013 at 10:13 am

This looks great! I always lighten up pasta dishes by adding tons of veggies! You feel like you’re eating something guilty and at the same time getting a bowl full of veggies!

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Anjali @ The Picky Eater August 27, 2013 at 7:39 pm

Yes!! That’s exactly my philosophy too :) Can’t wait for you to try this Maria!

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Rachel August 27, 2013 at 12:21 pm

Mac + cheese with broccoli is one of my favorite combinations ever. Seriously, childhood staple. Definitely going to try this lightened up version!

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Anjali @ The Picky Eater August 27, 2013 at 7:41 pm

Yay! Yeah something about cheese and broccoli together is just so delicious :) I’m sure you’ll love this recipe Rachel!

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dixya| food, pleasure, and health August 27, 2013 at 1:16 pm

I will try the lighter version soon :)

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Anjali @ The Picky Eater August 27, 2013 at 7:40 pm

Great!! Let me know how you like it Dixya!

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Lucy August 27, 2013 at 3:05 pm

Ha ha ha. I am the opposite, I love the vegetables and looking for ways to make them more filling. This looks great!

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Anjali @ The Picky Eater August 27, 2013 at 7:42 pm

Hahaha! That’s really funny :) This recipe should be perfect for you then Lucy! Let me know how it turns out!

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porcelina August 28, 2013 at 12:01 am

This looks SO much more enticing than normal macaroni cheese! I am not a fan of dishes that don’t have vegetables in them, pasta and cheese on reminds me of depressing student food. But this looks lovely, so I might have to give it a go.

P x

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Anjali @ The Picky Eater August 28, 2013 at 8:30 am

Thanks Porcelina! And I’m totally with you — I never eat a meal without fruits/veggies in it. I figured this classic dish could use some dressing up with healthy green veggies! Can’t wait to hear how you like this recipe!

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Jess August 28, 2013 at 12:48 am

Definitely going to have to try this! My go-to recipe for mac and cheese uses cauliflower (http://thebaguettediet.wordpress.com/2013/08/05/healthy-macaroni-and-cheese-with-cauliflower/) but I love the idea of using broccoli and spinach too…it would make the dish a bit more colorful, too! Thanks for sharing :)

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Anjali @ The Picky Eater August 28, 2013 at 8:34 am

Using cauliflower is a great idea! And actually, if you puree the cauliflower and add it to the cheese sauce, it’s a great way to sneak in veggies for people who are super veggie-phobic :) You can do the same thing with butternut squash too! Thanks for sharing your recipe!

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Jackie Landon August 30, 2013 at 7:07 pm

O that looks delicious! Might have to add some carrots too!

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Anjali @ The Picky Eater August 31, 2013 at 8:44 am

Oooh! Carrots would be great in this! :)

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Melanie @ Just Some Salt and Pepper August 31, 2013 at 9:17 pm

Mmmm, love mac and cheese, but feel the same way you do about the calories and fat. Thanks for the recipe!

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Anjali @ The Picky Eater September 5, 2013 at 4:40 pm

Thanks Melanie!! I can’t wait for you to try this at home!

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Carolyn September 1, 2013 at 5:22 pm

wow I just calculated 6 WW points, definitely looking forward to making this, thank you!

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Anjali @ The Picky Eater September 5, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Oh that’s awesome Carolyn!! I’m sure you’ll love this recipe – let me know how it turns out!

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Julia September 5, 2013 at 8:41 pm

This looks sensational. Everyone loves Mac n Cheese. By making a tasty and healthy alternative, you get to both enjoy the food you love and keep your body strong and feeling great. The addition of shredded sharp cheddar cheese was a wonderful idea.

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Anjali @ The Picky Eater September 5, 2013 at 11:04 pm

Thanks so much Julia!! You’ll have to let me know if you end up trying this recipe — sharp cheddar cheese is one of my favs! :)

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Robin B. November 4, 2013 at 12:40 pm

Could you Substitute DREAMSFIELDS instead of the whole wheat ?

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Anjali @ The Picky Eater November 4, 2013 at 12:48 pm

Sure! I’ve never actually used Dreamsfields before, but I’d assume it would cook the same and taste the same as the whole wheat :)

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Christina November 13, 2013 at 9:42 pm

Just wanted you to know that I scoured the internet today for healthier mac-n-cheese recipes. I read through at least a dozen from professional chefs, food magazine websites, and blogs; and yours won! It looks delicious, simple, doesn’t have any strange or really expensive ingredients, and it’s clearly healthier than the regular version. I can’t wait to try it – thanks for sharing! :)

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Anjali @ The Picky Eater November 17, 2013 at 5:20 pm

Oh wow! Thank you so much Christina!! :) I can’t wait for you to try this recipe – you’ll have to let me know how it turned out!

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rg December 8, 2013 at 7:59 pm

I love your site. It has the most delicious recipes! I have to ask you where you got your beautiful white dishes though. I’ve been looking everywhere and these look so perfect. Great photography of the mac and cheese. Thanks.

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Anjali @ The Picky Eater December 9, 2013 at 11:51 am

Awww thank you so much!! Our dishes are pretty old – but I’m pretty sure we got them at Crate & Barrel :) Hope that helps! Let me know if you end up trying this recipe!

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Hayley December 19, 2013 at 8:12 pm

Thanks a bunch for the great recipe! Gave you a little shout because it was so awesome! I ate it all in two days haha. Magically delicious!

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Anjali @ The Picky Eater December 21, 2013 at 11:35 am

Yay!! So glad you liked it Hayley — and thanks so much for the shout out! :)

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Chanel January 12, 2014 at 4:10 pm

Delicious! I didn’t use garlic powder, substituted 1% for skim! and used mozzarella cheese for the cheddar and it came out amazing! Still goes and cheesy, also added in some plant protein (can’t cook without that protein !!) and I couldn’t even taste it! Yummy.

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Anjali @ The Picky Eater January 17, 2014 at 10:52 pm

Love all the substitutions you made Chanel!! They all sound awesome :) Thanks for sharing!!

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Rachael February 6, 2014 at 11:17 am

Coul I substitute the 1% milk with almond or coconut milk?

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Anjali @ The Picky Eater February 6, 2014 at 2:37 pm

Hi Rachael! I’m not sure the almond or coconut milk would simmer properly or have the right consistency for the sauce. My guess is that it wouldn’t, so I’d recommend using regular milk if you can!

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Akansha April 11, 2014 at 12:54 pm

Its almost the end of lent and I was getting tired of the same boring meals when I stumbled upon this gem of recipe. It was so yummy! I also added some diced up zucchini and squash because they were on hand and I needed to use them up.
By the way, I love all your pictures of food! They all look so good that it motivates me to eat clean!

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Anjali @ The Picky Eater April 14, 2014 at 4:02 pm

Oh great!! I love the idea of adding some diced zucchini and squash to this recipe too :) Thanks for letting me know, and I’m so happy that my recipes and photos are motivating you to eat healthier!

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Julia May 10, 2014 at 6:31 am

Best. Mac’n’Cheese. Ever.
I always liked the gooey-ness and creaminess of M&C, but it somehow always felt too heavy and over-flavored. This sauce with less cheese and light milk is so much better, still flavorful and creamy, but not overpowering and goes very well with the veggies (I used broccoli and cauliflower and a small diced jalapeno for extra kick). Plus this is sooo easy to make and super filling! Will totally be added to my “quick-but-yummy-weeknight-meals”-list :D

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Anjali @ The Picky Eater May 10, 2014 at 1:13 pm

Woohoo! That is awesome Julia – I’m so happy to hear that! Love the addition of the jalapeño and cauliflower too!

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Victor June 18, 2014 at 10:51 pm

O that looks delicious! Thank you very much for the recipe!

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Anjali @ The Picky Eater June 19, 2014 at 10:20 am

No problem! Hope you like it when you try it!

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