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Hello! I’m Anjali. I’m a board certified health coach, author, wife, mom and food lover from the SF Bay area (now living in Seattle, WA!); with a passion for delicious food and a desire to make healthy eating easy, tasty and fun! Learn more about me here and stay for a while!

Anjali Shah

Healthy Mac and Cheese (Recipe Makeover)

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Healthy Mac and Cheese is the comfort food you have been craving! It’s so creamy and decadent, and is filled with whole wheat macaroni, veggies, and a rich, cheesy sauce. It’s lower in calories and fat than your typical mac and cheese recipe, but still super satisfying and absolutely delicious!

healthy mac and cheese with broccoli served in a white bowl

Who says that comfort food has to be unhealthy? I have found with playing around with the ingredients; you can create a homestyle healthier mac and cheese that tastes similar to like it did when you were growing up.

Trust me, if you have been on the hunt for a healthier version of mac and cheese, you have found it and are going to love this recipe!

Latest Recipe Video!

Don’t get me wrong, traditional mac and cheese is a great once-in-a-while-guilty-pleasure sort of dish.

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. You should be able to have true comfort food every night of the week!

This recipe is kid-friendly and perfect for the whole family. Everyone is going to love you for making this healthy mac and cheese recipe!

Tools and Equipment You’ll Need

Recipe Ingredients and Notes

healthy mac and cheese ingredients
  • Pasta: Whole wheat pasta instead of white pasta increases the whole grains and fiber without losing any of the starchy goodness of traditional pasta.
  • Veggies: I used broccoli florets and baby spinach, but you can use any veggies you enjoy!
  • Spices: Garlic, garlic powder, salt, pepper and crushed red pepper all add tons of flavor without any additional calories.
  • Milk: Low fat milk provides decadence while lowering calories and fat.
  • Flour: All purpose flour helps to make a roux.
  • Cheese: I like the combination of sharp cheddar and parmesan, but you can use any shredded cheeses you like.
  • Dijon Mustard: To enhance the flavor of the cheese sauce, but omit if you’re not a fan of mustard!

How to Make Healthy Mac and Cheese – Step by Step Instructions

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

macaroni pasta cooked

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.

broccoli and garlic sauteeing in a pot

Step 3: Meanwhile, heat 1.5 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.

cheese sauce cooking on the stovetop

Step 4: Remove from the heat and whisk in Cheddar, Parmesan and mustard until the cheese is melted. Drain the pasta and add to the cheese sauce. Add your veggies into the pasta mixture.

cheese sauce combined with macaroni

Step 5: Heat through (on low heat) until everything is combined.

mac and cheese cooking on the stovetop

Step 6: Serve warm, topped with crushed red pepper (if you like a bit of extra spice in your mac and cheese) and enjoy!

healthy mac and cheese with broccoli served in a white bowl

What Makes This Mac and Cheese Healthy?

Is traditional mac and cheese healthy? Unfortunately, no, due to the refined carbs, high fat ingredients, and lack of vegetables. But with a few simple swaps, this healthier mac and cheese really is good for you! Here are a few ways this mac and cheese recipe is healthier than the traditional version:

  • Low Calorie: Most traditional mac and cheese recipes have over 500 calories per serving! But this low calorie mac and cheese has only about 270 calories per serving. 
  • Vitamins and Minerals: Lots of tasty vitamins and minerals can be found in this healthy mac and cheese. Folate, copper, calcium, vitamin C, and vitamin B6 are just a few of the nutrients!
  • Protein: Another valuable reason to load up on this healthier mac and cheese is the protein content. It has 14 grams of protein!

How to Make Healthy Mac and Cheese for Kids

Kids pretty much eat any kind of macaroni and cheese in my experience. But when you start to add veggies in, that can be challenging for some kids, and especially for picky eaters!

This healthy mac and cheese is pretty kid-friendly in general. But for kids who will reject anything green, here are my suggestions:

  • Make this mac and cheese without the broccoli and spinach, and serve that to your child to start. Every time you make it, add just a small amount more of the green veggies to help them get used to it.
  • Chop up the broccoli and spinach super super fine, so that it is much smaller to see and pick out!
  • Replace the broccoli and spinach for veggies that blend more into the mac & cheese like butternut squash or cauliflower (and cut them up fine).
healthy mac and cheese with broccoli served in a white bowl

Recipe FAQs

How Do You Make This Healthy Mac and Cheese Recipe Gluten-Free?

It’s super easy to make gluten-free mac and cheese! Just use your favorite gluten-free pasta and replace the all purpose flour with a gluten-free flour blend.

Can You Freeze This Low Calorie Mac and Cheese?

While technically, yes, you can freeze this mac and cheese, I’ve found that it just doesn’t taste the same when you reheat it. So I recommend storing it in the fridge for 3-4 days and eating it the same week you make it!

What’s The Best Type of Cheese for Mac & Cheese?

I’m partial to the traditional sharp cheddar when making macaroni and cheese. It has a low melting point, so it keeps the sauce super smooth. Sharp cheddar also has a nice strong flavor – which gives the sauce that richness you’d expect!

How to Store and Keep

To Store: Make sure your mac and cheese has cooled completely. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate. It will last in the fridge for 3-4 days. 

To Reheat: Place the mac & cheese in a microwave-safe bowl. Reheat in the microwave until hot (about 1-2 minutes). You may need to add a little bit of milk if it’s become a bit dry.

forkful of healthy mac and cheese

Recipe Variations and Substitutions

There are so many ways to mix up this healthy mac and cheese recipe! Here are a few of our favorites mix-ins and substitutions:

  • Change Up The Veggies: Try shredded carrots, peas, finely chopped cauliflower, roasted butternut squash, or caramelized onions.
  • Add Some Heat: In addition to crushed red pepper, try adding some hot sauce for an even bigger kick!
  • Try New Spices: Everything bagel seasoning, paprika, nutmeg, onion powder, or oregano all taste great with mac and cheese.
  • Try A Different Cheese: Instead of sharp cheddar and parmesan, try gouda, gruyère, cream cheese, brie or goat cheese.
  • Make it Vegan: Use a plant based milk, and your favorite dairy free cheese.
  • Make it Gluten Free: Use gluten free or legume based pasta. The legume based pasta will also give you added protein!

Top Tips For Making Healthy Macaroni and Cheese

  • If you decide to use a different cheese, make sure it’s a cheese that melts well. That is where the mac and cheese get its creaminess. 
  • You can use fresh or frozen broccoli, and they both work well. 
  • Be sure to whisk constantly, so the cheese sauce mixture doesn’t burn and stick to the pan.
  • Mac and cheese tastes best when it’s served immediately, since that is when the sauce is at it’s creamiest point!
  • For the best cheese sauce, buy a block of cheese and grate your own! It melts much better than the pre-shredded variety.

Check Out These Other Incredible Pasta Recipes!

healthy mac and cheese with broccoli served in a white bowl

If you have tried this Healthy Mac and Cheese or any other recipe on my blog, then please rate it and let me know how it turned out in the comments below! You can also FOLLOW ME on FACEBOOK, TWITTER, INSTAGRAM, and PINTEREST to see more delicious, healthy, family friendly food!

healthy mac and cheese with broccoli served in a white bowl
Print Recipe
5 from 6 votes

Healthy Mac and Cheese

Healthy Mac and Cheese is the comfort food you have been craving! It’s so creamy and decadent, and is filled with whole wheat macaroni, veggies, and a rich, cheesy sauce. It's lower in calories and fat than your typical mac and cheese recipe, but still super satisfying and absolutely delicious!
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time20 mins
Total Time40 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Servings: 6 servings
Calories: 268.1kcal
Author: Anjali Shah

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces whole-wheat elbow noodles (2 cups)
  • 10 ounce package frozen chopped broccoli or fresh broccoli florets – cut small
  • 10 oz bag of baby spinach or baby kale optional
  • 2-3 cloves fresh garlic minced
  • cups 1% milk divided
  • 3 tablespoons All Purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½-1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¾ cup shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
  • ¼ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • ¼-½ teaspoon Dijon mustard omit if you don’t like the flavor of mustard
  • ⅛-¼ tsp crushed red pepper optional

Instructions

  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions.
  • 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.
  • Meanwhile, heat 1½ 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.
  • Remove from the heat and whisk in Cheddar, Parmesan and mustard until the cheese is melted.
  • 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.

Video

https://youtu.be/HvRlovl1IYY

Notes

Recipe Variations and Substitutions
There are so many ways to mix up this healthy mac and cheese recipe! Here are a few of our favorites mix-ins and substitutions:
  • Change Up The Veggies: Try shredded carrots, peas, finely chopped cauliflower, roasted butternut squash, or caramelized onions.
  • Add Some Heat: In addition to crushed red pepper, try adding some hot sauce for an even bigger kick!
  • Try New Spices: Everything bagel seasoning, paprika, nutmeg, onion powder, or oregano all taste great with mac and cheese.
  • Try A Different Cheese: Instead of sharp cheddar and parmesan, try gouda, gruyère, cream cheese, brie or goat cheese.
  • Make it Vegan: Use a plant based milk, and your favorite dairy free cheese.
  • Make it Gluten Free: Use gluten free or legume based pasta. The legume based pasta will also give you added protein!
Top Tips For Making Healthy Macaroni and Cheese
  • If you decide to use a different cheese, make sure it’s a cheese that melts well. That is where the mac and cheese get its creaminess. 
  • You can use fresh or frozen broccoli, and they both work well. 
  • Be sure to whisk constantly, so the cheese sauce mixture doesn’t burn and stick to the pan.
  • Mac and cheese tastes best when it’s served immediately, since that is when the sauce is at it’s creamiest point!
  • For the best cheese sauce, buy a block of cheese and grate your own! It melts much better than the pre-shredded variety.

Nutrition

Calories: 268.1kcal | Carbohydrates: 39.9g | Protein: 14.1g | Fat: 6.3g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Cholesterol: 18.4mg | Sodium: 544.9mg | Potassium: 233.4mg | Fiber: 6.5g | Sugar: 5.3g

Posted In…

Pasta ·

Whether it’s a high-protein pasta salad or a gluten-free primavera, this versatile ingredient is a staple for easy, delicious meals.

If you’re feeling ambitious, you can even make homemade fettuccine the classic Italian way!

66 responses to “Healthy Mac and Cheese (Recipe Makeover)”

    • 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!

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

    • 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!

  3. 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! 🙂

    • 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!

    • 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 🙂

  4. 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.

    • 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! 🙂

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

    • 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!

  5. 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

    • 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!

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

  6. 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!

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

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

  8. 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!

  9. 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?

    • 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!

      • 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.

      • 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! (:

    • 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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