- Macaroni and cheese is a comforting dish that can also be healthy.
- Make simple swaps for the butter, milk, and pasta to lighten the dish.
- Add items like lean protein and nutrient-rich veggies for a healthier, more flavorful mac ‘n’ cheese.
There’s nothing quite as comforting as diving into a rich, creamy bowl of macaroni and cheese after a long day. Truthfully, we’d probably all love to enjoy this dish several times a week, but as it is laden with butter, milk, cream, and cheese, macaroni and cheese isn’t the healthiest meal out there.
By playing with flavor combinations and ingredient swaps, you can add important vitamins and minerals while removing some of the heavier elements for more nutritious macaroni and cheese recipes that will nourish your body and soul.
Here are some tips for making your mac and cheese healthier.
First thing is first — choose homemade over boxed.
The packets of processed, powdered cheese in varieties of boxed mac ‘n’ cheese, have been found to contain phthalates. Many believe the chemicals can disrupt hormones, but more research is needed, according to the CDC.
Either way, making your own mac and cheese is usually healthier and more delicious anyway.
Reap the nutritional benefits of leafy greens.
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Leafy greens offer a variety of nutrients. Greens like kale and spinach offer vitamins A, C, E, and K as well as fiber, calcium, potassium, iron, and magnesium.
Swap pasta for whole wheat options.
Whole wheat or whole grain pasta offers many more vitamins and minerals compared to white pasta. Alicia Romano, RD explained in Time that one cup of whole wheat pasta contains 23% of our daily fiber, while white pasta contains only 9%. Whole wheat pasta also provides 16% of your daily protein.
Switch pasta for a legume-based variety.
If you haven’t tried legume-based pastas yet, you should really consider adding them to your cooking repertoire. These are great gluten-free options, and they can offer even more flavor than traditional pastas. Legume pastas offer four times as much fiber as regular pasta and around 33% fewer carbohydrates. Some varieties also offer as much as 50% of your recommended daily amount of protein.
Throw in your favorite chopped veggies.
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Macaroni and cheese is a great vehicle for a wide variety of vegetables. Throw in broccoli, peas, carrots, mushrooms, onions. You can cook in tons of one type of vegetable, or get creative with an array of produce to up the flavor with fewer calories.
Top your pasta with lean protein.
Just as macaroni and cheese complements many types of vegetables, it also tastes delicious with plenty of different proteins. From chicken to roasted turkey to grilled tofu to beans, many protein options taste delicious atop a bed of macaroni and cheese. Protein is important in building and repairing tissues.
Sneak vegetables into the sauce.
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Squash makes the cheese sauce for macaroni even creamier and more flavorful. Plus, squash such as pumpkin, butternut squash, delicata, and kabocha can add protein, magnesium, potassium, fiber, carotenoids, and vitamins C and B6.
Use alternative milks.
The cheesy sauce that accompanies macaroni and cheese often calls for milk or cream for a truly smooth finish. Don’t be afraid to replace milk or cream with alternative milks, like soy, coconut, rice, almond, or flax milk. While they are often lower in protein than dairy milk, alternative milks are often lower in calories and fat with equivalent or higher amounts of calcium.
Cut down the cheese and replace with more seasonings
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Cheese is delicious, and it can be a great source of calcium. But too much of a good thing can be bad for you. “Cheese does contain some important nutrients, including calcium and protein, along with vitamin B12 and zinc,” said Kelly Pritchett, RD and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “However, the calories can add up quickly if you aren’t mindful.”
To amp up the flavor while you cut down on the amount of cheese, use spices and seasonings. Garlic, onion powder, and paprika are all delicious additions, but feel free to experiment.
Substitute some of the cheese with plain yogurt.
Along the same lines, you can cut down on the fat and get a boost of protein by replacing some of the cheese with plain yogurt. This will also add a flavorful tang to your pasta.