Healthy Mac and Cheese (Low fat, high protein!)
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Mac and cheese is one of the classic cheesy pasta recipes and an all round family favorite – but how to make healthy mac and cheese? Traditional mac is loaded with fat and salt, but it is possible to prepare a healthier, lighter version. Let me show you an easy way!
Mac and cheese is my favorite comfort food. Nothing beats a cheddar cheese sauce with tender pasta curls. It’s creamy, warming and downright delicious. However, I can’t exactly argue that it’s healthy…
All that cheese, butter and whole milk in the creamy sauce means the fat and salt levels really start to stack up, not to mention that there’s usually not a vegetable in sight! I guess that’s why it is often eaten at big family feasts like Thanksgiving.
But if you want to eat mac and cheese more often without being unhealthy, this healthy mac and cheese recipe is just what you need! We up the protein, lower the fat and add some veggies in, to make a dish that is as delicious as a traditional recipe, but 10 times healthier!
Whole wheat Pasta
I use wholewheat pasta because it is healthier than normal, refined pasta. This is because whole grain foods contain more nutrients and fibre than refined grains, which have a lot of their nutrients stripped from them in the refining process. Wholegrain pasta also tends to be lower in calories.
I choose mature cheddar, or sharp cheddar, because it has a sharper, richer flavor than mild cheddar. This is good for adding depth and flavor to the cheesy sauce. You could also try a mixture of mild cheddar and vegetarian parmesan cheese as an alternative.
I use dairy, skim milk but you are welcome to use any other milk or milk alternative you have to hand.
By adding cottage cheese to this stove-top mac, the amount of cheddar required is reduced. Cottage cheese is considerably lower in fat than cheddar and is very high in protein, so it helps to make this a healthy macaroni!
Broccoli and Peas
I wanted this to be a healthy mac and cheese with veggies, so you’re going to add some broccoli and peas to the mix. Chop the broc up as finely or as chunky as you want, depending on the kind of texture you are after.
Garlic powder, onion powder and mustard add some more flavor to the sauce. There is also the option to chuck in some Worcestershire sauce and/or mango chutney, to jazz it up even more.
How many calories are in this healthy mac and cheese?
This healthy mac and cheese contains 524 calories per serving, and it contains 28g protein per serving.
Here’s a quick overview of 1 serving:
At 509 kcal it is an appropriate dish for your weight loss meal plan! And check out that awesome 25g protein and slender 17g fat. The perfect balance.
What are the health benefits of our mac and cheese recipe?
Whole wheat pasta is high in potassium, magnesium and phosphorus – containing all these in higher amounts than refined pasta. Potassium is good for skin health, magnesium supports muscle and nerve function and phosphorus is vital to the health of your bones and teeth among other things.
Cottage cheese is a great source of low fat vegetarian protein, as well as containing plenty of calcium and gut friendly bacteria (no wonder we’re such big fans of cottage cheese recipes!).
Broccoli is high in vitamin C, vitamin K, iron and potassium as well as many important antioxidants. Peas also contain fairly high amounts of vitamins A, C, and K and the nutrients folate and manganese. Peas and broccoli are also two of the vegetables with the highest protein content!
How to make the best healthy mac and cheese
Time needed: 30 minutes.
From the pasta to the sauce, let me talk you through how to make this healthy homemade mac and cheese.
You’ll start by cooking the pasta, broccoli florets and peas together, at intervals.
Now you make the sauce – mix all the remaining ingredients in a bowl, bar. Make sure cornstarch is dissolved. If you want to use the mango chutney and worcestershire sauce, add now!
In a pan, cook the cheesy mixture over a medium heat until the cheese is melted. Allow to boil for a couple of minutes, so the cornstarch cooks through.
Strain the pasta and veggies.
This is optional, but I would highly recommend blending the cottage cheese now, before incorporating, for a smoother sauce.
Take the sauce off the stove and mix in the cottage cheese. Now add the pasta and veggies and stir everything together. Serve immediately.
Homemade macaroni FAQs
Let me answer your mac and cheese related questions!
Yes – but I would recommend only making the sauce ahead of time, and cooking the pasta and veggies fresh on the day. This will avoid them getting soggy or wilting. If you do this, remember to only reheat the sauce in the oven! Never on the stove, as it will curdle.
You can store this healthy mac n cheese in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days. Reheat in the oven or microwave, but never on the stove, because this will cause the sauce to curdle.
Roasted vegetables are a good healthy side to serve with mac and cheese. Garlic bread is also popular, although it isn’t the healthiest option. You don’t actually need to serve mac and cheese with anything else, it can be a complete meal, or it can be a side in itself!
No. Traditional mac is high in saturated fats and sodium due to the amount of butter, cheese and milk it contains, which makes it a relatively unhealthy dish. This means it is also likely to be very calorific as fats are calorie dense, so it is not great for a weight loss diet either.
However a healthier macaroni dish can be made by switching some cheese for cottage cheese, using less butter and adding vegetables to the mix.
High amounts of unhealthy saturated fats, salt and processed carbs make mac and cheese an unhealthy meal option. Homemade mac and cheese is a healthier option than package mac and cheese because it doesn’t contain as many weird chemicals, however it is still not healthy.
The best option is to make a healthy mac and cheese alternative such as butternut squash mac, greek yogurt mac or mac and cheese with cottage cheese and veggies.
Mac and cheese already contains protein from the cheese. If you want to up the protein levels, why not add some cottage cheese, or use a high protein pasta alternative such as chickpea pasta.
Not healthy at all! In fact, Kraft is literally being sued for containing toxins called phthalates that have been connected with allergies, asthma, obesity and hormone interference in children.
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Mac and cheese variations and alternatives
To make this healthy pasta recipe gluten free, simply switch out the whole wheat noodles for gluten-free pasta! Simple.
To make this vegan is a bit more challenging. You can try the recipe with oat milk and your favorite vegan cheese, or nutritional yeast, however I can’t guarantee the texture will be the same or that it will be as high protein as our recipe.
But if you are looking for a cheesy vegan treat, why not try our cheezy broccoli casserole instead?
You can also play around with other elements of this healthy mac and cheese with veggies. You could pick your own cheese instead of cheddar – maybe Lancashire or red Leicester? You could also add bread crumbs to the top and bake it!
More vegetarian pasta recipes
If you liked this pasta dish, why not try our creamy broccoli pasta or tomato spinach pasta. Or if you want something slightly different, try this Mediterranean pasta salad.
I also have a cracking healthy pasta arrabiata recipe, that I think you will love!
- Hand blender (optional)
- 4.5 oz wholewheat pasta
- 2 oz broccoli (chopped)
- 2 oz peas
- 2 ½ oz mature cheddar
- ¾ cup milk of choice (can be vegan, I used oat milk)
- 1 ½ tbsp cornstarch
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- ¼ tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp mustard
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- 2.5 oz cottage cheese
- 1 tsp mango chutney
- 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce (vegetarian)
Pasta and veggies:
- Cook pasta in salted boiling water.4.5 oz wholewheat pasta
- Add the chopped broccoli and peas about 2-3 minutes before the pasta is ready. The should be bright green, soft on the outside and crunchy in the middle.2 oz broccoli, 2 oz peas
- Strain the water from the pasta, broccoli and peas.
- Meanwhile, in a large saucepan grate the cheddar, add the milk, cornstarch, salt, garlic and onion powder, mustard and black pepper. Mix until the cornstarch is dissolved.2 ½ oz mature cheddar, ¾ cup milk of choice, 1 ½ tbsp cornstarch, ½ tsp salt, ½ tsp garlic powder, ¼ tsp onion powder, 1 tsp mustard, ¼ tsp black pepper
- Here is where you mix in the optional mango chutney and Worcestershire sauce, too1 tsp mango chutney, 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce (vegetarian)
- Place on medium heat and cook, stirring often, until the cheese is melted into the sauce, the sauce boils and thickens. Allow to boil for around 1-2 minutes to cook the cornstarch, while mixing.
- Optional but great: blend the cottage cheese separately.2.5 oz cottage cheese
- Take the sauce off the stove, add the cottage cheese (blended or normal) and stir again. Then add the pasta, broccoli and peas. Mix everything gently together until the sauce coats the pasta.
- CAUTION: Don't boil cottage cheese, it'll 'curl'.
- Eat immediately. It can be reheated in the microwave or oven, NOT on the stove!
I hope you enjoyed this healthy mac and cheese recipe – is it not just the ultimate comfort food? I’m sure the whole family will love it, picky eaters included! Let me know in the comments below what other healthy recipes for classic dishes you’d like to see (and while you’re here why not check out cheap veggie meals for students for some budget-friendly comfort food).