Can’t Believe It’s Healthy Mac ‘N Cheese

healthy mac and cheese
Sometimes you just feel like some good old-fashioned comfort food. Mac ‘n cheese happens to be one of those classic comfort food staples that can transport you back to your carefree childhood days in an instant.

Sometimes you just feel like some good old-fashioned comfort food. Mac ‘n cheese happens to be one of those classic comfort food staples that can transport you back to your carefree childhood days in an instant. The only catch with mac and cheese is that it’s usually not the healthiest meal, which may give you some pause if you’re dedicated to living a healthy lifestyle. But before you decide not to make mac and cheese for yourself, it’s important to realize the real reason why you love the classic American comfort food so much in the first place.

Research has suggested that certain foods resonate with us not just because we enjoyed them when we were younger, but because of our feelings toward the people – often family members and close friends – who prepared the food for us.

“If your mom makes something when you’re a child, that food becomes associated with the care she gave you at the time,” says Shira Gabriel, a professor at the University at Buffalo who has been researching the social and emotional ties to food consumption, in a Washington Post article. “If the care was good, the association will be good too. It’s about more than just the food.”

Now that we know that mac and cheese is special because of our feelings toward the people who made it for us when we were younger, and not just because it was an unhealthy treat, we can choose to make healthier mac and cheese for ourselves and still feel comforted by loving childhood memories. So, instead of fighting your mac and cheese cravings going forward, embrace them with one of these two healthy mac n’ cheese recipes that you won’t believe are healthy since they taste so good.  

Healthy Mac And Cheese

This Healthy Mac And Cheese recipe prides itself on being just as rich and cheesy as traditional mac and cheese, but without all the extra fat and calories. Coming in under 250 calories per serving, this healthy mac and cheese recipe is low-fat, high-protein, and only takes 30 minutes total to make.

The ingredients you’ll need for this recipe, which yields eight servings, are 12 ounces of fusilli or elbow pasta, 1½ tablespoons of butter, ¼ cup of minced onion, ¼ cup of flour, 2 cups of milk (your choice), 1 cup of vegetable broth, 2 cups of shredded cheddar, 12 ounces of fresh broccoli florets, 2 tablespoons of grated Parmesan, ¼ cup of seasoned bread crumbs, cooking spray, and salt and pepper.

Once you’ve gotten all of the necessary ingredients, cook the pasta and broccoli together in a large pot of salted water. As your pasta and broccoli are cooking, spray a baking dish with cooking spray, and set aside. Then preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a large skillet, melt the buttery spread, and then add the minced onion, cooking over low heat for two minutes. Add the flour and cook for one more minute, or until the flour is golden and well-combined. Whisk in the milk and vegetable broth, raise the heat to medium-high until it comes to a boil, and then cook an additional five minutes, or until it becomes smooth and thick. You can season with salt and pepper, if you’d like.

Remove the large skillet from the heat, add cheese, and stir until melted. Add in the cooked pasta and broccoli, then pour everything into the prepared baking dish. Top with the breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese, and then spray a little more cooking spray on top. Bake for 15 to 20, and then broil for a few minutes until the breadcrumbs are golden.

This recipe proves that just because something is healthy, it doesn’t mean that it can’t be delicious, too. You can also make a gluten-free version of this meal by using your favorite gluten-free pasta and breadcrumbs.

Lighter Baked Macaroni And Cheese

Since mac and cheese can sometimes be very heavy, this Lighter Baked Macaroni And Cheese recipe is a lighter version of the classic recipe with fiber from spinach. This creamy baked mac and cheese recipe yields eight servings and will take 50 minutes total to complete.

The ingredients required are 12 ounces of elbow macaroni (either wheat or whole wheat), 2 tablespoons of butter, ¼ cup of flour, ¼ cup of minced onion, 2 cups of skim milk, 1 cup of chicken or vegetable broth, 8 ounces of reduced fat cheddar, salt and pepper, 4 cups of baby spinach, 2 tablespoons of grated Parmesan, ¼ cup of seasoned whole wheat bread crumbs, and olive oil spray.

To get started, cook the pasta in salted water according to the directions on the package. Then spray a baking dish with olive oil spray. After that, preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a large skillet, melt butter. Then add flour and cook over low heat, stirring with a whisk. Add the minced onion, and then cook for another two minutes. When the two minutes are up, add milk and chicken broth and continue whisking, raising the heat to medium-high until it comes to a boil and becomes smooth and thick. You can season with salt and pepper, as necessary.

Once the mixture becomes thick, remove the skillet from the heat. Then add ¼ cup of cheese at a time, and mix well until the cheese is melted. Add cooked macaroni and baby spinach, as well as salt and pepper, if desired. Then pour everything into a baking dish and top with grated cheese and breadcrumbs, spraying a little more oil on top. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, then broil for a few minutes to get the breadcrumbs golden.

A one-cup serving of this healthy mac and cheese comes in at just under 300 calories, and has 13 grams of protein, 36.5 grams of carbohydrates, 7.5 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, 20.5 milligrams of cholesterol, 277 milligrams of sodium, 5.5 grams of fiber, and 5 grams of sugar.

You can also switch up some of the ingredients if you’d like, too. For example, instead of the spinach, you can add other vegetables like mushrooms or cauliflower. You can also substitute the reduced fat cheddar with reduced fat Gruyere, or use whole wheat, gluten free, or chickpea pasta instead of fiber-enriched pasta. Just keep in mind that the reduced fat cheese and skim milk are what help to keep the calorie count down. Now cozy up and enjoy one of your favorite comfort foods with zero regrets.