Mac and cheese, with its rich flavor and creamy texture, is perhaps the ultimate comfort food, especially for those cold winter nights. But there’s no denying that it’s a heavy and calorific choice, as well as lacking in nutritional value.
Mac and cheese is a surprisingly versatile dish, open to a range of innovative interpretations. So get creative in the kitchen, experimenting with different vegetables, pastas and cheeses to boost both the flavor and the health benefits.
Here are some top suggestions for turning this well-loved classic into a dish that is much better for you, to enjoy without the guilt or the added pounds!
Vitalizing With Veggies
The best way to instantly skyrocket the nutritional value of any recipe is simply to pack in the veggies. Fortunately, many vegetables complement the flavor and texture of mac and cheese. Coating vegetables in cheese, or even blending them into the sauce, is also a great technique to sneak them into kids’ meals.
It’s well known that cauliflower and broccoli taste great with cheese. Simply cut them up into small florets and stir into the pasta and sauce to ensure a healthy dose of vitamins A, C, and K, as well as magnesium and folate. Spinach, which is a good source of iron and calcium, also works well. Select a large handful, chop it up finely and then add it in the middle between layers of pasta and cheese.
Avocados – which technically count as a fruit – are a brilliant addition to mac and cheese. Their creamy texture and high-fat content make them perfect for bulking out the dish and creating a real sense of satisfaction. Avocados are full of healthy monounsaturated fats, protein, and carotenoids, as well as a range of vitamins.
Try slicing and arranging avocados as a layer on top of the mac and cheese. Alternatively, blend up some avocados and add a variety of seasonings to create a sauce for the pasta — either instead of or in addition to cheese.
Swap White Pasta for Whole Grains
Another way to eat more healthily is to substitute white refined carbohydrates for their whole-grain equivalents.
White pasta is usually stripped of vitamins and minerals, leaving it with little nutritional value. It also contains much less fiber, meaning it will have a greater impact on your blood-sugar level. Using brown pasta instantly doubles the amount of fiber in mac and cheese — and the added fiber helps you maintain energy levels and stay fuller longer.
Better still, substitute white pasta for a healthy grain such as protein and fiber-rich quinoa.
Lighten Up the Sauce
A gooey sauce filled with boatloads of fatty dairy is definitely the most indulgent part of mac and cheese. The good news is that it can be easily modified without sacrificing too much in the taste department.
First, you can opt for low-fat milk, cream and cheese. Cottage cheese has the lowest fat content of any cheese and has a lovely creamy texture. Thick Greek yogurt is another ingredient that works well. Substituting full-fat dairy means significantly fewer calories, less fat and reduced salt. Another tip is to add less cheese. Choose cheeses with particularly bold flavors, such as extra mature cheddar or aged parmesan. A little of these goes a long way.
If you want to lower the fat content even further, ditch the dairy altogether and rustle up a vegan mac and cheese. Soy milk and various vegan cheeses are good alternatives that won’t impair the creaminess of the dish. You could also experiment with adding nutritional yeast flakes for an extra cheesy flavor and a vitamin B12 boost, as in this dairy-free mac and cheese from chef Jamie Oliver.
Another way to reduce the dairy, fat and calories, is to make the sauce using vegetables. Squash is a great ingredient to use for this. It’s packed full of beta-carotene, vitamin E and potassium, and is especially suitable for autumnal months. Blend it up and add some soy milk or vegan yogurt to create a silky smooth orange sauce that brilliantly mimics the gooey texture of melted cheese. More dairy-free alternatives could involve nuts or beans — cashews and cannellini beans can add a healthy twist.
If you add plenty of vegetables, use low-fat dairy, or do away with the butter, milk and cheese completely, you can indulge yourself in this comfort-food staple!