This creamy baked healthy mac and cheese recipe is a lightened-up version of a classic dinner favorite. Loved by both parents and kiddos alike this easy macaroni and cheese recipe is both health and comfort in a bowl.
Are you even a parent if you aren’t serving mac and cheese once, if not three times a week for dinner?! I know in my house mac and cheese is always a hit and honestly, I can’t blame toddler. It’s delicious!
Now don’t get me wrong, we definitely make boxed mac and cheese around here (Annie’s or Goodles are our favorites) but it feels nice to occasionally make my daughter a healthier mac and cheese recipe from scratch.
And honestly, it’s pretty easy! Just a few extra steps beyond just your usual boxed stuff. This is basically a mac and cheese recipe you can feel good about!
Why Make This Healthy Mac and Cheese?
So what makes this mac and cheese healthy?! Great question! There are a couple of ways that I’ve lightened-up and healthified this recipe:
1) High in protein – with sneaky cannellini beans in the cheese sauce, this healthy mac and cheese is higher in protein than traditional recipes.
2) Reduced butter + milk – while this recipe still contains a little butter and milk (we want it to taste like mac and cheese after all!) I did reduce the butter and milk and substituted with a bit of stock to maintain that creamy flavor.
3) Added veggies – You can add your veggies of choice. I like to ad small broccoli florets or a little baby spinach. Generally the kiddos tend to pick around the vegetables but nice to give the option!
Most importantly I find this mac and cheese dish to be a good balance between health and comfort food. It’s lightened-up but not lacking in flavor making it kid-friendly dish that even parents will love.
- Cannellini beans – use cooked and canned cannellini beans. Great Northern Beans work as well. In a pinch, chickpeas will also work but I find they add a slightly earthier flavor.
- Vegetable stock – you can also use chicken broth in place of vegetable broth if that’s all you have.
- Butter – for a creamy texture but we’ve also greatly reduced the amount.
- Milk – I like to use regular Whole Milk in this recipe but you could use unsweetened almond milk for a milk flavor that’s dairy-free.
- Cheese – I prefer using sharp cheddar cheese in this healthy mac and cheese but you could also add in a little parmesan cheese or cheese of choice.
- Spices – I like adding a little garlic powder, onion powder and paprika to my sauce.
- Noodles – Ideally elbow noodles if you can find but use what you have. Whole wheat pasta can be used in place of regular pasta for a high-fiber option. You could also use gluten-free pasta or even chickpea pasta for a high protein option.
- Salt + Pepper – feel free to reduce amount of salt if watching sodium levels.
- Broccoli – you could also substitute in your favorite veggies such as spinach or even zucchini.
- Breadcrumbs – for a traditional baked mac and cheese flavor I like to sprinkle with panko breadcrumbs. You can also use regular breadcrumbs, if desired.
How to Make Healthy Mac and Cheese
STEP 1: COOK PASTA + BROCCOLI
In a large pot boil water + cook pasta according to package instructions. In last 2 minutes of cooking add in broccoli florets to quickly cook. Strain and set aside.
STEP 2: BLEND BEANS
To a blender combine cannellini beans and vegetable broth.
STEP 3: MAKE CHEESE SAUCE
Using the same pot you cooked your pasta in add your butter to melt over low-medium heat. Pour in your cannellini bean mixture and stir in whole milk, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low and slowly whisk in your shredded cheese until just melted. Turn off heat.
STEP 4: BAKE MAC AND CHEESE
Stir your pasta and broccoli into cheese mixture. Pour mac and cheese into your baking dish and sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Bake uncovered in your oven for 10-15 minutes or until mac and cheese is golden brown on top.
Easy Swaps + Substitutions
Substitute different veggies – not a fan of broccoli? Try adding in a few cups of baby spinach or kale. You could also add some chopped zucchini or even cauliflower or butternut squash.
Use different noodles – if you prefer gluten-free noodles or even higher protein noodles like chickpea pasta or red lentil pasta you can easily substitute those in. You just may want to adjust the baking time since pulse pasta tends to get a little gummy after being baked.
Add protein – this is a vegetarian dish so long as you use vegetable stock but if you want to add a little meat protein you could always add in cubed + cooked chicken or even bacon.
Meal Prep + Storage Instructions
Leftovers can be kept in fridge in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Reheat in microwave or in oven.
You could also freeze your leftovers. I’d recommend freezing BEFORE baking. You’ll make the sauce and cook the noodles and then add to a freezer-safe baking dish. But before baking cover with tinfoil and plastic wrap and freeze for up to 3 months. Allow to thaw overnight in the fridge and then bake as directed, being sure to remove all plastic wrap.
More Healthy Pasta Recipes
- Hidden Veggie Pasta Sauce
- Pesto Pasta Bake
- Chicken Bacon Ranch Pasta
- Homemade Arrabbiata Pasta
- Baked Veggie Pasta
- Kale Pesto Pasta
- Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese
Healthy Mac and Cheese
This creamy baked mac and cheese recipe is a lightened-up version of a classic dinner favorite. Loved by both parents and kiddos alike this easy macaroni and cheese recipe is both health and comfort in a bowl.
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Cook Time: 25 minutes
- Total Time: 35 minutes
- Yield: 6 servings 1x
- Category: Dinner
- Method: Bake
- Cuisine: American
- Diet: Vegetarian
- non-stick spray or olive oil
- 12 oz elbow pasta
- 2 cups finely chopped broccoli florets
- 1 x 15 oz can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 cup vegetable broth
- 1 tbsp butter
- 2/3 cup whole milk
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp onion powder
- pinch of paprika
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar
- 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
- Spray or rub a baking dish with non-stick spray or olive oil.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Cook pasta according to package instructions. In last 2 minutes of cooking add in broccoli florets to quickly cook. Strain and set aside.
- To a blender combine cannellini beans and vegetable broth.
- Using the same pot you cooked your pasta in add your butter to melt over low-medium heat. Pour in your cannellini bean mixture and stir in whole milk, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, salt and pepper.
- Reduce heat to low and slowly whisk in your shredded cheese until just melted. Turn off heat.
- Stir your pasta and broccoli into cheese sauce.
- Pour mac and cheese into your baking dish and sprinkle with breadcrumbs.
- Bake uncovered in your oven for 10-15 minutes or until mac and cheese is golden brown on top.
Keywords: healthy mac and cheese, healthy macaroni and cheese
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