My son could eat mac ‘n cheese for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Actually, my son has eaten mac ‘n cheese for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And snack. Max just loves the stuff, hence his nicknames: Maxaroni and Max ‘n Cheese. Truth be told, I can’t get enough of it, either, and secretly pray he won’t finish his bowlful. Alas, he always does.
In the scheme of foods, homemade mac ‘n cheese can be nutritionally decent enough. It’s got good protein, and it’s so easy to health up. A few months ago, I discovered the most amazing version made with butternut squash—particularly genius because the vegetable is the right cheesy color, and it’s a good source of Vitamin E, Vitamin B6 and calcium. Max calls it mac ‘n cheese pie, and he devours it.
The first time I served it I asked my more discerning child, Sabrina, if she noticed anything special. “No, you’ve served this to us before!” she said, exactly what I wanted to hear. The kids had no clue this is healthy, and I have no plans on letting them know although one day I will. Really. I will.
I gathered some of the healthiest and tastiest macaroni and cheese recipes from around the web, with all sorts of genius add-ins: Carrots! Cauliflower! Spinach! Avocado! Quinoa! They’re from recipe developers, food bloggers and Michelle Obama herself, and every single one is mom-approved and kid-loved.
Enjoy! And save some leftovers for Max (and me).
Butternut Squash Mac ‘n Cheese 1 of 11From Food Network star Ellie Krieger, it's beloved by many (including my son). This review says it all: "My 6-year-old will not eat veggies, and she loved it and didn't have a clue it was healthy!"
—To make Butternut Squash Mac 'n Cheese, follow this recipe from the Food Network.
Photo credit: Flicker/Vancouver Bites
Greek Yogurt Mac ‘n Cheese 2 of 11Chobani yogurt adds an extra dose of protein. Says recipe creator Claire, "The Greek yogurt gives this sauce a big of a tang and maxes it 1000x creamier." Bonus for mac-'n-cheese mommy fiends: "It tastes indulgent and decadent without the extra calories or fat."
—To make Greek Yogurt Mac 'n Cheese, follow this recipe from The Realistic Nutritionist.
Photo credit: The Realistic Nutritionist
Spinach Mac ‘n Cheese Muffins 3 of 11Look—MacMuffins! Granted, some picky kids might be all "What's up with the stuff in there?" But the charm of the shape may just win 'em over, and the taste definitely will. Says one devotee, "I think this is my 14-month old's favorite food in the world!" Adds another, "My ten-year-old just ate two and a half of these. He's a mac & cheese expert, so that's high praise."
—To make Spinach Mac 'n Cheese Muffins, follow this recipe from Emily Bites.
Photo credit: Emily Bites
Sweet Potato Mac ‘n Cheese 4 of 11Sweet potatoes pack vitamins (A, C, B6), fiber and potassium—and taste absolutely delish mixed in with macaroni. As blogger/toddler mom Michelle Hainer says, "I'll feel better feeding Charlie macaroni and cheese if there's a vegetable in there somewhere…. The sweet potato adds such a pleasant taste and texture to the dish, and it melds really well with the cheddar. I made this for Charlie, but while he's napping I had some myself (you know, for quality control!) and this is definitely a meal the whole family can enjoy!"
—To make Sweet Potato Mac 'N Cheese, follow this recipe from Made by Michelle.
Photo credit: Made by Michelle
Healthed-Up Boxed Mac ‘n Cheese 5 of 11Take any box of mac 'n cheese and make it healthier by using low-fat cottage cheese in place of all (or half of) the butter and milk. Still creamy-good, and great for older kids and families trying to watch the fat.
—To make Healthed-Up Boxed Mac 'N Cheese, follow this recipe from A Duck's Oven.
Photo credit: A Duck's Oven
Quinoa Mac ‘n Cheese 6 of 11The grain (pronounced "keen-wah") is a nutritionist darling because it's packed with protein and fiber. The recipe comes from food blogger Carrie Burrill, a mom of three including two "picky boys." Pssst: There's spinach in there, too.
—To make Quinoa Mac 'n Cheese, follow this recipe from Bakeaholic Mama.
Photo credit: Bakeaholic Mama
Carrot Mac ‘n Cheese 7 of 11Cooked carrots whirled with low-fat milk into a puree should please even the most veggie-phobic child. The orange of the carrots blends right in with the cheddar cheese.
—To make Carrot Mac 'n Cheese, follow this recipe from Mom's Kitchen Handbook.
Photo credit: Mom's Kitchen Handbook
Avocado Mac ‘n Cheese 8 of 11Sooooo deliciously creamy, and the avocado's a good source of fiber, Vitamin C, Vitamin K and folate. Easy, too—it's stovetop only, created by cooking parents Maria and Josh Lichty, mom to toddler Caleb. Says one devotee, "My kids were very apprehensive, complaining about it being 'greeeeeeen!!!' but they ended up really liking it!"
—To make Avocado Mac 'n Cheese follow this recipe from Two Peas & Their Pod.
Photo credit: Flick/Vancouver Bites.
Photo credit: Two Peas & Their Pod
Lite Mac ‘n Cheese 9 of 11If you're looking for a lower-fat mac 'n cheese to feed your family, try this one from author and recipe developer Gina Homolka, a mom of two. She lightened it up by reducing butter and replacing cream with skim milk and chicken broth. The recipe, she notes, "even got my skeptical daughter's approval." Her directions also include points info for people on Weight Watchers. Gushed one reader, "I have tried lots of low-cal mac and cheese recipes and this one is by far the BEST one!!! It was so creamy and delicious. Plus my kids ate it all up."
—To make Lite Mac 'n Cheese, follow this recipe from Skinny Taste.
Photo credit: Skinny Taste
Vegan Mac ‘n Cheese 10 of 11Made with cannellini beans and nutritional yeast flakes, it's a stealth kid pleaser (its official name is "Fake-Out Mac 'n Cheese"). Says one mom, "My three kids—5, 2.5 and 18 months—cleaned their plates and the 2.5 year old daughter couldn't stop sampling the sauce."
—To make Vegan Mac 'n Cheese, follow this recipe from Healthy Happy Life.
Photo credit: Healthy Happy Life
Cauliflower Mac ‘n Cheese (from Michelle Obama)! 11 of 11Pureed cauliflower gives this a creamy texture sans extra fat and calories, plus it's made with whole-wheat pasta. The First Lady says it's a Sasha and Malia's favorite—and it'll be your kids', too. Just scroll down to the bottom of the page for the recipe.
—Reprinted from American Grown: The Story of the White House Garden and Gardens Across America by Michelle Obama. Copyright © 2012 by the National Park Foundation. Published by Crown, a division of Random House, Inc. Photo credit: Quentin Bacon
Serves three to four
½ pound whole-wheat penne
¼ head cauliflower, cut into
8 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated
½ cup 1% or 2% milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ teaspoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta according to the package directions until al dente. Drain and set aside.
2. Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil, add the cauliflower, and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, or until soft. Drain. Place the cauliflower in a blender and puree.
3. In a medium pan over medium heat, place the pasta, the cauliflower puree, the cheeses, and the milk. Stir gently to combine and continue stirring until the cheese is melted.
4. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the chopped parsley over the mac and cheese and serve immediately.
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