A rich and creamy Healthy Macaroni and Cheese Recipe that's lighter on calories thanks to a few simple recipe hacks.
This recipe was originally published on April 8th, 2020. It was updated with a new recipe, photos, and recipe video on March 10, 2021.
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Whether you're looking for an easy holiday side dish or just simply a healthier comfort food the whole family will love for dinner, this Healthy Macaroni and Cheese is cheesy, comforting and 100% satisfying. It has less than 250 calories and more than 10 grams of protein per serving!
Serve it straight off the stovetop or bake it with a cheesy golden topping -- depending on how you like your mac and cheese. Below I provide directions for both ways.
Like many people, cooking lately has evolved from a necessity (both personal and for business) with occasional hints of hobby with occasional hints of necessity, as my time spreads out more before me and I reach out for comfort in all the little things.
And so, when I realized that I forgot to order macaroni and cheese in my grocery order last week, I set out to experiment with a new homemade recipe for it this weekend.
Given that treats are also a given right now, I wanted to create a macaroni and cheese recipe that also left a bit of appetite post-dinner.
And, even though I love butter, I wanted a mac and cheese that tasted of more than just butter, not to mention one that was healthier.
So, I started out by making a simple roux-- a butter and flour base that adds depth, creaminess, and richness with just a marginal amount of butter -- for the cheese sauce, played around with some dried seasoning to enhance the cheese flavor of the sauce, and tossed it with some pasta before baking.
What came out was a dish that satisfied all my mac and cheese cravings without leaving me feeling overwhelmed and in a food coma. Most importantly, it can serve both as a necessity and hobby, meaning I can enjoy it now and whenever normal decides to return to us.
Here at Mae's Menu, we have a variety of readers: those who are more experienced in the kitchen and want to zip straight through to the recipe and those who want to learn more about the dish, potential substitutions, and more.
To skip straight to the recipe, just click "Jump to Recipe" at the top left of this post. To browse the post quickly, just click the headings in the table of contents below.
Table of contents
- This Health Macaroni and Cheese is...
- Watch my newest recipe videos:
- What ingredients are in this mac n cheese recipe?
- What substitutions can you make in this healthy macaroni and cheese recipe?
- Do you need to bake this mac and cheese recipe?
- Can you make this mac and cheese gluten-free?
- How do you grease a baking pan with butter?
- What is a roux?
- How do you make a roux?
- How do you make this healthy macaroni and cheese?
- What can you mix into your macaroni and cheese?
- What can you serve with homemade macaroni and cheese?
- Can you double or triple this recipe?
- How long does this homemade macaroni and cheese last?
- Can you freeze this mac and cheese?
- What tools do you need to make this mac and cheese?
- Check out my other healthy mac and cheese recipes:
- Or, check out these healthier comfort food recipes:
This Health Macaroni and Cheese is...
- Made with pantry staples and common fridge items
- High in protein
- Lower in fat
- Lower in calories
- Something I want to eat every night
This dish has been the hit of our dinner time this week. Make your week a little brighter by bringing it to your dinner table as well.
Watch my newest recipe videos:
What ingredients are in this mac n cheese recipe?
- Pasta shapes -- penne, cavatappi, macaroni, orecchiette, and more all work
- Unsalted butter
- All-purpose flour -- a gluten-free 1-to-1 blend can work in place of traditional to make this recipe gluten-free
- Low-fat milk -- 1% or 2% is perfect
- Sharp Shredded Cheddar Cheese
What substitutions can you make in this healthy macaroni and cheese recipe?
- Milk - if you don't have 1% or 2% milk, you can substitute in skim milk or whole milk. I haven't tried this recipe yet with oat milk or nut milk so can't guarantee those results.
- Cheese --shredded sharp cheddar cheese is my my favorite cheeses for this mac and cheese, but you can also substitute in other semi-hard cheese if you have them. I can see gruyere, swiss, or provolone being delicious in this recipe!
Do you need to bake this mac and cheese recipe?
Nope, you do not need to bake this mac and cheese! You can serve it right after you mix the pasta in with the cheese sauce.
That's right: you won't need to reheat your oven, sprinkle extra cheese on top of the pasta, or bake the macaroni and cheese. I have all of the particular instructions included in this recipe for the most ease, as well!
Can you make this mac and cheese gluten-free?
Yes, you definitely can make this healthy macaroni and cheese gluten-free! Just use gluten-free pasta and gluten-free flour and you're good to go!
How do you grease a baking pan with butter?
To grease a baking pan, just take a stick of butter, unwrap just the end of it and hold onto the still wrapped portion of the butter. Smear the butter on the bottom and side of pan until the surface is lightly covered.
You can also just spray the baking dish with non-stick spray if you prefer that!
What is a roux?
We'll be making a roux as the base of this mac and cheese sauce. A roux is a mixture of butter and flour that you cook together on the stovetop before whisking in your liquids in your sauce.
The flour in the roux helps to thicken up the sauce as it cooks and the butter adds a bit of richness and nuttiness.
A few other popular dishes that also use a roux are chowders, gumbo, bisque, and some cream soups.
How do you make a roux?
Below are the steps to follow a roux. Have all your ingredients measured out ahead of time as the cooking will go fast!
Step 1: Bring your saucepan to heat over medium heat. Add your butter and let it melt until it just starts to get foamy.
Step 2: Whisk in your flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1-2 minutes, or until the roux smells warm and lightly nutty.
Pro-tip: if the flour starts to cover the bottom of the pan and turn a golden brown color, turn your heat down to medium-low.
Step 3: slowly whisk in your milk (or other liquid) and whisk the roux into the liquid rapidly while continuing to cook over heat for about 2-3 minutes, or until the sauce gets thick and you can see the bottom of the pan while you whisk. Remove from the heat!
How do you make this healthy macaroni and cheese?
- Cook your pasta according to the package directions in heavily salted water. If you're baking your macaroni and cheese, preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Make the roux (according to the instructions above), turning the heat to low after.
- Turn your heat to low and whisk in the cheddar cheese and salt until smooth and creamy.
- Turn off the heat and add the pasta to the cheese sauce. Gently fold it into the sauce until combined.
- Serve right away or prepare the mac and cheese to bake. If baking, pour it into a greased baking dish & sprinkle the dish with more cheddar cheese.
- Bake the dish for 21-23 minutes, or until the cheese is melted, bubbling, and golden brown. Serve hot!
What can you mix into your macaroni and cheese?
Here's a list of some of my favorite things to mix into mac and cheese!
- Grilled apple chicken sausage
- Flaked canned tuna
- Turkey or ham lunch meat -- cut into small pieces
- Roasted broccoli
- Steamed green peas
- Barbecue pork or chicken
What can you serve with homemade macaroni and cheese?
Mac and cheese goes well with so many dishes. Here are a few favorite things I like to serve with it, but have fun being creative with what you serve it with!
- Grilled or air-fried fish
- Green salad
- Blistered green beans
- Baked ham or pork tenderloin
- Sloppy joes
- Grilled chicken
Can you double or triple this recipe?
You most certainly can double or triple this recipe. Just multiply the ingredients by your desired amount and follow the recipe as directed, using a stockpot and 8 x 13" pan if needed.
If you're baking your mac and cheese, you may need to bake it for 5-8 minutes more every time you multiply the recipe.
How long does this homemade macaroni and cheese last?
This homemade macaroni and cheese will last covered in an airtight container in the fridge for 4-5 days.
Can you freeze this mac and cheese?
Yes, you can freeze this macaroni and cheese!
- To freeze leftovers: freeze them in individual portions in airtight freezer-safe containers for 1-2 months. To reheat: warm the macaroni and cheese around 75% heat for 2-4 minutes in the microwave, stirring every minute or so, or until the pasta is heated through.
- To freeze an unbaked pan of macaroni and cheese. Prepare the macaroni and cheese up to the baking step. Cover the baking container with an airtight and freezer-safe bag or lid and freeze for 2-3 months. To reheat: defrost the pan in the refrigerator for 24 hours and then bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 35-40 minutes, or until the mac and cheese is heated through and the cheese is browning on the top.
What tools do you need to make this mac and cheese?
- 2-quart saucepan or 6-quart Dutch oven
- Measuring cups & spoons
- 8 x 8" glass baking dish
- Silicone spatula
Check out my other healthy mac and cheese recipes:
Or, check out these healthier comfort food recipes:
- Taco Tater Tot Casserole
- Healthy Deviled Eggs
- Mom's Tuna Macaroni Salad Recipe
- Instant Pot Turkey Chili
- Baked Italian Sausage Casserole
- Colorado Pork Green Chili
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Whether you're looking for an easy holiday side dish or just simply a healthier comfort food the whole family will love for dinner, this Healthy Macaroni and Cheese is ultra-cheesy and comforting.
Serve it straight off the stovetop or bake it with a cheesy golden topping -- depending on how you like your mac and cheese.
See my illustrated directions on the blog post above to see how to make a roux (I photo those steps just for you!) before you start.
- 8 oz. pasta shapes: penne, macaroni, cavatappi, orecchiette, or other shapes
- 1 ½ tablespoon unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour or 1-to-1 gluten-free flour blend
- 1 ¼ cup 1% or 2% milk
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 1 ¾ cup grated sharp cheddar cheese, DIVIDED (if baking) or 1 ¼ cup cheese (if not baking)
- Cook your pasta according to package directions in heavily salted water and drain. If baking your mac and cheese: Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and grease an 8 x 8" baking pan with butter or non-stick cooking spray.
- Make the cheese sauce: melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat, just until it starts to foam. Add the flour to the butter and whisk vigorously for 1-2 minutes, or until the mixture smells warm and nutty. If the flour coats the bottom of the pan and starts to turn golden brown, turn the heat down to medium-low.
- Pour the milk into the saucepan while continuing to whisk the roux. Cook for another 2-3 minutes, whisking non-stop, or until the sauce thickens up and you can see the bottom of the pot when you whisk it.
- Turn the heat to low. Add in 1 ¼ cup of the shredded cheese and salt. Whisk vigorously for 15-30 seconds, or until the cheese is smooth & creamy. Remove the pot from the heat.
- Stir the drained pasta into the cheese sauce and gently fold it in until combined. If not baking the pasta: serve the macaroni and cheese hot!
- If baking the pasta: pour the macaroni and cheese into the greased baking dish and bake for 21-23 minutes, or until the cheese on top turns golden brown. Remove from the oven and serve hot!
This mac and cheese will last covered in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 4-5 days.
To make this recipe gluten-free, just use gluten-free pasta and gluten-free flour.
Make sure to heavily salt your pasta water-- it makes all the difference in the flavor of your pasta! I like to add at least 1 tablespoon salt for every gallon of water I boil.
To double this recipe: just double all the ingredients, bake the mac and cheese in an 8 x 13-inch baking pan, and bake the pasta an extra 5-8 minutes or until the cheese on top starts to turn golden brown.
Serving Size⅛ of the recipe, baked & made with 1% milk
Amount Per Serving Calories 294Total Fat 20gSaturated Fat 11gTrans Fat 1gUnsaturated Fat 6gCholesterol 57mgSodium 535mgCarbohydrates 14gFiber 1gSugar 2gProtein 15g
This nutrition breakdown is just an estimate of the nutritional value of this recipe and cannot be taken as facts. The owners of Mae's Menu are not nutritionists or dietitians and therefore cannot be held accountable for this nutrition estimate. Please contact your nutritionist or medical professional for a nutritional breakdown of this food. Furthermore, this food is not intended to prevent, diagnose, cure, or treat any disease.