A rich and creamy Healthy Macaroni and Cheese Recipe that you can either bake or serve straight off the stovetop! This recipe is lighter in calories and fat than traditional mac and cheese recipes.
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Whether you’re looking for an easy Easter 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 with 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. 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 to 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.
Save this recipe for later on Pinterest:
So, I started out by making a simple roux– a butter and flour base that adds depth, richness, and flavor 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.
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.
How to make this healthier mac & cheese:
What ingredients are in this mac n cheese recipe?
Penne pasta or macaroni — both of these pastas carry the cheese sauce so well.
Unsalted butter — we just need a little bit to make a great roux as a base for the cheese sauce!
All-purpose flour — we use just a few tablespoons to make the roux.
1% or 2% milk — this will be the base for our cheese sauce, making it smooth and creamy.
Garlic powder — a surprising ingredient, garlic powder adds a note of umami, providing depth to the cheese sauce.
Yellow mustard powder — accentuate the cheese flavors with 3/4 teaspoon of this golden spice!
Salt — as it almost always does, salt brings out all of the flavors of this dish, making them shine.
Shredded Reduced Fat Mexican or Cheddar Cheese — a shredded semi-hard cheese melts perfectly, making the sauce rich and cheesy. Bonus points: you don’t need the full fat cheese to get all of that classic man and cheese flavor!
What substitutions can you make in this healthy macaroni and cheese recipe?
- Pasta – You can substitute in a rotini or shell pasta if you don’t have penne or macaroni.
- 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.
- Cheese — shredded mexican blend cheese or shredded sharp cheddar are 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?
No, you do not need to bake this mac and cheese! Just don’t preheat 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 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!
Can you make this macaroni and cheese dairy-free?
Yes, you can definitely make this mac and cheese dairy-free! Just use a dairy-free butter (Earth Balance is great!), an unflavored nut or oat milk, and dairy-free or nut cheese and follow the recipe as directed!
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.
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.
some popular dishes other than macaroni and cheese that use a roux are chowders, gumbo, bisque, and some cream soup.
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 oven 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 liquid (in this recipe’s case, milk) and whisk the roux into the liquid rapidly while continuing to cook over heat for about 2.5-4 minutes, or until the sauce gets thick and you can see the bottom of the pan while you whisk. Remove from the heat!
Pro-tip: you can turn the heat up to medium-high once you have added all the liquid, allowing the mixture to come to a simmer, but turn it back down to medium if the sauce starts to boil.
How do you make this healthy macaroni and cheese?
Step 1: 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.
Step 2: Make the roux (according to the instructions above), not removing the heat from the pan when you’re done.
Step 3: Turn your heat to low and whisk in any seasonings or cheese (in our case, cheese!) until the seasonings are distributed and the cheese is melted.
Step 4: Turn off the heat and add the pasta to the cheese sauce. Gently fold it into the sauce until all the pasta is covered in it.
Pro-tip: after your sauce is all mixed in, go ahead and serve it OR move on to step 5 to bake it!
Step 5: Pour your macaroni and cheese into a grease dbaking dish and sprinkle with more cheese. Bake for 20-22 minutes, or until the top of the cheese is getting golden brown and bubbly!
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
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 tuna
- Lunch meat — cut into small pieces
- Roasted broccoli
- Steamed green peas
- Barbecue pork
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 meat – pretty much everything goes well — chicken, steak, pork chops, or even salmon!
Green salad – a big hearty salad with chopped peppers, tomatoes, carrots, tomatoes, and garbanzo beans goes so well with this fresh macaroni!
Baked ham – just like scalloped potatoes, mac and cheese goes great with baked ham. In fact, it would make a great easter side dish!
Sloppy joes – the sweetness of sloppy joes is perfectly balanced out by the creaminess of macaroni and cheese, making the combo crave-worthy.
Can you double or triple this recipe?
You most certainly can double or triple this recipe. Just multiply the ingredients by the your desired amount and them follow the recipe as directed, using a stock pot and 8 x 13″ pan if needed If you’re baking your mac and cheese, you may need to bake it for 3-5 minutes more for every time that 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.
Check out my other healthier dinner recipes:
- Savory Bread Pudding with Roasted Butternut Squash
- Taco Tater Tot Casserole
- Sheet Pan Cuban Mojo Chicken
- Chicken and Vegetable Stir Fry
- Mom’s Tuna Macaroni Salad Recipe
- Instant Pot Turkey Chili
- Cuban Sweet Potato & Black Bean Burgers
- Black Bean Enchiladas
- Pressure Cooker Maple Baked Beans
- Pressure Cooker Bean Soup
- Instant Pot Pineapple Chicken and Rice
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Whether you're looking for an easy Easter 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 with 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. I provide directions below for either; just make sure to pay attention to the amount of cheese you need for either.
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.
Get your pasta going at least 5-10 minutes before you start on your sauce, as it will all come together quickly once you start on it!
- 8 oz. penne pasta or macaroni
- 1 1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons all purpose flour (gluten-free is OK)
- 1 1/4 cup 1% or 2% milk
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 teaspoon yellow mustard powder
- 1 1/2 cup reduced-fat grated Mexican cheese blend or grated cheddar cheese, DIVIDED (if baking) or 1 1/4 cup cheese (if not baking)
- Cook your pasta according to package directions in heavily salted water and drain. If baking your mac n cheese: Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and grease an 8 x8" 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 -- forming what is called a "roux" -- 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. Turn the heat up to medium or medium-high and cook the mixture 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 1/4 cup of the shredded cheese, the garlic powder, mustard powder, and salt. Whisk vigorously for 15-30 seconds, or until the cheese is fully melted into the sauce. Remove the pot from the heat.
- Stir the drained pasta into the cheese sauce and gently fold it in until the noodles are covered in the sauce. 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 20-22 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. Easy peasy!
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 8x13 inch baking pan, and bake the pasta an extra 5-10 minutes or until the cheese on top starts to turn golden brown.
Amount Per Serving Calories 243Total Fat 11gSaturated Fat 7gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 4gCholesterol 34mgSodium 390mgCarbohydrates 24gFiber 1gSugar 3gProtein 11g
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 dieticians 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.