I have tried to make healthy macaroni and cheese for years, even well before having kids since it tops the list as one of my favorite foods of all time. Unfortunately, healthy macaroni and cheese just never tasted awesome; Until Now!
I tested my new recipe for healthy, baked macaroni and cheese on four kids and multiple adults – even though they aren’t my target market : ))) . It’s rare for me to get hands down good review from all kids because there is usually at least one that either doesn’t like it or refuses to try it. This baked macaroni and cheese recipe received rave reviews from both young and old and I will even propose that it is just as delicious as “real” macaroni and cheese. Now, it is considerably less attractive than real macaroni and cheese, though, because of the brown whole wheat noodles, but the kids don’t seem to notice (just adults – and for them you can just throw a parsley sprig on top to distract the attention!).
When trying to “healthy” up a dish, the first thing I usually do is try to add vegetables. I used Michelle Obama’s brilliant idea of adding steamed, pureed cauliflower. I pureed the cauliflower with a little vegetarian broth (chicken would work too), and the result was a rich and smooth substitute for much of the butter normal macaroni and cheese calls for. Hurray! The cauliflower adds rich flavor, but it doesn’t overwhelm the dish. I have also tried using squash multiple times in my macaroni and cheese, which is also good, but I find that you can really taste the squash flavor. It ends up just being like macaroni, cheese and squash! When I steamed the cauliflower I pureed the whole head with the broth, then froze half in an ice cube tray and transferred to a bag to keep in the freezer for the next batch of macaroni and cheese.
For cheese ideas I turned to Ina Garten, my favorite chef who has never failed me in a recipe – I’ve tried many of her recipes over the years and they are always fabulous! Anyway, in her “to-die-for-macaroni and cheese” (I’ve made it a number of times) she uses extra-sharp Cheddar and Gruyere, so that is what I use in this version.
For added fiber I use whole wheat noodles and whole wheat flour for the roux.
Healthier Macaroni and Cheese
- 1 pound whole wheat elbow macaroni
- Olive oil
- ½ head cauliflower
- About ¼ cup vegetarian or chicken broth
- 4 cups 2% milk
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/3 cup whole wheat flour
- 4 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated
- 12 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
- ½ tablespoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Prepare baking dish (I used 9×13) by spraying it with a light coat of oil.
- Cook macaroni according to directions, in salted water with a splash of olive oil. Drain.
- While cooking macaroni, steam cauliflower on stove or in microwave. Transfer to a blender or food processor and puree with ¼ cup broth, adding more if needed to reach a smooth consistency.
- Heat milk gently on medium heat in a small saucepan, but don’t bring to a boil.
- Melt 2 tablespoons butter on low heat in a large pot. Add 1/3 cup whole wheat flour, stirring with a whisk and cook for two minutes. Slowly whisk in milk and continue cooking for one to two minutes, until thickened and smooth.
- Remove pot from stove, and stir in the Gruyere cheese, Cheddar cheese, ½ tablespoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper and cauliflower puree. Whisk together to melt cheese. Add macaroni and stir to coat.
- Pour macaroni and cheese into prepared baking dish.
- Bake for 30 minutes.
*You can make the cauliflower puree ahead of time and store in fridge or freezer.