A Healthy Take on Mac + Cheese

How to Make This Classic Dish More Nutritious

Article by Shanna Hutcheson

Photography by Shanna Hutcheson

If I’m being completely honest, mac and cheese is one of my top five favorite foods. I’m talking Kraft mac and cheese, out of the box, especially shells. I don’t think anyone can deny that stuff is freaking good. It’s not the healthiest, obviously, but hey—we’re here for a good time, not a long time, right? ; ) At least that’s what my husband always says…

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As much as I love treating myself, I also love playing with recipes to make them a little healthier so I can feel good about eating them and serving them to my family. That’s exactly what I did here!

How I Made This Baked Mac and Cheese a Little Bit Healthier

Here are some of the ways I have made this mac and cheese more nutritious:

  • Whole wheat pasta

  • Whole wheat flour

  • Whole wheat breadcrumbs

  • Veggies added: onion, garlic, cauliflower, green onions

  • Real, sharp cheddar cheese

  • You could easily substitute broccoli for the cauliflower if you prefer

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This recipe was inspired by Damn Delicious’ Skinny Cauliflower Mac & Cheese. She has tons of great recipes on her site, so be sure to check her out. I have made her version using low-fat cheese and 2 percent milk before, so it is possible, but it is much more delicious with half and half and full fat cheese. Sometimes you just can’t skimp on the full fat dairy products. They have lots of nutrition to offer, and they make it super satisfying. But it’s your call!

Add a Protein  

If you want to add chicken breast (or another protein) to this baked mac and cheese, that is definitely an option. Just cut some chicken into thin strips and bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 to 12 minutes (or until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees) while you are cooking your pasta. Make sure to turn the oven back down to 375 degrees when the chicken is done.

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Baked Cauliflower Mac + Cheese with bread crumbs puts a healthy spin on a childhood favorite without sacrificing flavor! It's easy to make and feeds a crowd. Total time: 40 mins.


  • 4 cups rotini pasta whole wheat

  • 2 cups cauliflower florets

  • 1 medium yellow onion chopped

  • 2 tsp minced garlic

  • 2 tbsp ghee or butter

  • 2 tbsp whole wheat flour

  • 1 cup half and half

  • 2 tbsp plain whipped cream cheese

  • 2 tsp dijon mustard

  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder

  • Salt and pepper to taste

  • 2 cups sharp cheddar cheese shredded

  • 1/2 cup 100 percent whole wheat bread crumbs

  • Chopped green onions to garnish


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 9×13 pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

  2. In a large pot of boiling water, cook pasta according to package instructions. Within the last three minutes of cooking time, add cauliflower florets; drain well.

  3. Add a small drizzle of extra virgin olive oil to a very large skillet and/or dutch oven (4-5 inches deep; large enough to hold all of the pasta, plus other ingredients) over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and minced garlic, stir and cook for about 3-4 minutes. Once cooked, transfer onion and garlic to a small bowl and set aside.

  4. Melt ghee/butter in the same large pan over medium high heat. Whisk in flour until lightly browned, about 1 minute. Gradually whisk in half and half, and cook, whisking constantly, until incorporated, about 1-2 minutes. Stir in cream cheese, Dijon and garlic powder until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes.

  5. Stir in 1 cup cheese until melted, about 1-2 minutes. If the mixture is too thick, add more half and half as needed; season with salt and pepper, to taste.

  6. Stir in cooked pasta and cauliflower; gently toss to combine. Sprinkle with remaining 1 cup cheese.

  7. Transfer all ingredients to prepared 9×13 pan. Sprinkle whole wheat bread crumbs evenly over the top of the mac and cheese.

  8. Place into oven and bake until bubbly, about 12-15 minutes.

  9. Serve immediately, garnished with chopped green onions, if desired. Store in airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.


Calories: 351kcal | Carbohydrates: 34g | Protein: 14g | Fat: 19g | Saturated Fat: 11g | Cholesterol: 54mg | Sodium: 260mg | Potassium: 240mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 8.8% | Vitamin C: 18.1% | Calcium: 25.5% | Iron: 7%

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Follow Shanna Hutcheson @wellnessforthewin

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