How to Make Healthier Mac and Cheese

We have eight simple ways you can make your mac and cheese healthier without sacrificing flavor
How to Make Healthier Mac and Cheese

Good mac and cheese should have a rich, creamy, and flavorful cheese sauce.

There is something so undeniably wonderful about a big bowl of homemade macaroni and cheese; the store-bought box-mix version just can’t compare. One part carbohydrate-loaded comfort food and one part cheesy, golden deliciousness, macaroni and cheese is nearly perfect — except when you stop to think about it from a nutritional standpoint. Macaroni and cheese is notoriously high in fat, calories, and salt. But don’t despair: Eating healthy doesn’t have to mean giving up everything you love, even when it comes to cheesy pasta treats. There are lots of ways to make classic mac and cheese healthier without sacrificing flavor.

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One of the biggest problems with making macaroni and cheese healthier is that most macaroni-and-cheese-made-healthy recipes out there don’t actually taste like their namesake. It seems like a no-brainer, but good macaroni and cheese — even a healthier version — should be made from pasta (no replacing all the pasta with a vegetable substitute) and should have a rich, creamy, and flavorful cheese sauce. Otherwise, it’s just not macaroni and cheese.

One of the best ways to make this childhood favorite healthier is to add bold flavors. Introducing ingredients like fire-roasted tomatoes, smoked paprika, or a pinch of dried sage to complement the cheeses you’re using and give your casserole a deeper and more complex flavor. When a dish is truly flavorful and well-seasoned, it’s easier to cut some of the fat or calories (in this case, cheese or milk fat) without compromising taste.

We love macaroni and cheese, so we’ve come up with a few ideas for making it healthier — swaps that we believe respect all the cheesy, starchy goodness of this classic comfort food. That way, we can enjoy it any time we want and not feel quite so guilty! Here are eight tasty ways to upgrade mac and cheese to a hearty, healthy dish.

Control the Fat

One of the easiest ways to cut some of the fat and calories in your macaroni and cheese is to replace any of the cream or whole milk in the cheese sauce recipe with skim milk. You can also replace some of the butter with olive oil for a healthier type of fat.

Use Flavorful Cheeses

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Hard cheeses like Parmesan typically have fewer calories than softer varieties like Cheddar or mozzarella. If your recipe doesn’t call for any hard cheeses, try cutting back on the amount of soft cheeses and toss in a healthy handful of grated Parmesan instead. As an added bonus, you’ll get lots of deep, salty flavor.

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Kristie Collado is The Daily Meal’s Cook Editor. Follow her on Twitter @KColladoCook.