Boxed macaroni and cheese; it’s quick, it’s tasty, and you know the kids are not going to complain, but is it healthy? The simple answer would be no. White noodles and processed cheese product don’t exactly scream nutritious. However, with a few simple swaps, boxed Mac-N-Cheese can go from nutritionally drab to fab in no time.
Step 1. Throw in some veggies. Dark greens are always a good choice. Try throwing in some fresh spinach, steamed broccoli or peas. Just stir the cooked veggies in with the cheese sauce. If you are looking for a less conspicuous veggie addition, try adding pureed cauliflower, sweet potato, or butternut squash. This boosts the nutrient value while still retaining the same color and texture. Adding veggies to your mac’ increases the fiber, nutrients, and helps you fill up on less calories.
Step 2. Pump up the protein. Instead of adding the traditional hot dog slices, try adding left over chicken or diced lean ham. For a vegetarian option, edamame (soy beans) are a good way to add plant-based protein. Protein helps keep you full for longer and it is needed for muscle building and repair.
Step 3. Top with fresh herbs and spices. Eating spicy food has been show to slightly increase your metabolism. For a little metabolism boost try adding red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper or Tabasco. Cumin, mustard, or fresh cut herbs also have heath benefits and can add a nice hint of flavor.
Step 4. Switch out the dairy. Use only half (or none) of the powdered cheese and add a handful of grated sharp cheddar or Gruyere instead. The more powerful the cheese. the less you will need. Opt for low-fat or skim milk instead of whole. Try adding just a small pat of butter instead of the recommended four tablespoons. These simple swaps add up to a big calorie savings without sacrificing the flavor.
All kids (and most adults too) love macaroni and cheese. Why not make it just a bit healthier with some of these simple tricks? What is your favorite way to “healthify” your macaroni and cheese?
Heather Mason is a Registered Dietitian who holds a Master’s Degree in Nutrition Science. She has a passion for debunking nutrition myths and helping people discover delicious and healthy food. You can read more posts from her on her blog, Nutty Nutrition.