26 Healthier Mac and Cheese Recipes That Still Taste Indulgent (2024)

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Warm, melty, and creamy—macaroni and cheese is pretty much perfect. Far too often, however, we make it from a box… which isn’t the healthiest of options.

We’re all short on time, but the truth is, making homemade pasta and cheese sauce doesn’t take that long—and for those few extra minutes, you get tons more flavor, far less sodium, and no artificial colors or flavors. Seems like a win to us!

Next time you’re tempted to reach for that blue box, make one of these easy recipes featuring different noodles, added veggies, creative sauces (that still taste cheesy), or vegan ingredients. All of them are made from real foods, and when you’re going to have comfort food, that’s what matters most.

Alternative Noodles

1. Truffle Gnocchi Macaroni and Cheese

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Gnocchi are delicate potato dumplings you can douse in any pasta sauce. Here, of course, the sauce is a Swiss-cheddar-Parmesan mix that keeps the color light but the flavor rich. The truffle butter in the recipe may be a little pricey, but the mushrooms have so much earthy goodness, it’s worth it.

2. Twice Baked Spaghetti Squash Mac ‘n’ Cheese

We love how the strings of spaghetti squash are so close to the real thing, you can use it to make any Italian dish a little lighter. A five-ingredient sauce comes together quickly, so once your squash is roasted, dinner is only minutes away.

3. Quinoa Mac ‘n’ Cheese

This certainly doesn’t look like your traditional dish, but that doesn’t mean you won’t devour it just the same. In addition to using protein-rich quinoa, leeks and tomatoes are mixed in for extra flavor and nutrients. It bakes into more of a pie than a gooey mess, but that just means you can eat with your hands!

4. Mac ‘n’ Cheese Zoodles

We’ve had zucchini noodles every other way; it would be a sin not to have them smothered in melted cheddar. Here you get not just cheddar but also cream cheese and goat cheese mixed in for a super silky consistency. Top with some protein for more staying power.

5. Sweet Potato Mac and Cheese

All you need are six ingredients to whip up this sweet yet savory dinner. Sweet potatoes may seem odd as pasta, but cook them quickly in a skillet, and they’ll be soft yet not mushy like baked taters. This one’s so good and easy, it may replace your go-to stuffed sweet potato recipe.

6. Cheesy Baked Quinoa

This recipe takes its cheese commitment seriously. Feel free to toss some veggies or protein into the mix, just be sure you actually dive below the heavenly layer of cheese on top to actually eat the rest!


7. Stovetop Avocado Mac and Cheese

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Finally, our two favorite food groups come together. (Yes, we consider avocados and macaroni and cheese their own food groups). We don’t just love avocados for their rich, creamy texture; they’re pretty powerful in the nutrition department too, offering about 13 percent of your daily recommended potassium and 7 grams of fiber in one serving of this meal.

8. Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Bacon, and Pepperjack Macaroni and Cheese

Many kids may turn their noses up at Brussels sprouts, but if you’re like us, you’ve grown to love these mini cabbage-like veggies. And good thing since the sulfur compounds in them fight cancer.Anticancer Mechanism of Sulfur-Containing Compounds. De Gianni E, Fimognari C. The Enzymes, 2015, Jun.;37():0423-2607. Mix the greens with their natural partner—bacon—and some spicy cheese and elbow noodles, and you’ve got a winning combination.

9. Spicy Roasted Vegetable Macaroni and Cheese

This ain’t no kids’ mac. Four different veggies add color, flavor, texture, fiber, and lotsa vitamins and minerals; spices add a bit of bold flavor. Bonus: All that heat from the cayenne may help relieve pain, though studies are inconclusive at this point.Effect of highly purified capsaicin on articular cartilage and rotator cuff tendon healing: An in vivo rabbit study. Friel NA, McNickle AG, DeFranco MJ. Journal of orthopaedic research : official publication of the Orthopaedic Research Society, 2015, Jul.;():1554-527X. Capsaicin 8 % as a cutaneous patch (Qutenza™): analgesic effect on patients with peripheral neuropathic pain. Raber JM, Reichelt D, Grüneberg-Oelker U. Acta neurologica Belgica, 2014, Nov.;115(3):2240-2993.

10. Three-Cheese Macaroni Stuffed Peppers

Is it just us or does putting food inside a veggie makes it taste better? Well, with gruyère and both sharp and white cheddar, this one certainly tastes amazing. It’s perfect for a dinner party or main course on a cozy night in.

11. Greek Macaroni and Cheese With Roasted Garlic and Caramelized Leeks

This one doesn’t skimp on the cream and butter, but veggies help balance it all out with antioxidants and calcium (credit: spinach), lycopene (thank you, sun-dried tomatoes), and vitamin K (holla leeks!). Along with oregano, rosemary, and feta, you’ll certainly taste the Greek in this dish.

12. Whole-Wheat Mac and Cheese With Swiss Chard

Spinach and kale tend to hog the spotlight when it comes to leafy greens, but give Swiss chard a shot. It has flavonoids and betalains (natural pigments) that fight cancer.Nutritional and functional potential of Beta vulgaris cicla and rubra. Ninfali P, Angelino D. Fitoterapia, 2013, Jun.;89():1873-6971. Identification of betalains from petioles of differently colored Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris L. ssp. cicla [L.] Alef. Cv. Bright Lights) by high-performance liquid chromatography-electrospray ionization mass spectrometry. Kugler F, Stintzing FC, Carle R. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry, 2004, Jul.;52(10):0021-8561. If you’re up for a pink dinner, grab red Swiss chard; otherwise, go for green. Definitely use whole-wheat pasta so you get more fiber.

13. Cauliflower Pea and Edamame Mac ‘n’ Cheese

See that green peeking out of this cheesy dish? That’s protein—in the form of peas and edamame. But what you’ll really love is the paprika-spiked breadcrumbs, which lend a smoky, crunchy taste you’ll want more of.

14. Zucchini Mac and Cheese

With a mere six ingredients and five uncomplicated steps, this one’s pretty simple. Zucchini brings some vitamin B6, which helps break down protein so your body can use it. Pick your favorite cheese or try a blend. Anything goes!

Healthier Sauces

15. Healthy Mac and Cheese

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Have you heard about people using butternut squash in mac and cheese and thought it sounded like blasphemy? Don’t knock it till you try this recipe. Using the squash means you can use less cream, butter, and cheese, yet still have a creamy sauce that’s also naturally orange. Caramelized onions add a rich flavor you’d never get from a powder.

16. Pizza Mac ‘n’ Cheese

Pizza and mac n’ cheese rolled into one dish—now you’re speaking our language. And between the whole-wheat pasta and Greek yogurt-based sauce, it’s not half bad for you either. Only 25 minutes to fix, it’s also perfect for a fast and comforting weeknight dinner.

17. Cauliflower Mac and Cheese With Crispy Panko Topping

Cauliflower not only magically turns into a great substitute for mashed potatoes and pizza crust, it also transforms into cheese sauce (with the help of actual cheese, naturally). And it’s loaded with vitamin C, that all-important antioxidant powerhouse.

18. Carrot Mac ‘n’ Cheese Pasta

We may be adults, but it’s still fun to eat a dish where the veggies are cleverly concealed. Puréed carrots lend some healthy vitamins and carotenoids (good for eye health), but there are still three types of cheese—ricotta, cheddar, and Parmesan—so you know your taste buds will be happy.

19. Creamy Greek Yogurt Mac and Cheese

One look at this and you’ll want to dive right in. The sauce is made from Greek yogurt, your fave cheese, onion and garlic powder, and some starchy water from cooking the pasta. That’s right: no butter, no flour, nothing heavy, yet still so gooey you’ll want to lick the bowl after. And it all cooks in one pot for easy cleanup.


20. Spicy Southwest Macaroni and Cheese

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If your friends thinks vegan food is flavorless, make them this—it will change even the strongest anti-vegan’s mind. Jalapeño, chilies, cumin, and cayenne spice things up, but of course you can adjust the measurements if you prefer a milder meal. With beans and optional toppings like green onions and avocado, this dish is like loaded nachos—on pasta.

21. Easiest Vegan, Gluten-Free Mac ‘n’ Cheese and Peas

Rather than calling upon vegan butter and cheeses, this recipes uses cashews and cannellini beans for the perfect consistency, nutritional yeast for cheesy flavor, and turmeric for coloring. But this is no basic sauce: Paprika makes it nice and smoky. Toss in peas or any other veggies you like.

22. Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese

This one is loaded with nutrient-packed ingredients that also purée into the ideal texture. We’re talking butternut squash, cashews, and avocado, which fortify your body with vitamins A and C, healthy fats, and fiber. The only things you need to cook are your pasta (or use zucchini noodles) and the squash; then simply make the sauce in a blender and toss it all together.

23. Sweet Potato Kale Mac ‘n’ Cheeze

Sweeten the deal with this recipe, which combines sweet potatoes, maple syrup, and vegan cheese for its sauce. The taters aren’t the only veggies here; kale joins the party so you can get some leafy greens too. The blogger tops everything with rice cereal, but you can omit that if it feels a little too Thanksgiving side dish to you.

24. Super Loaded Vegan Mac and Cheese

Packed with veggies, this is a healthy and delicious crowd-pleaser. If you’re short on time, only add the broccoli and cauliflower. But try to make the additional add-ins, which don’t take much longer and mean you get more vegetables, some spice, and more ooey, gooey goodness.

25. Classy Mac

Feelin’ fancy? Make this. Yes, the ingredients list is a bit long, but you get so much flavor: Bell pepper, onion, carrots, and parsnips are puréed with cashews, nutritional yeast, paprika, chili, and nutmeg. Sounds amazing, right? Well, it gets even better because that sauce mixes with sautéd mushrooms, Swiss chard, and the pasta, of course. We call it a must-try!

26. Mac and Cheeze

With a mere six ingredients, this can be whipped up in minutes, and it serves one, so you can eat the whole thing! (It’s also easy to double or triple the recipe to serve more.) Using unsweetened soy milk adds about seven grams of protein to your meal.

26 Healthier Mac and Cheese Recipes That Still Taste Indulgent (2024)


What can you add to mac and cheese to make it taste better? ›

8 Ways to Elevate Your Macaroni and Cheese Dinners
  1. Add extra cheese to your dish.
  2. Mix in some hot sauce and chicken to make buffalo chicken mac n' cheese.
  3. Add in vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and spinach.
  4. Sprinkle some bacon bits or breadcrumbs on the top of your dish.
  5. Add spices and fresh herbs to your dish.
May 21, 2022

What does adding more milk to mac and cheese do? ›

Sauce too thick? Stir in a splash of milk and mix until the sauce has loosened up. (This is also a great trick for reheating mac and cheese - if you're microwaving leftovers and the sauce seems to have dried up, stir a splash of milk or half-and-half into the pasta to bring the sauce back to life!)

What is a good cheddar substitute for mac and cheese? ›

Gruyere is a classic addition because it melts much like Cheddar, but has a lovely nutty flavor. Other classics include Gouda, Muenster, Parmesan, fontina, Havarti and Monterey Jack. Brie works well too, just make sure you remove the rind before mixing it in.

What can you substitute for macaroni in macaroni and cheese? ›

Pasta: Elbow macaroni is the classic mac and cheese shape, but any other short noodle will work like small shells, cavatappi, gemelli, campanelle, or radiator. Unsalted Butter + All-Purpose Flour: The combination of these creates a roux, which thickens the cheese sauce.

What is the most flavorful cheese for mac and cheese? ›

Sharp cheddar is the overwhelming popular choice, but for extra-creamy results, we think medium cheddar is even better. Other delicious options include Gruyère, smoked Gouda, and Monterey Jack.

How does Gordon Ramsay make the best mac and cheese? ›

  1. In a large pot over medium heat, combine the pasta and milk. ...
  2. Once the pasta is cooked, remove the pan from the heat and add the butter, cheddar cheese, salt, and pepper. ...
  3. Divide between serving bowls and top with the bread crumbs.
  4. Enjoy!
  5. All your favorite recipes, stored in one place.
May 4, 2023

Why does my homemade mac and cheese taste bland? ›

Try adding a little more salt first, because that might fix it. If the problem was the cheese you use doesn't have much flavor, then try adding some other flavors, such has mustard or hot sauce. The next time you make it, try to find some more strongly flavor cheese, or adding more cheese.

Why is evaporated milk better for mac and cheese? ›

Evaporated milk is a highly concentrated source of milk protein micelles—bundles of proteins that can act as powerful emulsifying agents—which help to keep the sauce creamy and smooth.

Is it better to use milk or heavy cream for mac and cheese? ›

Heavy cream is, in my opinion, the best milk substitute for kraft mac and cheese. It's thicker and more luxurious than milk, so I actually think this makes a better end result! just add the heavy whipping cream in the same way you would add the milk.

What happens if you use water instead of milk in mac and cheese? ›

Water actually works perfectly well as a milk substitute in mac and cheese. It adds all the liquid you need, though it doesn't have the creaminess or flavor that other substitutes add. However, if you add a little pasta water, instead of plain tap water, to your cheese sauce, you might get better results.

How to jazz up mac and cheese? ›

Prepare the boxed mac and cheese according to package directions, then mix things up by adding cooked ground beef, shredded pepper Jack cheese, and a packet of taco seasoning to your mac and cheese. If you love gumbo and crawfish, this Cajun twist on boxed mac and cheese is for you.

Why does my mac and cheese not taste good? ›

Not salting the pasta water

And great pasta begins with water that's been heavily salted. We're talking ocean water levels of salt. Not adding salt to your water leads to bland, tasteless noodles. This, in turn, leads to a finished product that is flavorless even after adding the cheese sauce.

Does salt make mac and cheese taste better? ›

BUT—and this is important—be careful not to UNDERSALT the mac and cheese. It really needs ample salt to put the flavor over the top. *I also use paprika, cayenne pepper, even ground thyme every now and then. Play with different ground spices and see what you like best.

Does macaroni and cheese fit into a healthy diet? ›

Mac and cheese are known for being rich, creamy, and high in calories. However, the calorie and nutrient levels vary depending on the brand, ingredients, and serving size. It can be enjoyed in moderation as part of a healthy diet, but there are also ways to lower the calorie count and enhance the nutrient content.

What is a healthy alternative to cheese on pasta? ›

Plus, many of these alternatives are healthier than cheese, so you can enjoy the same pasta dish without all the added calories. One of the most popular alternatives to cheese on pasta is pesto. Pesto is a flavorful blend of fresh herbs, garlic, olive oil, and nuts, and it can really bring out the flavor of the pasta.

How unhealthy is mac and cheese? ›

While boxed mac and cheese requires very little brainpower or culinary savvy, the combo of refined flour macaroni, ultra-processed cheese sauce, and surprising amounts of sodium — more than 700 milligrams (mg) in a cup serving — that go into popular brands won't leave you with much nutrition on your plate.

Is there a healthy cheese alternative? ›

06/6Tahini Spread

It's a creamy paste made from ground sesame seeds and can provide the dishes a delectable nutty flavour and rich texture. This is a vegan alternative of dairy cheese and can be used as a dip, sandwich spread, or even sauce.


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