Creamy, homemade cheese sauce covering al dente noodles and sautéed veggies you won’t even tell are there, make this Lighter Macaroni and Cheese a family favorite. A delicious comfort meal that will leave you feeling good.
About this Mac and Cheese
Is mac and cheese healthy? Typically mac and cheese is made with rich, dense ingredients. This Lighter Macaroni and Cheese still uses real cheese for protein and delicious flavors, but also we’ll use protein packed noodles for extra staying power. This recipe also includes cultured oil instead of tons of butter and skim milk instead of heavy cream.
Sautéed onions and cauliflower bulk up the dish by adding volume and extra nutrients. When covered in the homemade cheese sauce, the picky eaters in your household won’t even mind that they’re there.
Make this Lighter Macaroni and Cheese as a weeknight meal when you’re craving something hearty, as a side dish with your holiday spread, or meal prep for lunches all week long. It’s creamy, cheesy, and just dang delicious.
The more mac the better, so also check out this Gouda and Roasted Vegetable Mac and Cheese, this Chicken Ranch Mac and Cheese, or this Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese, that I know you'll love!
- Cultured Oil - A neutral oil that we’ll cook the added vegetables in.
- Cauliflower - A neutral veggie that gives volume to this Lighter Macaroni and Cheese and extra nutrients.
- Milk - I used FairLife for extra protein. Any milk will do.
- Cheese - I used raw cheddar and mozzarella. It’s best if you shred your own as it’ll melt better.
- Spices - Spices take this mac and cheese up a notch. This recipe includes paprika, garlic powder, salt and pepper.
- Barilla Protein+ Elbow Pasta - You can use any noodle, although I recommend elbows or shells for the most classic mac and cheese. Banza elbows are another great option.
See the recipe card below for a full list of ingredients and measurements.
How to Make This Recipe
Step 1: Prep ingredients. Heat a sauce pot with water and bring to a boil. Cook the noodles according to the recipe instructions. Strain after noodles are al dente and set aside until needed. Use a cheese grater to finely shred the raw cheddar and mozzarella. Set aside. Use a vegetable chopper (or knife) to finely dice the onions.
Step 2: Sauté veggies. Heat the dutch oven/large sauce pot to medium heat and add ½ tablespoon of Cultured Oil. Add in the diced onions and cauliflower rice and sauté. Cover the pan for a few minutes to let cauliflower steam. Remove the vegetables from the pot and set aside.
Step 3: Make roux. Use the same dutch oven/pot and add 2 tablespoons of Cultured Oil. Whisk in flour until completely absorbed.
Step 4: Add milk. Continue whisking fervently while slowly adding the milk to the pot.
Step 5: Add cheese. Then, add all of the shredded cheese (cheddar and mozzarella/cheddar) while continuing to whisk. The result will be a thick cheese sauce. If the sauce is too thick to stir, add ¼ cup more milk.
Step 6: Add seasoning. Turn off the heat and sprinkle in all of the seasoning and mustard to the cheese sauce.
Step 7: Add noodles. Add the cooked noodles and sautéed vegetables to the pot and stir again so everything is evenly coated. Top with crumbled ritz crackers (optional) and serve hot!
Storage, reheating, and freezing
Store this Lighter Macaroni and Cheese in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3-5 days. Reheat in the microwave for 45-60 seconds.
You can also freeze this recipe, but do note that frozen noodles tend to soak up more of the sauce when frozen. I recommend either adding another ½ cup of milk or using ~½ to 1 cup less noodles if you plan to freeze so the sauce to noodle ratio is higher.
To freeze, let the Lighter Macaroni and Cheese cool completely. Then add to a tupperware or ziplock bag. Keep in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Tips for Success
- Shred your own cheese. This will result in the creamiest Lighter Macaroni and Cheese sauce. Pre-shredded cheese often has additives that prevent it from becoming that luscious sauce texture we want.
- Once you add the cheese, remove the sauce from the heat and continue to whisk. If you leave it on, your cheese will curdle and you’ll end up with a chunky sauce.
- Cook the noodles al dente. The warm sauce will continue to cook the noodles and you don’t want to end up with mush.
How to Customize your Mac
Let this Lighter Macaroni and Cheese recipe serve as a canvas to add all of your favorites to. Here's some ideas:
- Use another cheese:Don’t feel like you have to stick to cheddar + mozzarella. Try shredded pepper jack, gouda, parmesan, or provolone.
- Add veggies: Some of my favorite vegetables to add to this Lighter Macaroni and Cheese are broccoli, zucchini, mushrooms, spinach or peas.
- Add protein: I love adding shredded chicken to my mac and cheese for an even heartier dish. Flaked (or canned) salmon is another tasty option.
- Change up the spices: Paprika and garlic are the main spices in this recipe. Try instead or in addition chili powder, turmeric, onion powder, oregano, or elote seasoning.
More Recipes You'll Love
Love this recipe? Please leave a 5-star 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟rating in the recipe card below & if you really like the recipe consider leaving a comment further down. Thanks for visiting!
Lighter Macaroni and Cheese
- Dutch oven or large pot
- Sauce pot
- vegetable chopper or knife & cutting board
- cheese grater
- measuring cups / spoons
- 14 oz box Barilla Protein+ Elbow Pasta
- 2 ½ tbsp Zero Acre cultured oil, divided
- ¼ cup white onions, diced
- 1 bag frozen cauliflower rice, 10 oz
- ½ cup all purpose flour
- ⅔-1 cup skim milk, I used Fairlife
- 8 oz raw cheddar, shredded
- 8 oz mozzarella, shredded
- 1 tsp paprika
- ½ tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- salt, to taste
- 1 tbsp spicy mustard
- 16 Ritz crackers, optional for topping
- Start by preparing the noodles. Heat a sauce pot with water and bring to a boil. Cook the noodles according to the recipe instructions. Strain after noodles are al dente and set aside until needed.
- Use a cheese grater to finely shred the raw cheddar and mozzarella. Set aside.
- Use a vegetable chopper (or knife) to finely dice the onions.
- Then, heat the dutch oven/large sauce pot to medium heat and add ½ tablespoon of Cultured Oil. Add in the diced onions and cauliflower rice and sauté. Cover the pan for a few minutes to let cauliflower steam. Remove the vegetables from the pot and set aside.
- Now it’s time to make the roux. Use the same dutch oven/pot and add 2 tablespoons of cultured oil. Whisk in flour until completely absorbed. Continue whisking fervently while slowly adding the milk. Set aside remaining ⅓ milk to add later. Depending on noodle type and roux thickness, you may not need this.
- Then, add all of the shredded cheese (cheddar and mozzarella/cheddar) while continuing to whisk. The result will be a thick cheese sauce. If the sauce is too thick to stir, add ¼ cup more milk.
- Turn off the heat and sprinkle in all of the seasoning and mustard to the cheese sauce.
- Add the cooked noodles and sautéed vegetables to the pot and stir again so everything is evenly coated.
- Top with crumbled ritz crackers (optional) and serve hot!
Looking for this in MyFitnessPal?
If you're using MyFitnessPal, search 'A Paige Of Positivity' and find Lighter Macaroni and Cheese calories and nutrition facts. Disclaimer: for most accurate macronutrients and caloric breakdown, it is recommended that you input each ingredient into your MyFitnessPal food diary.
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. It’s my passion to create dishes that can be shared with others. Tell me something you loved or just say hi!
Courtney Paige says
This is SO yummy! I made it for Easter and my family loved it.
Sydney Van Acker says
the extra texture that the cooked cauli and onion bring is real good and the dish still feels SO indulgent! yummy yum yum
Hi! I don’t see flour or amount listed in ingredients, am I just overlooking? Thanks!
Courtney Paige says
Hi Hannah, the recipe card has been updated to reflect this! Thank you!