Healthy Macaroni and Cheese

Macaroni and Cheese: The Original Version

Everyone has their favorite recipe for macaroni and cheese, and they can vary greatly. The common thread between all of these recipes is the long list of unhealthy ingredients: butter, cream, white pasta, and of course, cheese. Sometimes you'll see other ingredients, such as milk, condensed cheddar cheese soup, sour cream and eggs. These ingredients are high in fat, saturated fat, calories, carbohydrates and cholesterol.

So what is a mac and cheese loving dieter to do? Swap out these non-diet friendly ingredients for lighter, lower fat ingredients while still preserving the delicious macaroni and cheese taste.

Not All Macaroni is Created Equal

Whether you prefer elbow macaroni, cavatappi or farfalle, pasta is full of carbohydrates. Many people still use white pasta, but simply switching out the processed white pasta for whole wheat pasta can make a world of difference in your dish. One cup of cooked white pasta has 220 calories, 1 gram of fat, 43 grams of carbohydrates and 3 grams of fiber. One cup of whole wheat pasta has 175 calories, 1 gram of fat, 37 grams of carbohydrates and 6 grams of fiber.

Making this simple swap will save you 45 calories and add 3 grams of fiber to your dish without impacting the taste of the dish. Try experimenting with different shapes and brands of whole wheat pasta until you find one that works for you.

Cream, Butter and Everything Delicious

One of the reasons that macaroni and cheese tastes delicious is that it's usually loaded with butter, cream or some other source of fat. Fat makes everything taste better, but you can still have yummy mac and cheese without adding all that fat. If a recipe calls for butter, you can often cut out half the butter without seriously impacting the taste. Try knocking off a few tablespoons of butter the next time you make it, and I bet you won't even notice a difference. Cutting out just two tablespoons of butter will save you 200 calories, 22 grams of fat, 14 grams of saturated fat and 60 milligrams of cholesterol.

If your recipe calls for heavy cream, try using half and half instead. Swapping one cup of cream for one cup of half and half will save you 100 calories, 16 grams of fat and 11 grams of saturated fat. Other simple substitutions in this category include using skim milk instead of whole milk, which will shave off 60 calories, 8 grams of fat and 20 milligrams of cholesterol per cup. If your recipe calls for sour cream, substitute fat free sour cream for the full fat variety to save 270 calories, 45 grams of fat and 26 grams of saturated fat per cup.

Cheese: The Main Attraction

Cheese is what really makes macaroni and cheese delicious. That same delicious cheese, however, is loaded with fat and saturated fat. It may kill a cheese connoisseur to hear this, but using a reduced fat cheese can make your mac and cheese a lot healthier. At just about any grocery store, you can find 2 percent reduced fat shredded varieties of cheddar and mozzarella cheeses. Substituting one cup of low-fat shredded cheddar cheese for the full-fat cheddar will cut out 230 calories, 29 grams of fat and 19 grams of saturated fat. If you don't want to cut out all of the full fat cheese, experiment with using different ratios of regular and reduced-fat cheese. Some cheeses, like Gruyere and gouda, may not be available in a lower fat version at your local store. If this is the case, try scaling back on the amount of those cheeses you add. Cutting out a little bit won't impact flavor but will reduce fat and calories.

Making it Yours

Experimenting with different combinations of substitutions can lead to a delicious, healthier version of mac and cheese that is sure to become a family favorite. If you don't feel comfortable trying out substitutions on your own, search out a recipe that has already done the testing for you. Try websites or cookbooks that are known for low-fat, healthier cooking, like Weight Watchers and Cooking Light.

You can try adding vegetables to your mac and cheese for added vitamins, minerals and fiber. Try tossing in some baby spinach, broccoli or mushrooms. You can also experiment with different spices to up the flavor without increasing fat or calories. Spices like garlic or curry powder can bring a whole new dimension to a classic dish. Also, indulging in mac and cheese as a side dish instead of a main dish will also make the dish more reasonable in terms of calories and fat. Healthy macaroni and cheese isn't an impossible dream – it just takes some experimenting and patience.

References

The Food Network. "Macaroni and Cheese." https://www.foodnetwork.com/topics/macaroni-and-cheese/index.html

Self Nutrition Data. https://nutritiondata.self.com/