So cheesy, so gooey, and so not the healthiest thing on the planet. Sounds like mac and cheese, alright. Maybe it’s the only thing your picky eater likes, or maybe it’s your go-to box meal when you’re crazy busy and just need to get something – anything – on the table. No shaming here. I’ve been there. Many times (too many times). Life is exhausting. But hey, at least you can turn that mac into a nutritious meal with kid appeal.
I’m serious. mac and cheese can be healthy. I know what you’re thinking. “That won’t fly in my kitchen!” But there are ways to give your favorite mac and cheese a healthy jolt, without the kids being totally appalled. Your about to make vegetables taste really good. Best mom ever!
If you’ve got a box on hand, add one of these to up its health factor.
Easy Add-ins for Mac & Cheese
A jar of low-sodium salsa
Frozen butternut squash (heat in microwave, then smash with a fork or puree in a blender)
Chopped red bell pepper or chopped zucchini, heated in microwave
Try adding different herbs and spices and see what your family likes. We love curry, turmeric, and smoked paprika. Broccoli, and even a little bit of non-fat Greek yogurt, can also be added to a simple cheese sauce to give it a makeover and boost its protein content. Avocado can be used to make a completely different version of this classic as well. Let your kids experiment with you in the kitchen too. Try new brands of macaroni, including whole-grain varieties.
Another option is adding veggies to your own sauce. This recipe uses cauliflower, but you can work in almost any pureed vegetable you can think of.
Cauliflower Mac & Cheese
1 small head cauliflower, cut into florets
1 pound dry whole-wheat macaroni pasta
2 tablespoons melted butter or healthy butter substitute
1 cup skim milk
1/4 cup flour
2 cups shredded cheese
salt and pepper to taste
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add cauliflower and cook until tender. Transfer cauliflower to a bowl with a slotted spoon. Using a food processor or a blender, puree your cauliflower and set aside.
In the same pot of boiling water, cook pasta according to the package directions. Drain and put pasta in a bowl with pureed cauliflower.
In another large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat.
Whisk in flour and stir for 1 minute. Stir in milk and cook for five minutes, until thickened. Remove from heat.
Stir in cheese and season with salt and pepper.
Mix cheese with your pureed cauliflower and pasta.
Toss in any add-ins and combine well. Boom. Dinner’s done.
Whatever you add, keep this in mind: kids are more likely to try a new food when it’s paired with a favorite. For example, if they love Canadian bacon, serve it with Brussels sprouts the first time you offer them. Mix and match new veggies with things they already love. And make it colorful. Kids eat with their eyes just like us. If they already love peas, add an extra pop of color with steamed chopped carrots (which are super easy to cook in the microwave, by the way). Or throw in some diced red peppers to add crunch and color contrast. Same goes for mac and cheese. If they already love it, add new foods to it. The possibilities are endless!