When it comes to easy meals that are equal parts crave-worthy and crowd-pleasing, it’s hard to beat mac and cheese. But while we love an indulgently classic version, we’re also not opposed to switching things up to get a more balanced (but still delicious) end product.
Maybe you have little kids who love the stuff, but the second they see a green vegetable mixed in, they lose their appetite. Or maybe mac and cheese is your weeknight treat — but you’d love to add more protein or fiber to the mix. Below we’ve rounded up some of our favorite small-but-smart mac upgrades that do all of the above.
1. Swap out milk or heavy cream for Greek yogurt.
There’s no denying that the best part of mac and cheese is the ultra-creamy sauce. Typically, you’re using heavy cream or milk, plus butter to get that effect. But in this recipe, swapping in Greek yogurt gets you a thick and creamy base, but with more protein and less fat.
Get the recipe: Broccoli Mac and Cheese with Creamy Greek Yogurt Sauce
2. Go with high-protein noodles.
Swapping standard noodles for ones made out of chickpea, lentil, or pea flour is a smart upgrade. Not only do all three have more protein and fiber, but once they’re covered in a cheese sauce, you also likely won’t even notice the difference. Here at Kitchn, we’re big fans of Banza, which is made from chickpeas. My toddler also loves Annie’s Mac, which has a version made with pea protein.
3. Or ditch the noodles all together — and try quinoa mac and cheese.
Quinoa is a solid source of protein and fiber and can easily swap in as a base. This recipe swaps cheese for nutritional yeast to keep things vegan-friendly. (But you can always stick to your cheese of choice, too!)
Get the recipe: 5-ingredient Broccoli + Quinoa Mac and Cheese from Simply Quinoa
4. Add plenty of vegetables.
It’s the oldest trick in the book — but still worth mentioning since it’s so versatile. Bulk up standard mac by adding your favorite greens, such as spinach, broccoli florets, or asparagus spears. Mix in halved grape or cherry tomatoes for a cool burst of acidity, or swirl in some roasted red peppers. Take your pick!
Get the recipe: Veggie-Packed Mac and Cheese
5. Sneak cauliflower into the sauce.
If your kids (or you!) see front-and-center veggies as a non-starter with mac and cheese, cauliflower is a smart and subtle alternative. In this recipe, you’ll toss cauliflower into a food processor with olive oil and water until it’s a smooth purée, then you’ll add two types of cheese. Extra serving of veggies that even super-selective palates probably won’t even detect? Check.
Get the recipe: Oven-Baked Cauliflower Mac and Cheese
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