Cook This!

18 Amazing Mac-and-Cheese Recipes for Weight Loss

Boost your health and trim your waist with these slimmed-down versions of a classic comfort food.

18 Amazing Mac-and-Cheese Recipes for Weight Loss
Cook This!

18 Amazing Mac-and-Cheese Recipes for Weight Loss

Boost your health and trim your waist with these slimmed-down versions of a classic comfort food.

If there’s one food that brings back memories of childhood, it’s mac-and-cheese. But as grownups, the calorie, sodium and fat counts should make you think twice. Blame it on the butter, milk, cheese, or carb-laden noodles — this dish is traditionally by no means a healthful one. But it can be! We’ve compiled 19 nourishing macaroni and cheese recipes that comprise everything from veggies to chili to fruit. They’ll let you indulge in nostalgia while boosting your health and even shrinking your waist. As a general rule, keep serving sizes to about a cup, substitute low-fat dairy and volumize with one of our best veggies for weight loss!

1

SRIRACHA MAC & CHEESE VEGETABLE BAKE

Getting kids to eat their veggies is no small feat. If you’re a parent, you’re probably guilty of whipping up a box of mac-and-cheese to avoid the everyday food battle. But what if we told you there was a way to make that instant child-pleaser more nutritious? This recipe combines organic macaroni and cheese mix with fresh bell peppers, squash, broccoli, bread crumbs and parmesan cheese. It’s a fun spin on the classic that helps you sneak nutrients into your kid’s belly, and you’ll love it too.

WHAT YOU NEED
1 cup (about 1 pepper) sliced red pepper
1 cup (about 1 pepper) sliced yellow pepper
½ cup cup sliced squash
1 large broccoli head
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 box Horizon Classic Mac, prepared according to instructions
2 tablespoons sriracha
½ cup bread crumbs
¼ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

WHAT TO DO
Preparation: Heat oven to 425 degrees F.
Toss all vegetables with olive oil, salt and pepper. Divide mixture between two bake sheets and roast for about 20 minutes or until slightly browned. Remove from oven; set aside. Prepare Horizon Classic Mac according to package. Mix in Sriracha (add more to taste if needed). Transfer mac and cheese to an oven proof pan. Fold in oven-roasted vegetables. In a separate bowl, combine and mix breadcrumbs with parmesan cheese; sprinkle mixture on top of mac and cheese. Transfer to an oven and broil on high for 2-3 minutes or until top becomes brown and crunchy.

NUTRITION PER SERVING: 238 calories, 10.3 g fat (2.7 g saturated), 711 mg sodium, 27.3 g carbs, 4.4 g fiber, 3.6 g sugars, 9.1 g protein (calculated with 6 servings).

Recipe and photo by Real Food by Dad.

2

CAJUN SHRIMP MAC AND CHEESE

Heat things up with this Cajun shrimp entree. Not only is seafood a great source of lean, low-calorie protein, but unlike its aquatic brethren, shrimp is super-convenient to make. Pre-cooked and deveined shrimp is ready to eat in just minutes, and it's one of our favorite convenience foods to fight belly fat! Looking to cut calories and carbs? Add more metabolism-boosting and appetite-suppressing shrimp and cut back on pasta.

NUTRITION PER SERVING: 444 calories, 12.7 g fat (7.4 g saturated), 900 mg sodium, 49.3 g carbs, 2.2 g fiber, 4.3 g sugars, 33.3 g protein (calculated with nonfat greek yogurt in place of heavy cream, reduced-fat shredded cheeses and 2.5 tablespoons of unsalted butter).

Get the recipe from Lemons For Lulu.

3

5-INGREDIENT CHEESY SQUASH QUINOA

Packed with protein and loaded with essential amino acids and fiber, quinoa is a wholesome alternative to pasta. With just five ingredients in this recipe, you can create a bowl brimming with nutrients and flavor for less than 250 calories a serving.

WHAT YOU NEED
1½ cups quinoa
2 cups water
1 cup vegetable stock
1 acorn squash
2 cups reduced-fat colby jack cheese, shredded

WHAT TO DO
In a medium pot with a lid bring water and vegetable stock to a boil and add the quinoa. Stir once or twice, then reduce heat to low and cover with lid.

Meanwhile, in a microwave safe Tupperware container add the whole acorn squash. Cook for 12 minutes (or until a fork pokes in easily). Remove from microwave and allow to cool for 5 minutes, then cut in half and scoop out seeds and innards, then scoop out the cooked squash and put it in a bowl and mash until smooth in consistency.
When quinoa is done cooking (20 minutes) fluff with a spoon, then add the squash and cheese, stir to combine and put in a bowl and serve!

NUTRITION PER SERVING: 231 calories, 8 g fat (3.7 g saturated), 232 mg sodium, 27.5 g carbs, 3.2 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 13.1 g protein (calculated with organic low-sodium veggie stock and reduced-fat colby jack cheese).

Recipe and photo by Sweet Phi.

4

FRENCH ONION SOUP MACARONI AND CHEESE

When savory french onion soup pairs up with cheesy macaroni, the combination is divine. It isn’t the skinniest dish of the bunch, but it provides 32 grams of satiating protein and meets 81% of daily calcium needs. Just limit yourself to one helping.

PER SERVING: 596 calories, 30.5 g fat (16.8 g saturated), 445 mg sodium, 46.1 g carbs, 5.6 g fiber, 7.2 g sugars, 32 g protein (calculated with part-skim cheeses and nonfat milk, no croutons and divided into 8 servings)

Get the recipe from Savory Simple.

5

30 MINUTE CHEESY CHILI MAC

This is the ultimate comfort food dish. Spicy chili seasonings complement a blend of Mexican cheeses. The best part? It’s simple to make, provides 76% of your daily dose of vitamin C and fries fat. Studies have linked capsaicin, the compound that gives chiles their signature kick, to boosted metabolic rate and decreased appetite. According to researchers at Purdue University, it takes just 1 gram of red pepper (about 1/2 a teaspoon) to do the trick!

NUTRITION PER SERVING: 387 calories, 16 g fat (7 g saturated), 628 mg sodium, 40 g carbs, 5 g fiber, 5.7 g sugars, 20 g protein (calculated with organic low-sodium chili).

Get the recipe from Creme de la Crumb.

6

BROCCOLI CHICKEN MAC & CHEESE

You can fight cancer with this comfort food. Clinical trials show that eating steamed broccoli just a few times a week can lower rates of prostate, breast, lung and skin cancers. How? Sulforaphane, a compound that “switches off” cancer genes. You can feel very good about spooning up this recipe.

WHAT YOU NEED

1 pound dry pasta (I used small shells, but you could use macaroni or any shape of pasta)
1 bunch broccoli, cut into bite-sized florets
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup vegetable or chicken stock
1 cup nonfat milk, warmed
2 1/2 cups 2% reduced-fat grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper, or more to taste
2 cooked boneless, skinless chicken breasts
(optional topping for the baked version) 1/2 cup extra reduced-fat shredded cheddar cheese and 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs

HOW TO MAKE IT

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Cook pasta al dente in a large stockpot of salted water according to package instructions. About 2-3 minutes before the pasta reaches al dente, add in the broccoli florets and let them cook alongside the pasta for the remainder of the cooking time. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, as the pasta water is heating, melt butter in a (separate) medium saute pan over medium-high heat.
Add garlic and saute for 1 minute or until fragrant, stirring occasionally. Whisk in the flour until combined and cook for an additional 1 minute, whisking occasionally. Slowly whisk in vegetable or chicken stock until the mixture is smooth. Then slowly whisk in the milk until it is combined. Continue cooking for 1-2 minutes, or until the mixture comes to a simmer. Then remove from heat, and stir in the cheddar, Parmesan, salt and pepper until the cheese sauce is smooth. Remove from heat.

Once the pasta and broccoli are cooked, pour the cheese sauce on top of the pasta, add in the chicken, and toss until everything is evenly combined.

At this point, you can either serve the pasta stovetop-style as-is. Or pour the pasta into a greased 9 x 13-inch baking dish, and sprinkle with extra cheddar cheese and Panko breadcrumbs. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the top becomes slightly crispy and the breadcrumbs are slightly golden. Remove and serve immediately.

*To cook the chicken breasts on the stove top, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large saute pan. Pound chicken to even thickness, and sprinkle both sides with a few generous pinches of salt and pepper. Add to the pan and cook for 3-4 minutes per side, or until the chicken is cooked through and no longer pink inside. (Cooking times will vary depending on the thickness of your chicken.) Or, to bake the chicken breasts in the oven, follow these instructions.

**If making the baked version of this dish, I recommend ever-so-slightly undercooking your pasta, as it will cook a bit more while it bakes in the oven.

NUTRITION PER SERVING: 414 calories, 15 g fat (8 g saturated), 592 mg sodium, 40 g carbs, 2.1 g fiber, 2.9 g sugars, 29 g protein (calculated with skim milk, 2% reduced-fat sharp cheddar and 8 oz skinless chicken breasts)

Recipe and photo by Gimme Some Oven.

7

WHOLE WHEAT MACARONI AND CHEESE WITH SPICY GARLIC SWISS CHARD

Boost your fiber, antioxidant and magnesium intake by adding swiss chard to your mac-and-cheese. The leafy green’s nutrients promote healthy vision, boost immunity and even protect against cancer. This pot calls for whole-wheat pasta, which contains three parts of the grain, all nutrient-rich and fiber-filled. One serving provides a day’s worth of vitamin A, plus booming amounts of phosphorus, vitamin C and calcium.

NUTRITION PER SERVING: 373 calories, 15.6 g fat (8.7 g saturated), 530 mg sodium, 39.1 g carbs, 5.4 g fiber, 6.6 g sugars, 22 g protein (calculated with skim milk and the following cheese combo: 3 oz reduced-fat cheddar, 3 oz of reduced-fat and reduced-sodium American and 2 oz of goat cheese).

Get the recipe from Love and Olive Oil.

8

BAKED BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND BACON MAC & CHEESE

Butternut squash creates a rich, creamy texture in this dish of cheesy bacon amazingness. But the orange gourd does more than add flavor. It’s an autumn superfood that has a ton of nutritional benefits: it fights sodium retention, heart disease, asthma and arthritis, and promotes healthy vision and skin.

PER SERVING: 432 calories, 21.2 g fat (9.8 g saturated), 613 mg sodium, 39.8 g carbs, 1.4 g fiber, 4.6 g sugars, 21.8 g protein (calculated with nonfat greek yogurt in place of heavy cream, reduced-fat dairy and 3 Tbsp of butter).

Recipe and photo by Sweet Anna's.

9

PUMPKIN MAC & CHEESE

With Thanksgiving fast approaching, pumpkin season is coming to an end. But that doesn’t mean you have to nix your pumpkin fix. This Pumpkin Mac & Cheese calls for pumpkin puree, which is easy to find year-round and just about $1.99 a can! This recipe has just 330 calories, 208 mg of sodium and 3 g of sugar. Plus, each serving dishes up two days’ worth of vitamin A. To lower the fat content, substitute plain greek yogurt for heavy cream, and swap in an organic, grass-fed cheese.

WHAT YOU NEED
8 oz. pasta, about half a box
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
4 Kraft Singles cheddar cheese
1/4 stick butter
1 cup organic pumpkin puree
Fresh cracked pepper
Fresh chives

HOW TO MAKE IT
Boil pot of water for pasta. While pasta is cooking in boiling water (boils for about 15 minutes), melt butter in a separate sauce pan on medium heat. When mostly melted add your cream and milk.

Bring milk, cream and butter sauce to a slight boil, then add your cheese singles one at a time, tearing them in small pieces and adding more as they melt, stirring constantly. A thick cheese sauce will form. When all your cheese has been added and a thick sauce has formed, add your canned pumpkin puree.

Whisk until combined.

Strain cooked pasta and return to pot. Pour pumpkin cheese sauce over pasta. Top with fresh cracked pepper and chives. Serve immediately.

NUTRITION PER SERVING: 330 calories, 14.8 g fat (8 g saturated), 208 mg sodium, 37.5 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 3.4 g sugars, 13.2 g protein (calculated with whole-wheat ziti, organic cheddar cheese and plain Greek yogurt instead of heavy cream)

Recipe and photo by That’s So Michelle.

10

RANCH AND PIMENTO MAC & CHEESE

Are you that person who thinks ranch dressing goes with everything ? If so, you’ll pleasure your palate with this dish. Classic macaroni and cheese pairs with Hidden Valley Ranch, pimentos, green onions and topped with panko breadcrumbs. Surprisingly, it’s under 500 calories. The dish also contains 21 grams of protein and is sky-high in phosphorus, which can help with post-workout muscle recovery.

PER SERVING: 395 calories, 15.7 g fat (9.5 g saturated fat), 715 mg sodium, 42.5 g carbs, 2.3 g fiber, 7 g sugars, 18 g protein (calculated with reduced-fat cheese and 3 Tbsp of unsalted butter).

Get the recipe from Foxes Love Lemons.

11

LEMON BASIL RICOTTA SPAGHETTI

According to the Nutrition Institute at the University of Tennessee, consuming calcium-rich foods like ricotta may help your body metabolize fat more efficiently! And other studies indicate that consuming more calcium from dairy products causes the body to excrete more fat, speeding your metabolism. This dairy-rich bowl is also packed with vitamin B6, selenium and niacin. It also contains less than 2 g of sugar and is relatively low in sodium.

NUTRITION PER SERVING: 507 calories, 32.4 g fat (6.5 g saturated), 231 mg sodium, 24 g carbs, 4.5 g fiber, 1.9 g sugars, 34.2 g protein (calculated with part-skim ricotta and whole-wheat spaghetti).

Get the recipe from Life As A Strawberry.

12

CILANTRO, LIME & WINE PESTO MAC N CHEESE

This is one classy dish. Pesto is poured over elbow macaroni and mixed with a slew of cheeses, butter and milk. Fresh herbs like cilantro remove heavy metals from the body that tend to hide in fat cells; reducing overall toxins in your body can help get rid of excess stored fat, which lessens the appearance of cellulite! However, if you’re looking to reap the full benefits, forgo the wine. You’ll still get a flavorful pesto, without those empty calories.

WHAT YOU NEED
For the pesto
4 oz parmesan cheese, shredded
1 cup cilantro
¼ cup white wine (such as a dry Riesling)
3 garlic cloves
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Juice from half a lime
1 tsp salt

For the pasta
1 lb elbow macaroni noodles (I used Barilla Plus multigrain pasta)
2 cups four-cheese Mexican blend shredded cheese (Monterey Jack, queso, cheddar and asadero cheeses)
¼ cup milk
1 Tbsp butter
1 tsp salt

HOW TO MAKE IT
Cook pasta according to package instructions.

While pasta is cooking, make the pesto. To do so, just put all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse for 30 seconds to a minute, then you're all done. If you like a finer pesto, pulse for an additional 30 seconds. Set aside.

When pasta is finished cooking, drain water from the pasta and leave pasta in a colander while you make the sauce.

In the now empty pot you used to make the pasta, melt the butter and milk, over medium-high heat. When it starts to boil, sprinkle with salt, and turn heat off.

Now add the pasta back into the pot, pour the shredded Four Cheese Mexican blend over the pasta, and spoon the pesto on top of the cheese. With a spoon slowly fold over until your mac n cheese ingredients are all combined. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then serve!

NUTRITION PER SERVING: 402 calories, 14.3 g fat (7.2 g saturated), 643 mg sodium, 41 g carbs, 4 g fiber, 2.5 g sugars, 23.1 g protein (calculated with skim milk, reduced-fat cheese, and without wine).

Recipe and photo by Sweet Phi.

13

LOBSTER MAC AND CHEESE

Shellfish pairs flawlessly with pasta, but the combo is typically unkind to your waist. And although this dish isn’t the lowest-calorie option, it contains a whopping 37 grams of muscle-building protein. Next time you have a craving for Red Lobster, cook this instead!

NUTRITION PER SERVING: 477 calories, 16.7 g fat (9.7 g saturated), 641 mg sodium, 52.7 g carbs, 2.4 g fiber, 6.6 g sugars, 28.1 g protein (calculated with 1.5 cups of fontina cheese, 4 oz mascarpone cheese, reduced-fat shredded cheddar cheese and 4 Tbsp butter instead of 6).

Get the recipe from Foodiecrush.

14

GARLIC MAC N CHEESE

Garlic and macaroni have an endless love affair, but if you’ve never experimented with garlic mac-and-cheese, you’re truly missing out. Not only does it taste divine, it fights the common cold, thanks to allicin, an antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral chemical in fresh garlic.

NUTRITION PER SERVING: 466 calories, 10 g fat (4.5 g saturated), 440 mg sodium, 70 g carbs, 6.6 g fiber, 2 g sugars, 26 g protein (calculated without panko).

Get the recipe from Minimalist Baker.

15

ALL-GROWN-UP MAC AND CHEESE

We may never outgrow our love for mac and cheese, but our waistlines might. That’s why we love this vegan dish. Cashews replace processed cheese for a similar flavor and texture with a serious nutrient punch (they're one of the best nuts for weight loss). Cashews are brimming with magnesium, and according to Stephanie Middleberg, MS, RD, CDN of Middleberg Nutrition, it does everything from “relieving constipation, insomnia, headaches and muscle cramps” to “regulating the immune system and supporting brain function.”

WHAT YOU NEED
1 (16 oz) package whole-wheat elbow macaroni
1 cup raw cashews
3 Tbsp nutritional yeast
2 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp vinegar (white wine, apple cider, etc.)
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup soy milk
Sun-dried tomatoes (optional)
Chopped basil (optional)

WHAT TO DO
Add the cashews, nutritional yeast, garlic, lemon juice, vinegar, salt, pepper, and part of the soy milk to a food processor. Blend until smooth.

At this point, you have a killer cheese spread that would go great on crackers (try it sometime!) but for this mac-and-cheese sauce, it probably needs more liquid in order to coat the pasta. Use your judgment to add more soy milk and blend until the mixture is creamy but not runny. It’s best to make it a little too thick because you can always add more milk when mixing with the macaroni.

*Ideally, you would refrigerate this sauce for several hours before using. This allows the flavors to meld together and the sauce is improved. But if you’re in a hurry, feel free to make the sauce and pasta at the same time – you won’t notice much of a difference.

Cook the macaroni according to package instructions. It should only take about 10 minutes. When fully cooked, drain through a colander and pour the pasta into a large mixing bowl.

Take the cheese sauce and toss it into the macaroni. This may take several minutes, as the sauce will clump together until warmed by the pasta. Keep tossing lightly until all the macaroni is evenly coated. Again, if it feels too thick, you can add a little more soy milk.

You can (optionally) top with black pepper, sun-dried tomatoes, basil or parsley. These can add a lot of color and flavor, so feel free to experiment with what works best for you.

NUTRITION PER SERVING: 443 calories, 12.4 g fat (2.4 g saturated), 22 mg sodium, 67.9 g carbs, 4.5 g fiber, 4 g sugar, 16.4 g protein

Recipe and photo by One Ingredient Chef.

16

CREAMY MAC AND CHEESE

There is just something about shaped macaroni and cheese that just tastes better. And if you grew up on boxed spiral mac and cheese, this super-simple recipe will hit home. As you know, the fewer ingredients, the better. Made with just pasta, milk, flour, cheese and salt, file this recipe away because it’s a keeper.

NUTRITION PER SERVING: 364 calories, 14.7 g fat (9.2 g saturated), 460 mg sodium, 31.2 g carbs, 1.3 g fiber, 4 g sugars, 26.1 g protein (calculated with reduced-fat Monterey Jack and cheddar cheeses, egg noodles and no salt).

Get the recipe from What's Gaby Cooking.

17

CHICKPEAS AND CHEESE

Looking to shrink your belly? Ditch the boxed stuff and whip up this recipe instead. Chickpeas are high in nutrients and soluble fiber, and they’re an essential weight loss food. Thanks to the appetite-suppressing hormone cholecystokinin, these legumes increase feelings of satiety, so you actually take in less. It’s not too often you hear weight loss and mac-and-cheese in the same sentence!

NUTRITION PER SERVING: 429 calories, 10.8 g fat (3.6 g saturated), 114 mg sodium, 62.6 g carbs, 18 g fiber, 11.9 g sugars, 23.2 g protein (calculated with stewed tomatoes).

Get the recipe from Inspired Edibles.

18

GNOCCHI “MAC” AND CHEESE

Looking for a gluten-free version? Try this. Fontina, cheddar and parmesan cheeses create a creamy sauce that covers the “dumplings,” creating an indulgent bite for under 400 calories. Quick note: Traditional gnocchi is not a gluten-free food, so if you’re gluten intolerant, make sure you get the GF stuff.

WHAT YOU NEED

2 (1-pound) packages *DeLallo mini potato gnocchi or 3 (12-ounce) packages DeLallo gluten-free potato and rice gnocchi)
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup vegetable or chicken stock
2 tablespoons butter or DeLallo extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup milk, warmed
1 1/4 cups freshly grated fontina cheese
1 cup freshly grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper, or more to taste
(optional toppings: finely chopped fresh parsley or basil, extra Parmesan cheese)

WHAT TO DO
Cook the gnocchi in a large stockpot of boiling water, according to package instructions. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, as you are waiting for the water to come to a boil and for the gnocchi to cook, make your cheese sauce. Begin by whisking the cornstarch and the vegetable/chicken stock together in a small bowl until the cornstarch is completely dissolved. Set aside. (Be sure that the stock is room temperature or cooler, otherwise the cornstarch will not dissolve.)

Heat butter or olive oil in a (separate) large saucepan or saute pan over medium heat. Add garlic and saute for 1-2 minutes, stirring occasionally, until fragrant.

Stir in the cornstarch mixture, and whisk until combined. Add in the milk, and whisk until combined. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture reaches a low boil. Then remove from heat, and stir in the cheeses until they are melted and smooth. Season the sauce with salt and pepper, to taste.

Combine the cooked gnocchi and cheese sauce in the large stockpot, and toss together until the gnocchi are evenly coated. Serve immediately, topped with optional toppings if desired.

NUTRITION PER SERVING: 393 calories, 13.6 g fat (8.2 g saturated), 696 mg sodium, 47.5 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 1.7 g sugars, 20.1 g protein (calculated with 2% reduced fat sharp cheddar and no salt).

Recipe and photo by Gimme Some Oven.